ASU Football: Arizona State vs. Utah Preview

After a much-needed bye week, Arizona State will look to send out the senior class with a victory in the home finale vs 15th-ranked Utah.

The Sun Devils enter Thursday night’s game rejuvenated after a bye week last week. The Sun Devils last played Oct. 29 at Oregon, a game in which ASU lost 54-35. In Dillon Sterling-Cole’s first career start, he finished with 325 total yards, two total touchdowns and three interceptions. Kalen Ballage played up to his potential, finishing with 167 total yards and two rushing touchdowns.

While the offense played well, considering it was Sterling-Cole’s first start, the defense continued to struggle versus the high-powered Oregon offense. The game didn’t start well for the defense, allowing a 72-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to wide receiver Pharaoh Brown three minutes into the game. In total, the defense gave up three 50+ yard touchdowns, allowing a combined 734 yards of total offense. Herbert finished 31-for-42 passes, 489 yards and four touchdowns.

The bye week came at the perfect time for Arizona State, giving them ample time to prepare for the Utah Utes. Utah, ranked 15th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, is also coming off a loss, falling to Washington 31-24 two weeks ago. With the game tied at 24, Utah allowed a 58-yard punt return for touchdown with 3:25 remaining, sinking the Utes. In a hotly-contested game, quarterback Troy Williams finished with 163 passing yards and two touchdowns, while running back Joe Williams finished with 172 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The Sun Devils have used this bye week to get some of the banged-up players healed and to work on both units. The defense has struggled since the UCLA game, as they’ve gone back to their old habits of allowing explosive plays. After allowing the most explosive plays (plays over 20 yards) last season, they are right there towards the top of the conference in the same category. Fortunately, Utah doesn’t feature an explosive offense. That should benefit the Sun Devils defensive line, who have been wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

On the offensive side, there were positives to take away from the Oregon game. Sterling-Cole proved he can play in a hostile environment, leading the Sun Devils to multiple long drives resulting in points. Kalen Ballage and the running game played well, rushing for 139 yards. With that said, the bye week has allowed quarterback Manny Wilkins to get healthy after missing the last game versus Oregon. Wilkins is expected to start Thursday night.

A key for the offense will be to control the time of possession. If ASU can put together long drives, and keep ASU’s defense off the field, that goes well for both units. Ballage and Richard need to establish an effective running game to take the pressure off Wilkins. Utah has the fifth-best defense in the Pac-12, including the fourth-best rush defense and the seventh-best pass defense.

On the other side, the key will be who wins the line of scrimmage. Utah has allowed the third-fewest sacks in the conference, while Arizona State has the second-most sacks in the Pac-12. Something has to give. If ASU can shut down the Utah running game, that should bode well for the rest of the defense. They live-or-die by pressuring the quarterback, and if they can get to Troy Williams early and often, it will allow the secondary to make some plays. That has been their recipe for success all year.

Prediction:

Utah 31, Arizona State 27. It’s Senior Night for the Sun Devils, and I think the team will be motivated to send them out with a win. I think Utah’s defense will carry the Utes to a victory, but the game will be much closer than what people are predicting.

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