It was a tough loss, but also an expected one in the desert of Tempe, Ariz. No. 20/22 Utah dropped their overtime thriller to No. 11/12 Arizona State 16-19.
Honestly, I can't say anyone on the offensive side of the ball played poorly. The offensive line was under duress most of the game, as Arizona State head coach Todd Graham routinely sent blitzes from every angle. Utah junior quarterback Travis Wilson threw for a paltry 57 yards, but only had 22 attempted passes, and while his 54.5% passing wasn't stellar, it's not terrible either. By comparison, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly had 18 completions, nearly as many as Wilson had attempts. While Wilson's yards per attempt was under five, Utah really didn't try to throw down the field, a problem Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham noted has to change against Oregon. It appeared the offensive fizzle had more to do with scheme than execution. On the upside, Devontae Booker rushed for 146 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
What more could you ask of the defense? They held a potent Arizona State offense to just 16 points in regulation, sacked Kelly four times, held the Sun Devils to field goals on their first two drives, and recorded two interceptions. Hunter Dimick shined with two sacks, and linebacker Gionni Paul added another interception, giving him four on the season (after only six games). Dominique Hatfield and Davion Orphey both had good games defending one of the most potent receivers in the Pac-12, 6-3 Jaelen Strong. Yes, Strong had a touchdown, but that was all he had. Demario Richard had 116 yards rushing, but no touchdowns, and while he averaged over eight yards a carry, none of his carries really did any damage. By any measure, the defense did enough for Utah to win the game.
Special Teams: B
Ahhhh... now how do we rate the special teams? Punter Tom Hackett continued to pin the Sun Devils deep. ASU punt returner Kyle Middlebrooks fielded eight punts for a total of eight yards. Utah kick returner/punt return Kaelin Clay fielded one punt for 22 yards and three kickoffs, including a 42 yard return. Andy Phillips hit all three of his attempts in regulation, including kicks from 50, 36, and 44 yards. His lone miss was the important one in overtime, which, because of head coach Kyle Whittingham's timeout, he actually missed twice. The game should never have come down to a field goal, but... it did, and Phillips missed, so we have to drop the special teams unit a bit.
So what does all this tell us prior to Saturday's matchup with Oregon? The offense must have a credible passing threat. More importantly, Utah must test the Oregon secondary by throwing the ball down the field. Screens and short routes should be the spice, not the entire entree, to open up the middle of the field for Devontae Booker to really wreak havoc. Andy Phillips should be less in play against Oregon, because Utah can't afford to trade field goals for touchdowns with Oregon. This weekend more than any other, Utah has to go for six.