Salt Lake City, UT – Back in the Top 25 for the second time ranked Arizona State Sun Devils will try to remain there 12 tilt at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
This is the second time Arizona State and Utah will share a conference. From 1962 to 1977 the two programs were part of the Western Athletic Conference. Currently the Sun Devils own a 16-6 edge over the Utes, and have won the last seven meetings.
The Sun Devils jumped into the rankings after opening the season with two wins, one of those victories against Missouri, which was ranked 19th at the time. However, the team's stay among the best in the country did not last long, as coach Dennis Erickson's squad fell short against Illinois on the road, 17-14. The Sun Devils were able to bounce back though and in the process have opened league play with a 2-0 ledger. ASU clobbered USC and then stomped Oregon State at home this past weekend, 35-20.
The Utes are new to the Pac-12, and they have not received a warm welcome so far. Utah does have two victories on the year, defeating Montana State and BYU, but in terms of conference action, coach Kyle Whittingham's team has been overmatched. Utah was narrowly defeated by USC on the road, 23-14, and this past weekend the team was clobbered at home by Washington, 31-14.
The Sun Devils have put forth a balanced effort through five games, and that is the major reason for the team's early success. Brock Osweiler has grown into a terrific field general and has already thrown for 1,352 yards and 10 touchdowns. He does have six interceptions on the season and that is something coach Erickson will want to see his quarterback improve upon.
Three of those picks came in the recent win over Oregon State, but coach Erickson has faith that his quarterback is just fine.
"The reality of it is the two interceptions were good plays by the defensive back. The first one, the out route, we didn't get any separation on the route. The guy closed on it. He made a great play. The same thing on the slant route that they intercepted," said coach Erickson. "The third one in the third quarter was a bad read. The safety sat in there, and he shouldn't have thrown it where he threw it. The other turnover, he tried to run with the football, and he didn't secure it and it got knocked out. Those were the four turnovers. That Oregon State corner made two really great plays."
Even with the four mistakes, Osweiler finished with 258 yards and two touchdowns. That level of success was needed for ASU to win, because the team did not find much running room, finishing the game with only 108 yards on 3.2 yards per attempt.
Cameron Marshall led the way with 80 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 374 yards and seven scores on the season. Clearly Marshall is the team's best option out of the backfield, but right now he is dealing with an ankle injury and while he is probable for Saturday's game, he won't be at 100 percent.
The Sun Devils were able to overcome Osweiler's mistakes because the defense was able to force the Beavers into five turnovers. Four of those takeaways were interceptions and Alden Darby grabbed two of them. Jamaar Jarett recorded two sacks and forced a fumble in the game. The team's best defensive player, Vontaze Burfict was quiet, finishing with just two tackles.
Coach Erickson was especially impressed with the play of Jarett, because he continues to improve every week.
"Jamaar played extremely well in that football game. He���s getting better all the time. The great thing about Jamaar is he���s a senior and he���s just starting to step up," said coach Erickson. "He���s starting to get better. The thing about Jamaar that has really impressed me this year is how he practices and how he���s trying to improve to get better. Coach Brown is teaching him some different things, and he���s picking up on it. He���s doing well.
The defense surrendered over 300 yards passing, but that had more to do with Oregon State's urgency to catch up than it did with the performance of the secondary. What is ultimately more important is the team's effort against the run and against Oregon State, the Sun Devils were outstanding, limiting the Beavers to just 47 yards. Through five games the Sun Devils have not given opponents much room to maneuver out of the backfield, allowing just 119.4 rushing yards per contest.
The offense for coach Whittingham has been a bit erratic this season, and things could get worse before they get better because now Jordan Wynn will be sidelined for two to three weeks.
Wynn, who has thrown for only 727 yards and six touchdowns in four games, was injured in the loss to Washington and before exiting the game the signal caller had thrown for 149 yards and one score. However, he also threw his second pick on the year.
Jon Hays stepped in for Wynn and even though he also threw an interception the backup quarterback did completed 10-of-16 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown. Coach Whittingham certainly saw a lot of good in Hays and is confident he will get the job done Saturday.
"I thought when he came in he did some good things. He did throw an interception and lose the ball in the pocket, but he made some good throws," said coach Whittingham. "He showed a lot of poise on a lot of plays. I saw a lot of positives in the half that he played. He has a strong arm and runs fairly effectively."
If Hays is going to be successful he will need to locate DeVonte Christopher early and often. Christopher is currently leading the team in receptions and yards and is the biggest weapon for coach Whittingham.
Look for John White to be very busy Saturday because coach Whittingham will likely lean heavily on the tailback while Hays becomes more comfortable under center. So far White has rumbled for 415 yards and five touchdowns on 5.5 yards per attempt.
The Utah defense has tried its best to keep the team in matchups this season, but this past weekend this unit fell apart against Washington. The Utes surrendered three passing touchdowns and were gashed for 185 rushing yards.
It was by far the worst effort by Utah against the run all year. Coach Whittingham's squad is usually reliable in terms of stopping the run, as the defense heads into this game limiting the opposition to just 105.8 yards per game on 3.2 yards per attempt.
It won't get any easier for this defense now that the team's starting quarterback is out of commission. The defense will have to be perfect, because it is unlikely the offense will score many points.