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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Utah Utes

The Sun Devils will look to knock off the Utes when they go up to Utah on Oct. 17.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the remaining weeks separating us from the return of Sun Devil football, House of Sparky is taking a week-by-week look at the opponents ASU will take on this season. So far we've covered ASU's non-conference schedule as well as their first Pac-12 opponents of the year. After a brief pit stop at home against Colorado, the Sun Devils will take on the Utah Utes on October 17.

Opponent Primer Schedule:

July 8 - Texas A&M - Read

July 13 - Cal Poly - Read

July 15 - New Mexico - Read

July 20 - USC - Read

July 22 - UCLA - Read

July 27 - Colorado - Read

July 29 - Utah

August 5 - Washington State

August 10 - Washington

August 12 - Arizona

August 17 - Cal

Utah's 2014 Season

In what was a very competitive Pac-12 South, the Utes performed admirably en route to finishing with a 9-4 record.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham guided Utah to a 4-0 non-conference record that included a win over Michigan and another over Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl to cap off the 2014 campaign. In fact, the team even had two separate three-game winning streaks during the season.

Yet, while the Utes were able to jump off to an impressive 6-1 record to begin the year, they only managed a 3-3 record over the course of their six remaining games with the first game of that particular stretch being a 19-16 overtime loss to ASU.

Regardless, Whittingham and his squad proved once again in 2014 that Utah was no slouch in arguably the most competitive division in college football. After posting back-to-back 5-7 seasons, the Utes proved their ability to compete against the class of the conference, including a 30-28 win over then No. 8 UCLA in Pasadena.

There's much reason for optimism based on last year's success.

Key Losses

OLB Nate Orchard

Over the course of his collegiate career, Orchard totaled 25 sacks—the third-most in school history—including 18.5 sacks in 2014. He earned All-American honors and was named the recipient of the Ted Hendricks Award, which is awarded to the nation's top pass rusher.

DB Eric Rowe

A versatile defensive back, Rowe spent time lined up against receivers at cornerback as well as in the deep defensive backfield as a free safety and displayed great cover skills that translated into 14 passes defended. Rowe was a four-year starter who earned honorable All-Pac-12 mention in 2014.

WR/KR Kaelin Clay

Clay was one of the most explosive playmakers in the nation throughout his career. He averaged 109.3 all-purpose yards per game, contributing not only in the receiving game, but the return game, as well. In 2014, Clay returned three punts for touchdowns and one kickoff for a score.

Key Returners

RB Devontae Booker

Booker enters the 2015 season as arguably the best running back in the nation. He scored 10 touchdowns on the ground last year while rushing for 1,566 yards on 292 carries, averaging 116.3 yards a game. Booker also caught the second-most passes for the Utes, hauling in 43 receptions for 306 yards in 2014. He's the engine that makes Utah's offense go and is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country.

LB Jared Norris

Norris is one of the most underrated defensive playmakers in the Pac-12. The incoming-senior averaged 8.9 tackles per game and totaled 116 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4 sacks over the course of 2014, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.

LB Gionni Paul

Despite only playing in eight games last season, Paul finished as the Utes' third-leading tackler with 61. Paul also displayed tremendous ability in defending the pass en route to intercepting four passes (which led the team) and five passes defended.

Reasons for optimism

Sophomore running back Demario Richard broke on to the scene with a 14-carry, 116-yard performance and has the chance to replicate that showing once again this season. Defensively, while the Sun Devils gave up 184 rushing yards, they held the Utes to just 57 passing yards.

Overall, should the Sun Devils manage to play to their speed and tempo, expect them to find success on both sides of the ball.

Reasons for pessimism

Each of the last two seasons, the Utes have proven to be a tough out for ASU. The Sun Devils have a combined win margin of four points over those last two contests. There will be no presence of receiver Jaelen Strong to ease the load of the other receivers in the passing game.

Meanwhile, a defense that surrendered 157.4 rushing yards per game and four yards per carry in 2014 will have to find a way to slow down Devontae Booker, who last year torched the Sun Devil defense for 146 yards in Tempe.