38 years - That's how long it's been since the Utes last beat the Sun Devils on their home field. That's also before I was born, wow. The Utes first year in the Pac-12, they were boat raced at home, and year two they were boat raced in the Arizona desert. Last year, however, was different. Utah led and controlled the majority of the game, but ultimately lost after Travis Wilson suffered a concussion. I was at that game, and it seemed that Utah finally had Todd Graham's Devils figured out. Tonight, Utah will need to do a lot of the same things they did in Rice-Eccles a year ago. The good thing is that this year's ASU team is a lot less talented than what the Utes faced a season ago. If Utah wants to continue their winning ways and build on their new found confidence, there are some key things I feel like they have to do to move into the top spot in the South Division.
Scott, Clay and Patrick vs. The young ASU DB's
Utah is going to test the young ASU corners early and often, and they very well should. However, it can not be done without caution. Although the corners are young, they are athletic, physical and seem to be hitting their stride. ASU grabbed 2 interceptions against the Huskies last week and held them to just 139 yards through the air. With the loss of Dres Anderson, Utah's WR corps will have to make a statement. Kenneth Scott is poised to lead his position group and make a statement about his abilities.
Utah's Secondary vs. 6'3" 212 pound Jaelen Strong
Strong currently leads ASU's receivers with 52 rec, 744 yards and 7 TD's. He's big, fast and Graham will line him up everywhere. Utah has done a great job at nullifying opposing teams best targets, and they will have to continue to do that this week. Normally, you would be concerned with that freeing up other play makers on the offense, but not unlike Devin Funchess at Michigan, a lot of ASU's offense goes through Strong. If Utah can limit Strong's effectiveness, they can have a very good night.
D-Line vs. O-Line
Although Nate Orchard and company were blanked in the sack column in the first half against USC, they ultimately finished with 2 sacks, one of which ended the game. This week could be vastly different. ASU has given up 18 sacks through the last 7 games. As of right now, we do not know which QB Utah will face and they both present very different challenges. Kelly brings an elusive aspect to the game, while Bercovicci is more of a pure pocket passer. Regardless of which QB the Utes see, getting pressure will be absolutely key to their defensive success, especially if Tevin Carter is absent for another week.
Clay vs. An improving kicking game
Clay will need to continue his streak of showing up when it matters. Although he hasn't housed a kick in a couple of weeks, he has still been instrumental in breaking off big returns when Utah needs them most. ASU's punter had a shaky start to the season, but has improved in recent weeks.
Phillips and Hackett
It's almost blasphemous to worry about these two. They show up week-in and week-out, and Saturday will be no different. Some have speculated that this game needs to be "ugly" to give the Utes a chance. Another term for "ugly" is close, and in a close game the team with the better special teams group has the edge.
Utah is in uncharted waters right now. Kyle Whittingham has a chance to be in the driver's seat in the PAC-12 south. After two 5-7 seasons, Utah would be a serious contender for not just a South title, but a chance to play in Levi's Stadium for the league championship. This is what college football is all about right?