Utah is a tough team to beat at home this season as the Utes have played Oregon State and UCLA very close and upset Stanford as well. The Sun Devils look to avoid the distraction of Steve Patterson's midweek departure and focus in on not becoming the Utes' next victim of home-field advantage. Here are the players to watch for each team.
Strong's production has dropped off significantly in the past two weeks because of the nagging ankle injury he suffered against Washington where he only had three catches for seven yards. He felt good enough to give it a go against Washington State but again did not put up his usual numbers; only hauling in four catches for 35 yards while scoring a touchdown. Strong also missed practice on Wednesday for what the team cited as, "personal reasons" so something is certainly off with the big junior college transfer with NFL potential. It will be interesting to see if Strong can make an impact this weekend at Utah.
Marion Grice did not score a touchdown in a game for the first time this season last Thursday against Washington State. He also had his lowest receiving yardage total of the season with only 31 yards on two receptions. If Grice seriously wants to be considered in Heisman talks, he needs to start putting on a show as soon as this week to really impress the voters and end his season with four solid games. He will probably require at least two touchdowns and possibly 100 yards rushing per game for Arizona State to win out the rest of its schedule. Unfortunately for Grice, Utah's two leading tacklers are both linebackers who, if they blitz, can easily get into the backfield.
Smith came back from the dead last week in Pullman hauling in three catches for 79 yards and a touchdown to lead the team in receiving for the game and supposedly regain some confidence in himself and his hands. Will he continue to be a productive member of the wide receiving corps or slip back into the unproductive anonymity that we saw during the seven games between Sacramento State and Washington State? Look for Taylor Kelly and Mike Norvell to game plan a few throws to Smith early in the game to possibly test if he still has the x-factor that he seemed to have found against the Cougars. The Sun Devils need Smith to be that second possession wide receiver threat to compliment Kevin Ozier and Jaelen Strong because it looks as if Cameron Smith is not yet ready to step up.
Poole is the Utes' offense. He's second on the team in receiving with 227 yards receiving while he leads the team with 533 on the ground. If the Sun Devils can't stop Poole it's going to be a long afternoon. He played a crucial role in Utah's upset of Stanford in rushing for 123 yards on 22 attempts and catching another seven passes for 75 yards. The best comparison to think of would be a Darren Sproles type. He's small and speedy as well as a dual-threat receiver and runner out of the backfield.
If the Utes need a touchdown this is usually who they look to. Anderson stands 6-foot-1 and has 4.4 forty speed. He leads the team with six touchdowns on the year and is second in all-purpose yardage behind Poole with 742 total yards. Anderson's height will be yet another test for the defensive backfield of ASU including Osahon Irabor who left the field for a short period of time against Washington State, lost the Pat Tillman jersey, and wore a green no-contact jersey for two days this week at practice.
Reilly is Utah's version of Carl Bradford. First of all he played last season on a torn ACL. He's 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds. Reilly leads the Utes with 69 tackles on the year, 11 of which are for losses. Add that to 5.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble this season and that equals one heck of a football player. Reilly can play both linebacker and defensive end similar to Bradford and is the senior leader of the Utah defense. Reilly is also mentally tough as well as it's worth mentioning that he is still playing this season as his barely 1-year-old daughter battles kidney cancer and continues to go through chemotherapy throughout this season.