Utah hopes to exploit young Arizona State defense
Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) celebrates with Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Antonio Longino (32) following a 24-10 Arizona State victory against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — The Utah football team starts the month of November with a date in the desert against the 19th ranked Sun Devils of Arizona State. The Sun Devils haven’t lost to Utah since a 31-28 defeat in 1976. They have taken all three Pac-12 matchups, winning 35-14 in 2011 and 37-7 the next year before last season’s matchup was particularly devastating for the Utes, a 20-19 loss in Salt Lake City.
Will 2014 be the year the Utes beat Arizona State? Can Utah break through on the road in the tough Pac-12?
Last season, the Utah defense performed well against the Sun Devils at home, giving up only 144 passing yards and 149 rushing yards in a 20-19 loss to Arizona State. This season Utah’s defense is even stronger, averaging 35 points (28th) and only allowing opponents 21.6 points per game (30th). Last season, Utah hosted #19 Arizona State but this year, in Tempe, the Utes come in ranked 17th while the Sun Devils sit at 14th in the polls.
The Sun Devils are a much better team at home than on the road (much like Utah). The last trip Utah made to Sun Devil Stadium was a 37-7 beat down in 2012. ASU looked solid in their opening game of the 2014 season with a 45-14 win over Weber State. With the game so late in the season, that gives the inexperienced defense for ASU plenty of time to get all the kinks worked out before their showdown with an improved Utes offense. The game should be much higher scoring this year than last year. Utah has not beaten the Sun Devils as a member of the Pac-12, and playing the game in Tempe will only make it that much more difficult for the Utes to break through.
The major concern for the defending Pac-12 South champions is the loss of 9 defensive starters, including all the major contributors like Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Alden Darby, and Robert Nelson. This is good news for Utah fans because the ASU defense held the Utah offense to 247 total yards (Utah quarterback Travis Wilson only completed 6 passes in the game).
To reload, ASU has added several highly touted junior college transfers and true freshmen, but one has to expect a drop off for the Sun Devil defense due to replacing 9 starters. Dalvon Stuckey, a very highly recruited junior college defensive tackle (and the player who was supposed to replace Sutton) did not qualify academically. Another highly recruited defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood (a true freshman) is now the likely replacement for Sutton. The replacement for Bradford at the Devilbacker position is probably Antonio Longino, a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position.
Arizona State (6-1, 4-1) tops the division, while Utah (6-1, 3-1) and No. 14 Arizona are one-half game back. The Sun Devils and Utes have yet to face the Wildcats, who visit No. 25 UCLA on Saturday.
Arizona State expects the return of Cameron Smith has an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the Huskies game. The receiver is third on the team with 307 yards.
The Utes suffered a major blow on the injury front this week, learning top receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Anderson has team highs of 355 yards and four touchdowns.
Anderson had a key role in Utah being a much-improved team from the one that went 5-7 a year ago, but new running back Devontae Booker has played a bigger one. Booker is third in the conference with 120.6 rushing yards per game, and he’s averaging a Pac-12-leading 166.3 in conference games.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11pm EST Saturday evening at Sun Devil Stadium on Fox Sports 1.