The Utah Utes possess a very balanced team and as a result have risen to the No. 4 team in the country. They boast one superstar, but the squad as a whole relies on its experience and soundness to beat opponents week in and week out.
Last season, the Arizona State Sun Devils managed to defeat the Utes, but needed overtime to do so at home in Tempe. Ahead of their 2015 bout, the Utes enter as favorites, riding the momentum of an impressive 5-0 start. Although, now they are without the likes of Nate Orchard, Eric Rowe, Jeremiah Poutasi and Kaelin Clay.
In spite of those absences, the Utes still bring plenty of talent to the table. Below, we break down who to watch this Saturday when the two teams hit the field in Rice Eccles Stadium.
Devontae Booker, RB—No. 23 (Senior)
The All-Pac-12 tailback is coming off the best performance of his career, carrying the Utes to a 30-24 win over California. Against the Golden Bears, Booker totaled 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 attempts, also adding four receptions for 45 yards.
Booker has amassed 665 yard rushing (tied-15th in nation) and six touchdowns this season. He is also Utah's leading receiver with 19 receptions for 194 yards.
Not only is Booker's play prevalent in the statistical realm, but it shows up on the screen during the game with his outstanding and, at times, breathtaking play. He's as shifty as he is powerful, having forced 34 missed tackles on 156 touches, while averaging 3.3 yards after contact per rush and 11.7 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
Last season, ASU held Booker to 146 yards on 37 carries (3.9 yards per rush), two catches for six yards, and no touchdowns in the Sun Devils' overtime win. Regulating Booker's impact is essential to the Sun Devils winning this time around as well, and they would hope to do so in similar fashion as they did to UCLA's Paul Perkins in Week 5.
Gionni Paul, LB — No. 13 (Senior)
Paul is a Miami transfer who's seen his collegiate career marred by injuries up to this point. This season, however, he's managed to stay healthy and provide significant contributions on the field.
He is regarded as a very talented linebacker, and he's shown good coverage skills this season having defended two passes and snagged two interceptions this year, including this one-handed beauty in last week's win over Cal...
Gionni Paul's interception made the top play on this week's #12Best! Thanks for tuning in to #SportsReport! http://t.co/X9xoQiih0w— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) October 13, 2015
Paul (39 total tackles) has also forced a fumble, recovered two and notched 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Jared Norris, LB — No. 41 (Senior)
Norris is one of the most talented linebackers in the conference.
With 39 tackles on the year, he does a great job of imposing his will by getting involved in the play on a majority of his snaps. Expect to hear his name a lot on Saturday, especially if ASU plans to emphasize the running game.
Travis Wilson, QB — No. 7 (Senior)
Wilson has come into his own a bit this season, improving from a sub-par-to-average thrower into a bit more steady of a passer.
Still, what makes him a threat is his ability to run with the ball, as he's averaged 7.1 yards per attempt so far this season. He is also on pace to reach the end zone for what would be a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns.
The Utes still lack a deep threat to remedy their stagnant aerial attack. Still, so long as Wilson is efficient, doesn't turn the ball over and uses his legs to keep the defense on its heels, Utah will have a shot at winning without reluctantly placing the ball in his hands.
Jason Fanaika, DE — No. 51 (Senior)
Fanaika's impact is usually felt outside of the stat sheet.
While he's already halfway to his 2014 season sack total (currently at 2.5), he only has 19 total tackles through five games this year.
Regardless, he will be a handful on the edge for the ASU tackles that displayed their vulnerability earlier this season.