Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Utah Utes: Complete Game Preview
The Arizona State football team is looking to capture its second road win in a row Saturday afternoon when it faces the Utah Utes.
The Sun Devils won their first road game of the year last weekend in Pullman, beating the Cougars 55-21.
After beating Stanford, Utah has come crashing back down to earth. The Utes have lost their last two games to USC and Arizona and will have to play Arizona State and Oregon the next two weeks.
A win over Arizona State would give the Utes a much-needed confidence boost before they face the Ducks. The Sun Devils need a win Saturday to remain in first place in the Pac-12 South.
Here is all the information you need to know about this Pac-12 showdown.
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
Television: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Sun Devil IMG Sports Network, ESPN 700
Spread: ASU +7, according to Vegas.com.
Arizona State Keys to Victory
The Utes are a team that could easily be 6-2. Utah lost in overtime to Oregon State and lost to UCLA by a touchdown. The difference in those tight losses was turnovers. Against Oregon State, quarterback Travis Wilson threw three interceptions, and against UCLA Wilson threw six picks. Utah is a trap game for Arizona State, but if ASU forces turnovers, it'll win.
Run the Ball
The Sun Devils were the definition of a balanced attack in their last game against Washington State. ASU ran for 282 yards and threw for 275 in its big win. The Sun Devils won't have such an easy time this weekend, however. The Utes are only allowing opponents to run for an average of 141.5 yards per game. Arizona State needs to establish the run so it can control the clock and tempo like it did a week ago, because Rice-Eccles Stadium will be rocking Saturday afternoon.
A lot has happened to ASU this week: Its coach was almost in a place crash and the Sun Devils lost their athletic director. This will be an emotional game, and the Sun Devils will need to stay grounded to get the job done.
Utah Keys to Victory
Score Early and Often
The easiest way for Utah to keep its crowd in the game is to score in bunches from the start. The Utes were held to only three points in their last game against USC. Against Arizona State that won't cut it. Quarterback Travis Wilson and running back James Poole will need to have big games and put up points for the Utes to win.
Use the Home-Field Advantage
Utah will need to use its home-field advantage on Saturday to keep the Sun Devils off of their game. Arizona State won just its first road game of the year last week. At times, the Sun Devils have looked like a completely different team on the road and have been rattled this year. The Utes need to feed off of their home crowd to get a win.
This doesn't mean that Arizona State is significantly better that Utah, but the Utes will need some luck to get the win. This season has been hard on Utah, as the Utes have lost a number of close games. For Utah to earn its second signature win of the year, it will need to recreate some of the magic it used in the Utes win over Stanford.
Arizona State Players to Watch
How do you follow up a seven-touchdown performance? That's exactly what fans will be watching for this Saturday. Quarterback Taylor Kelly did it all against Washington State, throwing for five touchdowns and rushing for two. He only threw nine incompletions and ran for 66 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils will need their quarterback to play at a high level again this weekend to score another road win.
The freshman kicker has officially lived up to the hype. After a rocky start to his Sun Devil career, Gonzalez has settled down and hasn't missed a field goal since Week 3. This game could be tight down the stretch, and Arizona State may turn to Gonzalez in crunch time. The freshman hasn't had to make a game-winning kick yet in his career, but he may have to Saturday afternoon.
Utah Players to Watch
Reilly leads the Utes with 69 tackles, six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. He is a one-man wrecking crew on defense. The senior can peel off in a zone defensive scheme and also pin his ears back and rush the passer. The Sun Devils will need to watch for Reilly when they run their screen passes, as he could blow them up in the backfield.
Anderson will need to have a big game to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Travis Wilson. The junior wide receiver had a streak of four straight 100-yard receiving games earlier in the year and will have to be a big-play threat for Utah on Saturday. Anderson's got good football genes, as his father Flipper still holds the record for receiving yards in an NFL game. Dres will have to channel his dad and have a big game for the Utes to be victorious.
What They're Saying
It was announced Tuesday that Steve Patterson would be leaving Arizona State to be the athletic director at Texas. Some thought the move would mean head coach Todd Graham could be next to go, but those rumors were quickly dispelled:
President Michael Crow: Patterson "not allowed to hire someone from #ASU" as part of agreement for him to leave— jeffmetcalfe (@jeffmetcalfe) November 5, 2013
ASU linebacker Carl Bradford broke down the Sun Devils' defensive philosophy for this weekend's game with azfamily.com's Brad Denny: "Turnovers. Three and outs, TFLs, quarterback sacks. We need to do what we do: attack. We can’t have missed assignments. We can’t let them have any momentum or big plays."
Former ASU head coach and current Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson told Dirk Facer of the Deseret News that this Saturday's matchup has no extra meaning:
No, really it doesn’t. To be honest with you, it’s us against them — University of Utah against Arizona State. I’m coaching the offensive side of the ball. It’s against their defense, an awfully good defense by the way — a lot of guys who have been there a long time that can run.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson sprained his index finger on his throwing hand a few weeks ago, but it appears he is back to full health this week:
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that QB Travis Wilson won't need a glove on his throwing hand, should be far better off after bye.— ESPN Pac-12 (@ESPN_Pac12blog) November 5, 2013
Arizona State 28, Utah 24
This game will be a dogfight, but the Sun Devils will prevail and win their second straight road game.
The Utes will keep it close, riding their rowdy fans and keeping the Sun Devils off balance throughout. Utah is a much better team than Washington State, and ASU won't be able to run up the score like it did last week.
At the end of the day, Utah will have a costly turnover late, and ASU will capitalize.
This win for the Sun Devils will keep them in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South and help them climb in the BCS Rankings.