The Arizona State Sun Devils' matchup with No. 4 the Utah Utes just a day away, we wanted to get the inside scoop on the No. 4 team in the nation. We turned to our sister site Block U, and we talked about Saturday's matchup with managing editor Shane Roberts.
House of Sparky: Over the last few years, Utah has been a consistent winner in the Pac-12, usually around the eight or nine-win mark. Through five games this year, they look like the favorite in the South, what have you seen change in this year's team compared to last year's?
Shane Roberts: It's a couple of things, and it's been something that Utah has been building toward since joining the Pac-12. First and foremost, this team is experienced and they've grown together through the Pac-12. This team had to learn how to win, and last year, after a couple of years of tough losses, they busted through, and the momentum carried through to this season. Not to mention, the fact that we have an offensive coordinator that actually likes the QB is a big difference.
HoS: A lot of people who watch Utah have point out how much better Travis Wilson is playing this year as opposed to his first three in SLC. His completion percentage is up and his QBR is way up from last season. How has Travis Wilson evolved as a quarterback and what changes have you seen in him from last year to this year?
SR: As I alluded to, the new play caller, Aaron Roderick, actually recruited Travis to come to The U, whereas last season, Dave Christensen couldn't sit Travis fast enough. That's done wonders for the kid, just the confidence allows him to play more freely. He's a four-year starter, so he's played a ton of football, and you can tell all the experience is really starting to pay off.
HoS: When talking about the Utah offense, everybody discusses Devontae Booker, but who is another player besides him or Travis Wilson that ASU should keep its eye on Saturday?
SR: There are a couple, especially against ASU. First, is Britain Covey, Utah's true freshman jitterbug slot wide receiver. The kid is very fast, elusive and very hard to tackle. He made Michigan's stud safety Jabril Peppers look foolish at times. It's very hard for a team to get a good hit on him, and he's just got a knack to make plays.
Secondly, watch out for another receiver/corner back, Cory Butler-Byrd. Butler-Byrd is primarily a corner, and a good one, but Utah's going to use him similar to how USC uses Adoree' Jackson. Butler-Byrd has scored a kickoff return for a TD this season, and burned Cal deep for a 55-yard touchdown pass from Travis Wilson. So look for Butler-Byrd to help take the top off the defense deep, and look for Covey to help punish ASU in the slot due to the aggressive nature of ASU's defense.
HoS: What has made Utah's defense so dominant?
SR: New defensive coordinator, John Pease, has a saying called "four and score". The four stands for the number of turnovers Utah wants to get per game, and obviously, he wants at least one to go for a score. It's one thing to have a coach preach that, but he's got the horses to do so. The defensive line is a standard Utah D-line, the linebackers are monsters, and the secondary is aggressive and will jump routes.
This is probably, in my opinion, is shaping up to be one of the best Utah defenses we've ever seen. Utah has a couple ball hawks on defense that just have a knack of getting the ball, first is safety Marcus Williams, who leads the team in interceptions, and the other is Gionni Paul at linebacker. Paul is as fun of a football player you'll ever watch, just check out his interception in the Cal game, and you'll see all you'll need to see about Paul.
HoS: What are some keys to victory for the Utes?
SR: The obvious thing is to handle the pressure ASU will bring. That means getting the ball out quickly and trying to get to the second level. Utah's going to have to take care of the ball, and win on third downs. Utah's defense and special teams will do what they always do, it will be up to the offense, which is improved over the past couple of years, to hold up their end of the bargain.
HoS: The last two games against ASU have resulted in two painfully close losses for Utah, do you feel like the Utah team and/or fans want a victory on Saturday a little more because of the result last two years?
SR: Some do, but I think the way the season has played out to now, fans just want it so bad because it's the next one on the schedule. Being No. 4 in the polls, and having control over our own destiny, not just for the Pac-12 South, but possibly more... leads a lot of fans wanting this game just because they want to see how far this team could go. If Utah had lost a game previously to this, I'd rank ASU up there because fans want to get that monkey off their back.
HoS: If you feel comfortable, please give your final score prediction.
SR: I love the fact the game is at Rice-Eccles, and I think this is a typical Pac-12 game, tough until the end. I think the Utes get it done, finally against ASU, 38-27.
HoS: Bonus: For ASU fans making the trip, any good food/drink recommendations in Salt Lake City?
SR: This won't surprised a lot of people from SLC, but here we go:
Breakfast: Park Cafe
Pizza: The Pie
Mexican food: Red Iguana
You'll find a lot of good food options and bars in Downtown Salt Lake, so you can easily take Trax and walk around downtown to find something.