No. 18 Arizona State looking to keep emotions in check against Utah
Emotions will be tested in Salt Lake City with control of the Pac-12 South division on the line.
No. 18 Arizona State takes to the road for a Saturday night matchup against Utah. The Sun Devils excelled on defense last week at home in a 28-10 victory against Stanford with three interceptions.
The Utes have dealt with every possible emotion so far this season as they remember the lives of two former teammates. Freshman running back Ty Jordan and his college and high school teammate Aaron Lowe have both passed away in the last year, with Lowe passing away on Sept. 26. Lowe’s memorial services were held on Monday.
Saturday’s game is Utah’s first home game since Lowe’s passing.
Utah has met the challenge well in recent weeks with a couple conference wins. The Utes especially impressed last week with their first-ever win in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a 42-26 victory over USC.
What: No. 18 Arizona State (5-1, 3-0) at Utah (3-2, 2-0)
When: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Betting Line via FanDuel: Utah -0.5
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
Staying calm key for Thompson and Sun Devils
One of the things that ASU head coach Herm Edwards has said numerous times during his stint with the Sun Devils is wanting his teams to not play emotionally. That may be tested in one of the biggest possible ways for redshirt senior wide receiver Bryan Thompson.
Thompson came to the Sun Devils from Utah, where he averaged 22.9 yards per catch on 33 receptions over four seasons. Returning to a place someone knows well is bound to have some emotions even without the added feelings that Utah’s football program is experiencing.
Edwards said that a key for Thompson in particular is to keep every emotion in check and to not try to do too much.
“The way you play good is to stay calm,” Edwards said. “Stay within your skill level.”
As for the team, Edwards has seen over and over again in the past that playing on emotions can lead to mistakes.
“Teams get emotional and they put themselves in a bad way,” Edwards said. “Fouls, turnovers, all those things that lose games.”
Progress shown on offense with work still to do
ASU offensive coordinator Zak Hill said this week that several metrics are used to look at his offense’s progress. The Sun Devils are doing a good job in nearly every metric.
First on Hill’s list is turnovers.
“If you can hold on to the football, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said.
ASU has turned the ball over just twice in its three Pac-12 Conference games. For comparison, the Sun Devils turned the ball over four times in their only loss of the season against BYU.
Explosive plays and third-down conversions were also not issues for the Sun Devils in the first half on Friday against Stanford. ASU produced seven plays of 15 yards or more and converted all six third-down plays.
However, the second half showed that there is still work to do in being consistently good. ASU only produced two 15+ yard plays and converted just one of seven third-down plays in the final two quarters.
Three unsuccessful scoring drives took less than four minutes the clock, something that alerts Edwards.
“When you don’t take a lot of time off the clock and you don’t score, that’s not a good offensive possession,” Edwards said.
Utah defense provides tackling threats
ASU’s work at being a consistently good offense will be tested against a Utah defense that Hill has a lot of respect for.
“Utah’s defense is a very good one to begin with,” Hill said. “They do a good job of their pressures and I think their coaching staff does a very good job with making sure they’re detailed and not trying to show too much and disguising things well.”
Utah is at the top of the Pac-12 Conference with 7.6 tackles for a loss per game. The Utes are second behind the Sun Devils in the conference with 2.8 sacks per game.
Two juniors in particular are standing out from the rest.
Junior linebacker Devin Lloyd is the star of Utah’s defense. He has produced at least eight tackles in every game this season, averaging 10.6 tackles per game. His nine tackles for a loss leads the Pac-12.
Lloyd is also one of only two defenders in the conference with multiple interceptions and multiple sacks.
Junior defensive end Mika Tafua leads the conference with 4.5 sacks, including Utah’s only two sacks last week against USC.