The Arizona State Sun Devils (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) ventured to Salt Lake City and came away with a momentous 30-10 win on Saturday afternoon.
Let’s take a deeper look at each position that contributed:
Manny Wilkins threw for a season-low 140 yards, had no passing touchdowns and let up his third interception of the season on Saturday, but who cares? The Sun Devils won 30-10 on the road against a team who allowed just 20 points per game prior to Saturday. Wilkins, who led the offense, ran 75 plays compared to Utah’s 60 and kept the ball for 36 minutes compared to the Utes’ 23 minutes. The one stat that mattered most was ball security. Wilkins went without an interception for three quarters. Utah’s Tyler Huntley had four interceptions total (one in each quarter).
Running backs: A+
The running game was in full form Saturday, as the Sun Devils combined for over 200 rushing yards for just the second time this season. Demario Richard blossomed, as he earned 93 yards and a touchdown. It was his best performance since week two of 2016 against Texas Tech (109 yards). Kalen Ballage provided depth and power, adding 75 yards on the ground. Between Richard and Ballage, the two averaged 5.3 yards per carry and should surely provide a spark the rest of the season building off Saturday’s performance.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B-
While the running game ate up 205 of Arizona State’s 345 total yards, Wilkins’ favorite and biggest receiver, 6-foot-4, 216-pound N’keal Harry still logged a 79-yard, eight-catch performance. It was the most yards by a receiver from either side, ASU or Utah. Kyle Williams added a boost to the passing game with 38 yards on six catches, but the receivers are nearly touching a C+ because in the 19 balls caught on Saturday, Harry and Williams caught 14 of them. Jalen Harvey and Frank Darby didn’t make a catch, while John Humphrey tallied just one catch for two yards.
Offensive Line: A
The Sun Devils’ defense has made a major turnaround the last two games, and it’s safe to say the offensive line’s play has peaked after Saturday as well. After allowing seven sacks to New Mexico State, then five to Oregon and San Diego State, the Sun Devils let up just two sacks to the Washington Huskies and one to Utah. Other than protecting Wilkins, the line has opened major holes for the running backs, who eclipsed 200 yards on the ground.
Defensive Line: B
It wasn’t the Sun Devils’ same five-sack performance over Washington, but ASU combined for six tackles for loss on two sacks, and made enough noise up front to rattle Huntley who threw four picks. Even without Alani Latu (left foot) and Renell Wren (didn’t play), George Lea stepped up for three tackles and JoJo Wicker added a sack and a tackle for loss.
This may have been Arizona State’s coming out game in this position. Three of the four interceptions the Sun Devils caught were from linebackers: Christian Sam, J’Marcus Rhodes and Jay Jay Wilson. Sam and Rhodes also tied for the most tackles (10). Wilson, who made three touchdown catches as a tight end last season, earned a 20-yard pick six. And DJ Calhoun, who already hadn’t missed a tackle this year, earned a team-high two tackles for loss with a sack.
In a pick parade for the Sun Devils, 75 percent of interceptions were caught by linebackers, leaving cornerback Chase Lucas with the only pick from the secondary. But at the same time, Lucas pushed Arizona State back 15 yards for a pass interference penalty in the second quarter. Overall, the Sun Devils allowed just 155 yards of offense in the air to the Utes. Ranked at No. 90 in the nation in passing defense, it looks like the Sun Devils may not go back-to-back-to-back seasons with the worst passing defense in the nation after all.
Special Teams: B+
Brandon Ruiz jump started the win, as he kicked a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals from 40, 47 and 30 yards out to give ASU a 9-0 lead. Michael Sleep-Dalton punted just a few yards under his average (36.8 yards per punt), but pinned the Utes inside their own 20-yard line three times. On kick and punt returns though, the Sun Devils didn’t record a single return.