After picking up their first road win of 2018, ASU(4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) will run into a proverbial buzzsaw on Saturday at home against the Utah Utes(6-2, 4-2 Pac-12). Coming into Saturday, the Utes have won their last four games by an average of 24 points. Utah averaged 41 points per game in October and have and climbed the polls accordingly. The No. 15 Utes have a top 10 defense in the land and an offense on a roll. On paper, it looks to be a tall task for Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils. History, however, is on their side in Tempe.
IN THE SERIES
The desert hasn’t treated the Utes well in the past, sitting at just 4-14 @ASU and 8-21 total. The Utes 2016 win in Tempe was their first road win in the series since 1976.
Last time out: Utah will be looking for vengeance after an embarrassing home loss in 2017. ASU dominated the Utes in Rice-Eccles as Tyler Huntley threw four interceptions en route to the Sun Devils 30-10 win on Oct. 21.
Huntley payback: From a statistical standpoint, the worst game of Tyler Huntley’s career was in 2017 at home against ASU(19-35, 155 yards, 0TD, 4INT). He’s already answered the bell and made up for it with these midseason performances, but he’ll surely be out to avenge that one on Saturday.
Moss + Eno: Saturday’s tilt features two of the Pac-12’s premier rushers in Zack Moss and Eno Benjamin.
Moss: 161 carries, 964 yards, 120.5 ypg, 6.0 ypc, 10 TD
Benjamin: 166 carries, 938 yards, 117.3 ypg, 5.7 ypc, 9 TD
The two having nearly identical numbers through eight weeks adds a little intrigue to the matchup… Eno Benjamin being a Ute recruiting miss adds a little more. Something’s got to give.
N’Keal Harry vs Utah DB’s: The Utes field the conferences top secondary unit and they’ll need them to be on top of their game Saturday. N’Keal Harry stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 225 pounds. He’s a prototypical wide receiver and has the numbers to match. Utah HC Kyle Whittingham even likened him to ‘Megatron’ Calvin Johnson. Whitt was one of the only coaches who saw success defending Megatron in his time at Georgia Tech (2011 Sun Bowl). Coach Whitt will be looking for similar production from Jaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon and co. Johnson and Blackmon have each said they’d like to challenge him 1-on-1 but look for the Utes to rove a safety over top on Harry for a good part of the game.
Herm and Whitt: The conference newcomer takes on the Pac-12 mainstay in what looks like it could be a pivotal South matchup for years to come. During Herm’s decade-long coaching hiatus, Kyle Whittingham has accumulated nearly 100 wins and has the best bowl win % in the NCAA.
WHAT CAN ASU DO?
Arizona State has found more success recently by slowing the game down, running the ball, controlling possessions, and leaning on a sound defense to grind out games. It’s a strategy that, although working at the moment, might not be the best course of action against a Kyle Whittingham coached club. If it ends up being a fist fight, the Utes will come out on top. They’re bigger, faster and more physical at the point of attack than ASU is. They have more playmakers on the outside and a better special teams unit. The Sun Devils only shot, at least by my estimation, is to escape their comfort zone a little bit. I see the Utes as a two or even three score favorite. For ASU to make up for that, they’ll need to find some success on a trick play or two, a special teams/defensive score and they’ll have to win the turnover battle. If they can’t get some of those things to go their way, they’ll have similar success as Utah’s last four opponents.
Utah had its first undefeated October as a member of the Pac-12 and used that run to gain sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South.
Utes are No. 1 in the nation in red zone defense (12-of-22), No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense (81.1) and No. 7 in the nation in total defense (287.0).
Zack Moss is third in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation in rushing yards at 964. He’s second in the Pac-12 and eighth in the nation with 11 totals TD’s.
Chase Hansen’s 1.8TFL per game is good enough for second in the Pac-12 and eighth in NCAA.
Kickoff is set for 1p.m. (2p.m. MT) as the No. 15 Utes visit Sun Devil Stadium. Bill Riley, Scott Mitchell and Tom Hackett have the call on ESPN700 and espn700sports.com.
PREDICTIONS FROM THE 700 CREW
Bill Riley: UTAH 34 – 17 ASU
Ben Anderson: UTAH 35 – 21 ASU
JP Chunga: UTAH 24 – 10 ASU
Mitch Harper: UTAH 41 – 20 ASU
Porter Larsen: UTAH 35 – 13 ASU
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