Championship teams win on the road and Arizona State got one step closer to seizing the Pac-12 South title by dominating the Washington State Cougars 55-21 in Pullman, Wash. The next test will be much tougher, playing the Utah Utes at the hostile Rice-Eccles stadium.
I attended the 35-14 Arizona State win at Utah back in 2011, and despite the lopsided scoreboard, the crowd was electric. The fans have more reason to scream now. The Utes defeated fifth-ranked Stanford 27-21 at home on Oct. 12. UCLA almost got upset in Salt Lake City, falling 34-27 on Oct. 3.
Consecutive Utah losses to middle of the road teams in Arizona and USC has the Utes in an identity crisis. Are the Utes the team that beat Stanford or the team that lost to Arizona and USC? For now, I believe it's the latter half and most media members agree. Conversely, the impressive performances are at home and the shortcomings are on the road.
The Sun Devils are attempting to prove that the location of the game doesn't matter. The maroon and gold are far away from that point but need to get there. Overcoming Utah would be an integral part to that process.
ASU took care of business last week, yet the famous Haber's Hunches were below average, going 1-2 on the day. My overall season record now sits at 14-9. Here goes nothing!
First Hunch: Travis Wilson's turnover to touchdown will be even at best
Travis Wilson garners comparisons to ex-Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler. I understand their similar traits of height, surprising mobility and big arms. The difference? Wilson doesn't protect the ball nearly as well as Osweiler.
Over the past two games, Wilson tossed a lone touchdown pass compared to four interceptions. Wilson also had six interceptions against the Bruins, and somehow the Utes barely lost. For the season totals, Wilson owns 1,706 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Will Sutton and the pass rush are finally getting in gear, meaning Wilson will never drink Sweet Tea again after Saturday. Still, the Utes' offensive line has protected well, ranking fifth best in the conference in sacks allowed. The Sun Devils have faced bigger, faster and more physical protectors with Stanford and Notre Dame, and those experiences are going to lead to better results against Utah.
Wilson lacks the key trait to sufficient quarterback play: accuracy. His rough times are even more noticeable against top-notch opponents. I expect the theme to continue.
Second Hunch: ASU scores at least 42 points, silences Rice-Eccles stadium
If I told you repeatedly you couldn't do something, how would you feel? I would feel frustrated and motivated. ASU football repeatedly gets told about their road woes and I believe they are ready to once again silence the doubters.
Taylor Kelly accumulated seven total touchdowns against Washington State. Obviously the weak opponent diminishes the accomplishment, but earning Pac-12 player of the week always deserves kudos. Kelly technically failed to deliver against Stanford and still tacked on more passing yards than any other quarterback against them with 367 yards. Even when Kelly gets criticized, his numbers are significantly better than most collegiate signal-callers.
UCLA posted 34 points at Utah, therefore ASU should exceed that. The amount of weapons Mike Norvell features on offense keeps defenses off-balanced and confused, leading to three straight games of 50-point outputs. Marion Grice, the nation's leading score with 18 trips to pay dirt, was unable to score against the Cougars and there were no ill effects.
The Utah defense hasn't cut it against the upper echelon opponents. Against University of Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA, the Utes surrendered 36.75 points per contest, well below their season average of 25.8. The statistics are telling the truth here, as the ASU offense surpasses any of the previously mentioned teams.
The sole way the Sun Devils fail to notch 42 points would be turnovers. I don't expect any turnovers, maybe one at most. Kelly and company are going score in a hurry, and before you know it, the starters may be kicking back and overlooking the scenic snow topped mountains.
Final Hunch: Richard Smith will be the Sun Devils unexpected hero (at least 80 yards and one touchdown)
Everyone fails at some point, it's inevitable. How you deal with those failures and respond to them defines you.
Coming into the season, Richard Smith was ready to breakout. Smith made those assumptions appear premature by dropping routine balls and fumbling the rock too often. The disappointing efforts on the gridiron weighed on him.
Brad Denny of 3TV Sports caught up with Smith and he said: "I had to keep God in my prayers. I had to touch back home with my parents, and speak to some people who were close to me. They had to get to me and get to my heart, and make me come back to who I am and the player I know I can be."
The talent was always there for Smith but the mental aspect was in question. After dealing with those hurdles and overcoming them, he proved to be way more mature than most sophomores in college. Smith finally regained his starting slot against the Cougars. He validated the coaches' decision by providing three receptions, 79 yards and one touchdown.
Smith won't ever take a single snap or repetition for granted again. Ironically, the entire benching process could be the best thing for Smith in the long run. As for the X's and O's, defenses are forced to focus on Grice, Jaelen Strong and Chris Coyle, allowing Smith to fly under the radar.
I want, hope and expect to Smith to build upon last week's game by turning in another quality showing.