Wanting to be like U(tah): How Arizona State aims to be like the Utes

Nov 1, 2023, 8:05 AM

Kenny Dillingham and Kyle Whittingham...

Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham, left, and Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham.(Christian Petersen and Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen and Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

TEMPE — Before a lot of football games, at any level, there can be lovefests between coaches.

But that’s not what Arizona State head football coach Kenny Dillingham feels towards Utah Utes head football coach Kyle Whittingham.

No, it goes beyond that.

It’s beyond admiration. Maybe even beyond respect.

“(On Pac-12 media day) I just told him you’re kind of what I want this program to be, your build,” Dillingham said Monday. “You stayed there through all the other opportunities, the culture that you’ve established — a physicality and toughness is what I believe is necessary to win. And I just told him I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country, one of the most underrated coaches in the country and I think that he made a choice to stay at a place and build it and do it the right way, and I couldn’t have more respect for him as a football coach as a person.”

“(I’m) not nearly as cool as him, I guess. You’re right. He rides a Harley (Davidson motorcycle) around I mean … he embodies just I think what college football is supposed to be about and I’m envious of him and hopefully I can have the career.”

Whittingham has been on Utah’s staff since 1994 but took over the head coaching job in 2005. He is 160-76 in his time at the helm of the Utes program.

Bringing Arizona State football’s offense to a defensive party

The No. 18 Utah (6-2, 3-2) will present a different type of challenge for Dillingham’s Sun Devils (2-6, 1-4) — a stout defensive unit.

In fact, ASU’s next three opponents — No. 18 Utah, No. 20 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon — are the top three defenses in the Pac-12 by yards allowed per game.

Wittingham’s defense is ranked No. 18 in the country, allowing 308.2 yards per game. By comparison, ASU is ranked No. 40 in the country at 340.9 yards per game.

And while Arizona State found success in the ground attack recently against Washington State, they’ll have to find something new against Utah. The Utes allow just 86 yards rushing per game.

“We were atrocious (against Washington) … if we want to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, we have to have an identity that we’re gonna be able to do this and I think it’s just a testament to the guys really buying in and believing in it,” Dillingham said.

“And like I told them today: Utah is one of the most aggressive and violent teams defending perimeter runs in the country because of what they do defensively. They are violent and you better, if you get into a stack or bunch and somebody presses you, you better set your jaw because that dude’s gonna try to put your butt in the ground. So, you know, it’s a great challenge for us to see where our physicality stands because it’s just this a football team’s identity is physicality and they’ve had 19 years to establish it.”

The Oregon blueprint

Loss at Washington by one score late, win at home versus Washington State by two scores.

Quick: are we talking about the Arizona State Sun Devils? Or the Oregon Ducks?

Well, those are each of the last two ASU results and two of the past three Oregon results before the Ducks’ 29-point win at Utah last week.

The Ducks have played each of the Sun Devils opponents the week before Arizona State has for the past three weeks, and ASU has followed the script, at least results-wise.

Has Dillingham, who arrived in the Valley after coaching in Eugene as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, noticed this?

“It’s a blessing in some ways. It’s a curse in some other ways,” Dillingham said. “They got to be more creative with their disguises or change some things up. … We’re a little bit different obviously, and we’re adapting and changing, but the core of who we are is still going to be similar.”

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Wanting to be like U(tah): How Arizona State aims to be like the Utes