Battle for the Pac-12 South? No. 17 ASU travels to No. 13 Utah
Control of the Pac-12 South is in play on Saturday when No. 17 Arizona State takes on No. 13 Utah in Salt Lake City.
Both of these 5-1 teams look like the class of the division, and if the two squads continue to perform well down the stretch, then this game could be a deciding factor in who gets to play for the conference title.
The Sun Devils have dominated this matchup in recent seasons, outscoring the Utes 68-30 over their past two meetings.
But Utah has a veteran roster that has gelled this season on both sides of the ball.
“They are very well coached with a lot of veterans and they run the ball well,” ASU head coach Herm Edwards said on Monday. “We have our hands full.”
Keep in mind, also, that the weather forecast on Friday showed a high of 56 degrees on Saturday and a greater-than-50% chance of rain at kickoff.
What: Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) @ Utah (5-1, 2-1)
When: Saturday, at 3:00 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
The Utes have played in one close game, their sole loss at USC 30-23. Other than that, no team has caused them any stress.
The offense has been machine-like in its efficiency.
Third-year starting quarterback Tyler Huntley has completed 75.6% of his throws in six games and has no interceptions. He has the highest adjusted completion percentage in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.
On the ground, senior halfback Zack Moss has gained 7.6 yards per carry, sixth-best among players who have at least 50 rushes this year.
As a team, Utah has only turned the ball over three times, third-fewest among 130 FBS schools. It has also only allowed four sacks and has punted 14 times in six games.
Defensively the Utes are 10th in the FBS in yards allowed per game (271.5) and 9th in points (13.4).
The secondary is full of ball hawks with eight interceptions and 33 pass deflections.
“They’re very strong and physical,” ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens said on Tuesday. “They, similar to Michigan State, know who they are with a system that has been in place for a while. They prevent big plays too.”
Up front, Utah does not have a ton of sacks or tackles for loss, but it allows the fewest yards on the ground in the Pac-12 and senior pass rusher Bradlee Anae has been a menace with four sacks.
However, the Utes have played an easy schedule so far with no games against an above-.500 team. Going from facing Oregon State’s lowly defense to ASU will be a major jump.
How ASU matches up
Last year against Utah, ASU controlled possession, ran the ball exceptionally and intercepted three passes.
This time, ASU will be playing without the advantage of the desert but in a cold and potentially rainy environment against a team that has been tremendous in possession, rushing and turnover differential.
Utah’s defense is designed to stuff the run and prevent big plays behind them.
The short passing game and middle of the field are fair game, which could allow the Devils to unleash perhaps its greatest weapon.
Receiver Brandon Aiyuk is a nightmare to tackle in the open field, so getting him free over the middle could be a huge focal point.
If the Devils move the chains with slants and curls then the Utes may drop their linebackers back. That is when halfback Eno Benjamin could do some damage.
On defense, ASU has stopped the run very well, only allowing 91 yards per game. It will need to heavily emphasize keeping Moss in check.
Huntley has been great this year, but Utah’s offense works best with long drives propelled by strong running.
Utah has had a stellar season but is not a mismatch for ASU. A vital aspect of the game will be in the trenches, where Utah appears to have an advantage, though.
If Huntley has substantial time to throw and Moss finds openings up front, then ASU will have a tough time stopping the Utes.