No. 18 Utah Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. MT/11 p.m. PST
Location: Tempe, Ariz. - Sun Devil Stadium
Television: Fox Sports 1 (Joe Davis, Joey Harrington, Kris Budden)
Radio: ESPN Phoenix 620/Sirius 126 (Tim Healy, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather: Temperature at kickoff is expected to be around 80 degrees with little to no wind and clear skies. The temperature is expected to drop into the low 60's in the second half.
What to wear: The Sun Devils will be wearing black helmets with maroon tops and black pants. The athletic department is asking fans to don their traditional gold.
Utah's season to date: The Utes have been the surprise of the Pac-12 through the first half of the season. Utah began the season with back-to-back blowout victories over Idaho State and Fresno State, averaging 57.5 points per game in their first two games. Utah than broke onto the national scene with a 26-10 victory over Michigan in the Big House.
The Utes than suffered their first and only defeat of 2014, at home to the Washington State Cougars. Utah was up 21-0 in the first quarter, however the Cougars scored the final 14 points of the game and took their first lead of the game with just under five minutes left.
The Utes have responded with three wins in a row, including victories over UCLA and USC. Those three games were decided by a total of 11 points, including a double-overtime victory over Oregon State on the road on a Thursday night. Utah has been marred by inconsistent quarterback play all season, but the dominant running of Devontae Booker (844 yards, 8 TDs) has been the steady force behind their offense.
Arizona State on offense: Taylor Kelly returned from his foot injury to throw for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Washington. The offensive struggled to find a rhythm at some points during the game (55 MPH wind certainly did not help that) and Kelly made a few head-scratching throws, leading many to speculate if Mike Bercovici would see game action.
Arizona State continues to struggle to run the football, amassing only 105 yards on the ground against Washington. Freshman Demario Richard led the Sun Devils with 54 yards on the ground. Three out of the last four weeks somebody not named D.J. Foster has led the Sun Devils in rushing. Foster does not have a 100-yard rushing game since Colorado back in the middle of September.
The Sun Devils are expected to be without left guard Christian Westerman against the Utes. Weterman was injured against Washington and Stephen McCray is expected to start in place of Westerman with Jamil Douglas staying at left tackle to protect the blind side of Taylor Kelly.
Utah leads the nation in sacks, with an impressive 35 on the season. Nate Orchard leads the Utah attack with 13.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. Orchard has played in 44 games since his true freshman season and his 11 sacks this season is already tied for fifth-most in a single season in Utah history.
LT Tyler Sulka vs. DE Nate Orchard: The senior defensive end is the key to Utah's front seven. Orchard had a field day against UCLA, totaling 11 tackles and four sacks. Orchard has perfect size (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) for the defensive end position in Utah's 4-3 defense.
Against Washington, Taylor Kelly was sacked seven times. For Arizona State to pull out a victory over Utah, that number will have to drop significantly.
WR Jaelen Strong vs. CB Eric Rowe: The senior has experience at both safety and cornerback during his time in Salt Lake City. Rowe is the team's fourth leading tackler with 35 tackles and leads the Utes with seven pass breakups. Last season against Utah, Strong caught just three passes for eight yards. Utah's other starting cornerback was a receiver to start the season, so expect Rowe to be matched up on Strong most of the night.
Arizona State on defense: The Sun Devils have put together back-to-back solid performances on defense. The Sun Devils allowed just 10 points to both Stanford and Washington. Against the Huskies, Arizona State tallied 13 tackles for loss, forced eight incomplete passes and stopped five running plays at the line of scrimmage. That means that 26 of Washington's 72 plays on offense resulted in no yardage.
Arizona State boasts the Pac-12 No. 3 ranked passing defense and No. 5 ranked scoring defense. Antonio Longino has played very well at the WILL linebacker position and Jordan Simone and Damarious Randall provide one of the best safety duos in the conference. Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison recorded two sacks and two tackles for loss in the victory over Washington.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has the most number of attempts (143) of any quarterback in the nation who has not thrown an interception. He is one of just five starting quarterbacks in the nation that haven't thrown an interception this season. Wilson also ranks fourth in the conference in yards per completion (12.68).
QB Travis Wilson vs. ASU Secondary: There is no double Wilson has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. While he only has eight touchdowns in seven starts this season, Wilson does not make mistakes and as a powerful arm to push the ball downfield.
This will also be Wilson's first game without his favorite target, Dres Anderson, who was lost for the season this week. Anderson led the team in receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. Kenneth Scott, Kaelin Clay and Tim Patrick will all look to fill the void of Anderson on Saturday night.
ASU Special Teams vs. Utah Special Teams: While this does not fall under key matchups when Arizona State is on defense, this game may come down to special teams. Utah tops the Pac-12 in both kickoff and punt returns, ranking No. 2 and No. 3 respectively nationally in those categories. The Utes average over 22 yards per punt return, which drastically alters field position.
Tom Hackett ranks third in the nation in yards per punt (47.0). Hackett has also dropped 21 of 47 punts inside the 20-yard line this season and has 36 career punts of over 50 yards. There is no doubt, Utah has the best special teams unit that Arizona State has faced all season.
The Utes often get overlooked in the conference when the Pac-12 South is brought up. Kyle Whittingham has build a very solid program, a program that is built on defense and smart football (not unlike how the Arizona State program is built). The Utes rank No. 16 nationally in turnover margin and are one of the least penalized teams in the Pac-12.
Losing Christian Westerman is tough for Arizona State, as he is one of the best run-blocking offensive lineman. However, Utah's loss of Dres Anderson is even worse. Wilson will have to adjust to a new favorite target against one of the Pac-12's top secondaries.
If this game was in Salt Lake City (where Utah drove Arizona State to the brink last year) this pick may be different as these teams are very close on paper.
Predication: Arizona State 24, Utah 21