(Photo: ASU Athletics)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are on the road again, and this one won’t be easy. ASU travels to Salt Lake City to battle the Utah Utes, the same team that upset Stanford – yes, that Stanford, the one that just beat Oregon – and for whatever reason, the Utes have become one of the scariest home teams in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, played its their best road game of the Todd Graham era last weekend with a dominant win against Washington State. Can Arizona State do it again?
That’s the question.
Arizona State wins if: The Sun Devils can get to the quarterback. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has thrown 14 interceptions, including six against UCLA, and has a sophomore left tackle, albeit a talented one, in Jeremiah Poutasi. If Carl Bradford and Will Sutton can get to Wilson, the turnovers should start piling up, and when the Sun Devils force turnovers, they score points. Those two things go hand-in-hand these days, and that will be one of the keys to another dominant win for Arizona State.
The Sun Devils are in trouble if: Utah’s defense can slow down Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice. The read-option has been unstoppable during the last three games for Arizona State. Opponents can’t figure out who is keeping the ball, and eventually Kelly pulls the ball back and throws it down the field. Colorado, Washington and Washington State have all looked dazed and confused when Kelly turns to Grice. As a result, Arizona State scored over 50 in each of those games.
But if Utah can find a way to slow down the option game and force the Sun Devils into more traditional plays, that could be trouble. Notre Dame slowed down the option and things didn’t end well in that one. The same goes for Stanford, and Sun Devil fans all know how that game finished as well. A successful option game usually equals a successful day for the Sun Devils, but if the option game isn’t working, can Arizona State still move the ball?
Arizona State loses if: Kelly gets beat up by Utah’s defense. Kevin Hogan was practically assaulted during Stanford’s loss to Utah. Kelly doesn’t handle being hit well, mainly because it disrupts his rhythm. When Kelly gets hit often, the offense slows down and becomes more predictable. Utah’s goal is to get to Kelly early and often and slow down the Sun Devil offense. If the game becomes a grind-it-out affair, Utah is in the driver’s seat.
Prediction: Arizona State wins, 44-24. The Sun Devils won’t explode out of the gates like they have in the past month, but I believe this team is taking the next step. Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell have both units complementing each other well, and, most importantly, the players didn’t allow the disappointing loss to Notre Dame get them down. This Sun Devil team looks like one on a mission right now, and I don’t think Utah, a team with far inferior talent from top to bottom, can hang around.