The Arizona State Sun Devils are preparing to take on a team that is ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 on their home turf. The Utah Utes received the second most first-place votes (second only to Ohio State) this week and are 2-0 in the conference with wins against Oregon and California.
Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has lost all four games against the Sun Devils, however the Utes are having their strongest season since joining the conference. With a win this week, ASU would most likely climb back into the top-25 and rekindle the since-weakend flame of joining the CFB Playoff discussion come the end of the season.
Here are five keys to this week's contest:
1. Shut down Devontae Booker
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound senior running back is the catalyst and workhorse of the Utes offense. Booker has 665 yards and six touchdowns through five games on the ground, and leads his team in both rushing and receiving to account for just about half of Utah's offensive production. Shutting down him will be key in trying to stall the team as a whole; a team that is already ranked No. 3 in third-down offense.
2. The Health of Demario Richard
On the other side of the ball, ASU will need its star running back and leading rusher to be healthy for the contest. Richard went down with a knee injury against Colorado and was seen wearing a green non-contact jersey and a brace on his right leg in practice throughout the week.
However coach Todd Graham expects the running back to play Saturday. Still, the question remains: will Richard be at full strength? With the Pac-12 South on the line, they will need the offensive spark to play hard and without inhibition against a team that ranks No. 5 in limiting explosive runs.
3. Pressure QB Travis Wilson
Utah has one of the strongest offensive lines in the country, due in major part to the fact that the team returned every starter from the 2014 season with the exception of the left tackle. With the offensive scheme oriented around play-action and the running game customized for Booker, the offensive line rarely gives its opponent a chance to get its hands on Wilson.
The Sun Devils need to put pressure on an offense that is equipped with a senior quarterback, a star running back and a dominant offensive line that poses a big threat with endless versatility in the inside zone.
4. Protect Berco's blindside
Utah's defensive line is also seasoned with talent and has the capacity to fool a less experienced quarterback. The D-line tends to line up before the snap in what looks like a cover-3 or blitz situation and then fall back into two-deep coverages which usually fools the O-line into exposing the quarterback's blindside and in turn, gives 6-foot-1, 240-pound defensive end Pita Taumoepenu his fifth sack on the year and Bercovici a sore set of ribs. The Sun Devils can't let the Utes' D-line deceive them if they hope to keep the chains moving against such a strong Utah offense.
5. No turnovers
Mike Bercovicci has thrown six interceptions through six games, one in each of the last four games and two in the season opener against Texas A&M. However now Berco faces a team that is tied for second in the country in interceptions with 12, five of which came from safety Marcus Williams. Turnovers are the sign of death in a game made up of two evenly matched teams and turnovers could very well likely decide this game if the Sun Devils can pressure and protect come Saturday.