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ASU vs. Utah: Staff gameday roundtable

Has ASU proven itself over the last couple of weeks to be capable of pulling off a big upset over Utah on the road? Our staff debates...

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Our staff:
Ryan Bafaloukos - Co-Managing Editor | @RyanBafo
Josh Nacion - Co-Managing Editor | @Josh_Nacion
Kaelen Jones - Staff Writer | @kaelenjones
Connor Pelton - Staff Writer | @ConnorPelton28
Kristina Vicario - Staff Writer | @KristinaV_18
Blane Ferguson - Staff Writer | @BlaneFerguson
Shane Theordore - Staff Writer | @shanetheodore

Short-Answer Questions

Stopping Utah running back Devontae Booker is an obvious key for ASU. Do you see the ASU defense having much success containing Booker?

Bafaloukos: I don't see ASU keeping Booker under 100 yards, I think the Utah offense relies on him too much and even if they are losing they will continue to fee him and he will rack up yards. The key for the ASU defense is limiting chunk gains from Booker and when you have Booker, bring him down.

Nacion: I see ASU taking on a "bend, don't break" mentality with Utah's running game. I expect Booker to get his carries, and he's going to give the Sun Devils some issues early on by capitalizing on missed/broken tackles. I think ASU will eventually tighten up and produce some key third-down stops.

Jones: Relatively speaking, yes. Last season, ASU entered the homecoming matchup allowing 180 yards per game. Booker came in averaging 120 rushing yards per game, and finished with 146 yards (3.9 yd/carry). This season, Booker is averaging 133 rushing yards per game.

The Sun Devils are currently allowing 138 rushing yards per game, but in their three conference games, have held USC (76), UCLA (62) and Colorado (49) under 80 total team rushing yards.

Booker will finish Saturday's game with a high yards total due to the volume of his workload, but I don't expect it to be very impactful. The bigger question is whether or not the ASU defense will be able to keep Booker quiet in the passing game.

Pelton: Not especially, no. The Sun Devils have struggled against teams with multiple running options in the past, and Utah definitely poses that kind of threat with Booker and Travis Wilson. The two combined for 190 yards on the ground last season in Tempe, and I think a repeat performance is likely this year.

Vicario: In order to have the best shot at stopping Booker the entire defense needs to be healthy and locked in. I'm most concerned about key defensive back Laiu Moeakiola after he was banged up last week against Colorado. Moeakiola is a must for this week and he and the rest of the defense will need to quickly decipher Utah's inside zone as the Utes are known for their versatility in their single tight-end sets.

Ferguson: I think ASU's run defense has show that it has the capability to stop an elite running back. The Sun Devils held UCLA's Paul Perkins to 85 yards rushing and they could potentially do the same to Booker. If they are able to hold Booker to less than 100 yards, I think the Sun Devils have a really good shot at upsetting the Utes in Salt Lake City.

Theodore: Booker's going to get his gashes, and the Utah offense won't abandon the run if they don't find early success on the ground. But with that said, ASU's been superb against the run lately and Graham's made an emphasis of gang-tackling Booker. More of my concern is with Booker's impact out of the backfield, Utah has a deep enough receiving corps for the Sun Devils to forget about No. 23 on check downs. A play in which the defense exhibits great coverage can be turned into a big gain for Utah if Booker gets loose and makes a man miss.

Saturday's forecast calls for a fair chance of rain in Salt Lake City. If we do get precipitation during the game, how much would it affect ASU?

Bafaloukos: I don't think the rain would affect one team more than another. It may limit some things ASU can do in the passing game but both teams have to play in the rain and ASU has proven it can run the football.

Nacion: I think it'll alter ASU's dynamic just a bit. I don't think the Sun Devils would be able to run at a tempo they want, but it would force them to play a smarter brand of football. Look for the running backs to be used a lot here due to inclement weather and Kody Kohl catching more quick passes.

Jones: It will some form or another. The offense has had its issues with turning the ball over, and the conditions won't help that at all. I'll be keeping an eye on how this affects the timing and production of the ASU passing game, which has finally begun to come together as of late.

Pelton: It shouldn't have too much of an affect on either team. I expect both the Utes and Arizona State to try and establish the ground game early and stick with it throughout most of the night. The only time it could hurt the maroon and gold is if they are down late and need to start airing it out to get back in the game.

Vicario: I don't think it would have much of an effect because a lot of these guys grew up playing in the rain in high school and the Sun Devils have dealt with the rain on the road before and I've never noticed it drastically influencing them.

Ferguson: No more so than it would affect Utah. It could even benefit the speed guys ASU has like Tim White and D.J. Foster when they are making cuts on their routes and the defenders are slipping and sliding trying to cover them.

Theodore: It won't. Berco's spiral won't be harmed by some rain, and the ground game works better in sluggish conditions anyways. Unless that rain is accompanied by some major wind, I don't see the weather playing any part in the game.

Demario Richard (leg) will likely play on Saturday, but it looks like his role will be limited. Who steps up if he can't fully contribute, and does ASU need a completely-healthy Richard to win?

Bafaloukos: I think the obvious choice here is Kalen Ballage. Finally healthy, if Richard misses time it will be Ballage who will get the majority of the touches along with D.J. Foster in the backfield. I think Foster has to step up the most if Richard cannot play or even if he does and is not 100 percent. Foster will be used more in the backfield tonight. We really haven't see Foster have a breakout game yet this year and I think it may be tonight.

Nacion: It's imperative Kalen Ballage gets going. D.J. Foster will likely get his touches, whether it's returning to the backfield full-time or continuing his hybrid role, but Ballage's combination of speed and power diversifies ASU's offense with more weapons. If Ballage starts rolling against Utah, ASU's offense should operate close to synchronization.

Jones: I expect to see Ballage's role expand a bit. ASU doesn't need Richard to be fully healthy to win, but his work in the passing game will be missed. Maybe we see Gump Hayes get some reps in the backfield?

Pelton: The obvious answer is Kalen Ballage. As long as Ballage continues to trend upward like he has since returning to action last month, Richard's health shouldn't matter too much.

Vicario: I do think ASU needs a completely healthy Richard to win this contest with someone like Booker on the other side, which is why I think Utah may squeak this one out. I think the Sun Devils will shift to a running game led by Ballage while targeting Foster a lot on the receiving end and possibly even giving the wideout some opportunity to catch passes out of the backfield.

Ferguson: The obvious answer would be Kallen Ballage, but D.J. Foster is the guy who has to step up out of the back field as he will probably get more touches back there because of Richard's status. He's got home run potential anytime he touches the ball and ASU will need him to be dynamic if they want to win.

Theodore: His role has become more and more blurry over the past few weeks, but if Richard isn't 100% on Saturday Gump Hayes has got to step up big-time. Kalen Ballage can shoulder the rushing load, but half of Richard's use as an offensive weapon comes in the receiving game, and only Hayes has the speed to be a lightning bug out of the backfield a la Richard.

One-Word Answers

Bafaloukos Nacion Jones Pelton Vicario Ferguson Theodore
Over/under ASU scores 20 points? Over Push Over Under Under Over Over
Biggest key for an ASU victory? Score Early Contain Booker Stop Booker Hold Booker to under 100 yards Pressure Travis Wilson Convert turnovers into points Field position
True or False: Winner of this game wins the Pac-12 South. True True True True True True True
How many turnovers will ASU commit? 1 1 2 2 3 2 2
Who wins? ASU, 27-24 (OT) ASU, 20-17 ASU, 27-24 Utah, 31-17 Utah, 27-17 ASU, 34-28 ASU, 27-24