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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Utah Utes

The Sun Devils look to top the Utes for the first time since 2014.

Arizona State v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Arizona State 2017 Schedule

New Mexico State (Aug. 31) — Read

San Diego State (Sept. 9) — Read

At Texas Tech (Sept. 16) — Read

Oregon (Sept. 23) — Read

At Stanford (Sept. 30) — Read

Washington (Oct. 14) — Read

At Utah (Oct. 21)

USC (Oct. 28)

Colorado (Nov. 4)

At UCLA (Nov. 11)

At Oregon State (Nov. 18)

Arizona (Nov. 25)

Utah’s 2016 season

The 2016 Utah Utes had a campaign that looked eerily similar to that of the Sun Devils, only with a much better result. Utah started out the season hot and was 7-1 before dropping three of its last four games of the season. Thirteenth year head coach Kyle Whittingham’s squad had a tall order to follow after the 2015 season where the Utes won 10 games and were ranked as high as third in the AP Poll.

Even so, the Utes weren’t fazed, winning nine games in 2016 including a 26-24 win over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl.

With two undefeated seasons since 2004, Utah has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the PAC 12.

Key Returners

Senior QB Troy Williams Williams came to Utah from Santa Monica College after he transfered from Washington after his redshirt freshman season in 2014. Although he was overshadowed by superstar running back Joe Williams, he ran for 235 yards and five touchdowns on top of 2,757 passing yards and 15 passing touchdowns last season. It’s been a wild ride for Williams, but it has landed him as a Ute where he seems to be settling in nicely.

Junior P Mitch Wishnowsky — It may seem odd to have a punter under the category of “Key Returners,” but don’t be fooled, the Australian-born Santa Barbara CC transfer is nothing if not an impact player. Wishnowsky came in last year and immediately claimed the starting job left in the absence of Utah great Tom Hackett. He won the Ray Guy award last season and was just the third Utah player to be unanimously named a consensus All-American. Wishnowsky proves just how valuable a solid, consistent punter can be to a program.

Junior DB Chase Hansen — Hansen was the biggest impact player on the defensive side of the ball, which is saying a lot considering the Utah defense was solid all year holding opponents to just over 23 points per game. Hansen earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors behind 90 total tackles, three forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered, three interceptions and 12 passes defended. His versatility and work ethic will likely land him the starting strong safety spot again this year.

Biggest Losses

RB Joe Williams — After an abrupt, albeit brief retirement from football following week two of the 2016 season, Williams caught the nation by storm running for 1,407 yards in just nine games. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native averaged 6.7 yards per carry to go along with 10 touchdowns on his way to a memorable season best summed up by his 332-yard, four touchdown game against UCLA. Williams was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

OT Garett Bolles — Another transfer standout for the Utes, Bolles arrived to Utah by way of Snow College. In just one season with the club he earned All-Pac-12 honors and as a result was considered one of the top available offensive linemen in the draft. Bolles decided to forgo his season and declared for the draft where he was selected 20th overall by the Denver Broncos.

S Marcus Williams — Along with Chase Hansen, Marcus Williams played a huge role anchoring the Utes defense in 2016. Williams played in all three seasons he was at Utah beginning with his true freshman season when he played in all 13 games. He led the team with five interceptions in 2016 which, accompanied by 64 total tackles was good enough to earn him second-team All-Pac-12 honors, he also earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore in 2015. After the conclusion of his junior season, Williams declared for the draft where he was selected in 42nd overall in the second round by the New Orleans Saints.

Reason for Optimism

It will certainly be a tough game for the Sun Devils when they visit Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, but the Utes lost eight players to the draft last season which could leave some holes on their roster heading into the 2017 season. If the Sun Devil defense is up to the task and can hold the Utah offense in check unlike last year’s game, they may just be able to come away with what would likely be a massive Pac-12 South upset.

Reason for Pessimism

Utah has dominated ASU the last two seasons outscoring the Sun Devils by a combined 83-44 largely because of their dominance on the defensive side of the ball. Utah had no issues coming into Sun Devil Stadium last fall and routing ASU 49-26 behind a phenomenal second half performance where they outscored the Devils 28-6. Following a tough matchup on the road against USC the week before, Utah may be coming into this matchup with something to prove.