The Arizona State Sun Devils conquered a road test for the first time in 2013 and they now must face a Utah team that has a decided home field advantage to make it two in a row away from Sun Devil Stadium.
For all the hype surrounding the Halloween atmosphere in Pullman, Wash. on Thursday, the Sun Devils made quick work of the Washington State Cougars. The game was well in hand by the end of the first quarter, but that's not the way things are likely to go in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Utah is one of the best home teams in the Pac-12 and the Utes' 34-27 victory over Stanford earlier this season proves that the Sun Devils have to be on their toes.
Is Utah capable of knocking off the Sun Devils? Or will Todd Graham continue an impressive run through the Pac-12 South? Let's meet the Utes.
The First Look
Season to Date
Utah played one of the first college games of the season and Fox Sports 1 converts were treated to quite a battle between the Utes and in-state rival Utah State. Despite a phenomenal individual effort from Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton, Utah snuck away with a 30-26 victory.
The Utes improved to 2-0 with a 70-7 slaughtering of Weber State before dropping a 51-48 overtime heartbreaker at the hands of the Oregon State Beavers the following week.
Utah's defense made its most emphatic statement of the season after a shootout against Oregon State when it shut down a vaunted BYU offense in a 20-13 road victory. With a 3-1 record, the Utes were beginning to pick up steam, and they nearly pulled off a Pac-12 South shocker.
If not for quarterback Travis Wilson's six interceptions, Utah likely would have knocked off UCLA in the Bruins' visit to Salt Lake City. Instead, UCLA escaped in a 34-27 final, but the majority of the Pac-12 was surely put on notice.
Apparently, Stanford was not a part of that majority. Utah pulled off the most inexplicable win of the college football season in the Utes' 27-21 victory over the Cardinal. Utah's record improved to 4-2, but the good vibes haven't lasted.
Utah played Arizona tough, but the Wildcats came away with a 35-24 win in Tucson to drop the Utes to 4-3. Then, the USC defense sucked the life out of Utah's offense in a 19-3 final at the Coliseum.
At 4-4, Utah has had plenty of time to regroup as it enjoyed a bye week last week. With an extra week to prepare for hosting Arizona State, the Utes might be ready to deal another blow to a Pac-12 nemesis.
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Record (At Utah and Overall): 75-36
Utah on Offense
Utah's offense has improved by leaps and bounds from 2012 to 2013 and it's a direct result of who's running the show. In the offseason, Utah brought in former Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson to coordinate the offense and the Utes have responded positively.
Despite failing to live up to expectations during his final seasons at Arizona State, Erickson has helped guide an offense that looked lost at times last year to become a capable group that's averaging more than 400 yards per game and 31.1 points per game.
Much of the Utes' success has rested on the broad shoulders of 6-foot-6, 240-pound quarterback Travis Wilson. The sophomore was thrust into the starting role as a freshman last season and he's made adjustments this year. Wilson has been outstanding in Utah victories (67.6 completion percentage against Stanford) and inconsistent in losses (six interceptions against UCLA).
Wilson has relied on a solid receiving corps anchored by Dres Anderson who has reeled in 33 receptions for 642 yards. Wilson has demonstrated a willingness to throw to his check down options as well, as evidenced by running back Bubba Poole's 28 catches.
Poole has been a threat out of the backfield both through the air and on the ground as he's averaging a solid 4.7 yards per carry. Poole is a steady runner who won't go down on the first tackle, but ironically, he doesn't see that many carries on the goal line. That's because Erickson likes to keep the ball in Wilson's hands, as the quarterback has rushed for five touchdowns on the season in a Michael Eubank-esque goal line look.
Across the offensive line, Utah has a nice mix of athletes, but they've had a difficult time keeping Wilson's jersey clean in the pocket. Part of that has to do with Wilson's happy feet, but the Utes are allowing 2.13 sacks per game which is tied for 78th in the nation.
Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi is just a sophomore and he's already Utah's most talented offensive linemen. The Utes will run behind the mammoth 6-foot-5, 345-pound Poutasi in goal line situations and Erickson isn't afraid to send his quarterback around the left end.
Aside from playing in Salt Lake City, having Erickson on the Utes side should prove to be this offense's biggest advantage. The well traveled coach recruited many of the Sun Devil defensive starters, so he should have as good of an idea as anyone as to how to beat them.
Utah on Defense
Utah has played some of the better offenses on the West Coast this season and for the most part, the Utes have held their own. The Utes limited Stanford to just 21 points and stopped a rugged BYU rushing attack in its tracks. Arizona State has struggled against top defensive lines, and fortunately for Utah, that's where the strength of its team lies.
Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard are the Utes' defensive ends and arguably their top two defensive players. The pair has combined for nine sacks and 18 tackles for loss and have the potential to wreak havoc against an ASU team that isn't accustomed to playing against 4-3 defenses.
LT Tuipolotu and Tenny Palepoi are the Utes' defensive tackles and they've spent the season trying to make up for the loss of Star Lotulelei to the NFL. Paleopoi has been the more effective tackle and he's racked up five tackles for loss in his time so far.
At the linebacker level, Jason Whittingham has been a standout as he's an able-bodied run stopper and pass rusher when the Utes choose to blitz him. On the weak side, Jared Norris has a nose for the ball and his 63 tackles are good for second on the team.
The Utes' secondary is allowing about 250 yards per game through the air and strong safety Michael Walker has been the man responsible for making most of the plays. Walker has just one interception on the season, but that's tied for the team-high as the Utes have intercepted only two passes this year.
Free safety Eric Rowe has six pass breakups and his closing speed allows the secondary to take more risks than most teams. The Utes' top corner is Keith McGill who has nine passes defended and has been a needed veteran presence in a secondary that lost All Pac-12 safety Brian Blechen to a position change and ultimately a season-ending injury.
Utah has enough firepower on the defensive side of the ball to make things interesting. Arizona State is averaging 46.6 points per game, and Utah has allowed more than 40 points in just one of its past 37 games. Can Taylor Kelly keep up the Arizona State's winning ways, or will Utah find a way to stymie the Sun Devils? We'll find out on Saturday.