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ASU Football Opponent Primer: Utah Utes

Week Seven

Oregon State v Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

ASU’s 2021 Schedule

Sep. 2: vs. Southern Utah (Thu.)

Sep. 11: vs. UNLV

Sep. 18: @ BYU

Sep. 25: vs. Colorado

Oct. 2: @ UCLA

Oct. 8: vs. Stanford (Fri.)

Oct. 16: @ Utah

Oct. 30: vs. Washington State

Nov. 6: vs. USC

Nov. 13: @ Washington

Nov. 20: @ Oregon State

Nov. 27: vs. Arizona

Utah’s 2020 Season

While every team in the nation felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on some level, few were hit harder than Utah. When the Utes finally opened their season on Nov. 21, they were the last team in the FBS to play a game. The emotional toll was so great that the team opted out of bowl season despite embarking on a three-game win streak to end the year.

Though the players were admittedly suffering, the Utes’ on-field performance improved with each passing week. Utah’s biggest win came on the road against No. 21 Colorado, in a game where the unranked Utes’ rushing attack took center stage.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham has compiled a 134-66 record in 16 seasons at the helm in Salt Lake City, including a 21-3 drubbing of Arizona State in the last meeting between the two teams.

Key Returners

The Utes team that takes the field in 2021 will have few similarities to the one that finished last season. The Utes will have brand-new starters at nearly every skill position, and the few returners they have are mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

Chief among Utah’s returning starters is linebacker Devin Lloyd, a first-team all Pac-12 selection in 2020. Lloyd led the Utes in total tackles last season and recorded a very respectable two sacks in five games to go along with his 48 solo tackles.

Also returning to the Utes’ linebacking corps is Nephi Sewell, a PAC-12 all-conference honorable mention last season. Sewell enjoyed a career performance in Utah’s win over Colorado, recording 11 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in the upset win. Along with Lloyd, he will help provide some leadership to a team full of new faces.

Biggest Losses

While COVID-19 made life miserable for Utah throughout the 2020 season, the team suffered an even bigger gut punch six days after their final game, when running back Ty Jordan tragically passed away on Christmas. Jordan, a freshman All-American and Utah’s obvious MVP in 2020, averaged 144 all-purpose yards per game in his lone season as a Ute, and his untimely departure left a gaping chasm in Utah’s backfield that none of their remaining backs are likely to completely fill.

Last season’s starting quarterback Jake Bentley’s departure was much less tragic and much more predictable. After losing the offseason quarterback competition to Cameron Rising, Bentley regained control of the Utes’ offense when Rising suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the season opener against USC.

Bentley was decent as Utah’s starter and had his moments, but decided to enter the transfer portal after being benched in the season finale against Washington State. In spite of his inconsistency, his exit leaves Utah with a fair amount of uncertainty under center, as Rising has not yet healed from his injury. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer, coming off of a rocky 2020 campaign in Waco, is the most likely candidate to start.

Why ASU Could Win

The lack of continuity on Utah’s roster has the potential to result in unforced errors for the Sun Devils to capitalize on. The two teams will meet around the halfway mark of the season, and it’s possible that Utah might still lack some cohesion when ASU rolls into Salt Lake City.

Why Utah Could Win

In spite of his less-than-stellar 2020 season, Charlie Brewer has a wealth of experience as a starting quarterback and has the tools to succeed in Utah’s offense if he can develop the necessary chemistry with his skill players. ASU had issues containing UCLA dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson last season, and Brewer’s similar skill set could realistically present similar issues for the Sun Devils’ defense.