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Utah Football Opponent Preview: ASU Offense Preview

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Let's examine the Arizona State offense, as the Utes get ready to welcome the Sun Devils to Rice-Eccles on Saturday night.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils offense is led by Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell in his fourth year in Tempe. Arizona State is currently ranked 36th in the nation in total offense averaging 446.8 yards per game. Norvell runs a balanced offensive attack, passing 51% of the time and running 49% of the time. Despite the parity in run and pass plays, the Sun Devils are more effective passing the ball. Arizona State is 29th in the nation in passing offense versus 59th in rushing offense.

Quarterback

The Sun Devil's are led on the field by senior signal caller Mike Bercovici. Many might remember him from last season when he stepped in for the injured Taylor Kelly and started three games for the Sun Devils finishing 2-1. Bercovici is a pro-style quarterback with a big arm (remember the Jalen Strong Hail Mary against USC last year). His first season as a full time starter has been mixed, but overall his numbers are good. He is completing 60.3% of his passes, and has thrown for 1,604 yards at 6.9 yards per attempt. He has tossed 14 touchdowns against 4 interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 134.89 ranking him sixth in the conference.

While Bercovici is primarily a pro style quarterback, he can also make things happen with his feet when he has to. He is not a primary running threat, but the Utah defense would be wise to keep an eye on him, as he has decent speed and has rushed for three touchdowns on the year.

Running Back

1,000 yard rusher DJ Foster returns, but not at the running back position. Foster was moved to receiver this season despite his past success to make room for sophomore Demario Richard. At 5-10 220 lbs, Richard is a tough runner to bring down and has done well as the starting back, rushing for 529 yards on 101 attempts for a 5.24 yard per carry average and 4 touchdowns. He is also a threat as a pass catcher, with 18 catches for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns.

One area of concern for Arizona State entering Saturday's contest against Utah, is Richard's health. The running back left last week's game against Colorado with an injury and finished the game watching from the sidelines on crutches. Head Coach Todd Graham came out on Monday and said Richard is expected to play Saturday against Utah. If for some reason Richard isn't able to play however, Arizona State can move the versatile veteran Foster from his receiver position to fill in at running back.

Receivers

Arizona State likes to spread the ball around to a number of receivers. The Sun Devils have six players with double digit receptions including the aforementioned running back Richard. DJ Foster has the most receptions for the Sun Devils with 29 for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Tim White leads the team in both receiving yards with 278, and touchdowns receptions with 5. Senior Gary Chambers has also been active, with 14 receptions for 258 yards, but has not seen the end zone yet this season.

UCLA transfer Devin Lucien has emerged as a playmaker for the Sun Devils, with 20 catches for 220 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging 11 yards per reception. At tight end, Kody Kohl has been solid with 19 catches, 211 receiving yards for 3 touchdowns and an 11.11 yard per reception average. Kohl also had a scoop and score last week, picking up a Richard fumble and taking it the rest of the way for a touchdown.

Analysis

Utah will be the best defensive front the Sun Devils have faced all year, ranking 39th in the country in run defense allowing 133.20 rushing yards per game. Compare that to Arizona State's previous opponents this year, Texas A&M (86th), Cal Poly (no ranking) New Mexico (95th) USC (64th), UCLA (100th) and Colorado (101st). The Sun Devils have run for over 200 yards twice this season against Colorado and Cal Poly, and failed to run for 100 yards once this season, against Texas A&M. Utah's run defense ranks 25 spots higher than the Sun Devils next highest rated opponent in USC. With the game being in Salt Lake City and against the toughest defensive front they've faced this season, it would be surprising to see Arizona State have much luck moving the ball on the ground, especially with a back that is likely not 100%.

In the passing game, Bercovici has had success moving the ball as Arizona State ranks 29th in passing. Utah's pass defense ranks lowest of any of Arizona State's previous opponents (excluding FCS Cal Poly) at 101st in the country, giving up 258.8 yards per game. Now this number could be attributed to Utah having just faced the best quarterback in the country in Jared Goff, or a bend don't break style in the pass defense. In any case, it doesn't tell the who story, as Utah's scoring defense still ranks pretty well at 33rd, giving up 19.8 points per game.

Despite the fact that opposing offenses have been able to move the ball through the air on Utah's defense, they have had trouble converting the yardage into points. Part of the reason is the turnovers the Utah defense has been able to generate this year, as evidenced by 12 interceptions for the season, 5 of them against Cal on Saturday. While Bercovici is a talented quarterback, he is not in Goff's class. Arizona State will probably be able to find some success throwing the ball this weekend, but with questions in the run game, the Utah defense shouldn't need 5 interceptions to pull off the win on Saturday.