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ASU Football: First Look at Utah

The No. 13 Utes have everything to play for, including a trip to the program’s very first Rose Bowl

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils will host the No. 13 Utah Utes in Tempe on Thursday as both teams are looking to rebound from tough conference losses. The game will air at 7:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time on FOX Sports 1.

Last week, Kyle Wittingham’s program fell just short of upsetting then-No. 5 Washington in Salt Lake City. It was the Utes’ first loss at home all season, and their second defeat in conference play. Utah still has much to play for, however, as wins against ASU, Oregon and Colorado would catapult it to the top of the Pac-12 South, and give the program a chance for its first ever Rose Bowl bid.

Here’s what you need to know about the Utes:

Not Your Average Joe

Like many programs across the country, the Utes offensive success relies on their ability to establish a strong running game. Unlike all of those programs, however, the Utes have an unstoppable force out of the backfield in running back Joe Williams.

After being projected to start the season as No. 1 on the depth chart, the Allentown, Pa. native initially “retired” in the preseason due to nagging injuries, a loss of desire to play the game, and a revamped aspiration to finish his sociology degree. However, after just four weeks Williams decided to return to the football field and instead terrorize Pac-12 defenses.

The senior RB has a similar physical stature as Sun Devil RB Demario Richard, standing at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, but can run a tantalizing 4.3 40-yard dash. In just five games, Williams has rushed for an incredible 758 yards and six touchdowns, all while averaging a 6.32 yards per carry mark that leads Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and ties Penn State’s Saquon Barkley for 29th in the nation. As if that weren’t enough, Williams ran for an unprecedented 172 yards on 35 carries last week against a Washington defense that is easily the toughest in the conference.

Additionally, Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding has done an incredible job revamping a line that was down to its fourth-string center, and has been able to develop his unit into possibly the top graded run blocking line in the conference. Combine Utah’s strengths in the run game with the 245 yards on the ground the Oregon Ducks amassed in Eugene last week, and the once highly-touted front seven of the Sun Devils is in for a tortuous battle Thursday night.

The Sun Devils Secondary Will Surely See Red

With the Sun Devils’ secondary once again allowing the most passing yards in the country, it’s important to see what the unit led by Kareem Orr, Armand Perry, and recently-crowned House of Sparky Mid-Season Most Improved Award winner Marcus Ball will be up against.

Junior QB Troy Williams’ favorite target is the 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior, Tim Patrick. The San Diego native has amassed 501 yards on on just 29 receptions this season, averaging a remarkable 17.28 yards per catch. Patrick is an obvious matchup nightmare with his size, and should prove to be a tough test for the only other player in the secondary of that size, SPUR Marcus Ball.

The elite run game Utah has created with Joe Williams has clearly opened up Offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick’s playbook, and allowed the Utes to take many deep shots downfield. This is evident when you see that five of the Utes receivers are averaging at least 14.80 yards per reception this season, a mark that is sure to terrify many fans that have seen the Sun Devil’s repeated struggles in the secondary. If ASU’s front seven struggles to prevent Utah’s run game from gaining a solid rhythm, the Devils could be in for a hellish night when Roderick decides to take shots downfield.