Utah will travel to Tempe, to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday evening. Coming off last week’s bye, Utah moved up in the AP Poll to no. 13 after several other top 25 teams lost over the weekend. With three games left to go in the regular season, Utah finds themselves in a good position to begin the final stretch. Everyone knows the stakes by now, win out and Utah is in the Pac-12 championship game.
First thing is first however, and that is beating the Sun Devils on their home field. Arizona State has been a tough out for Utah, with the Utes getting their first win over the Sun Devils since joining the Pac-12 last season. Today we’ll preview Arizona State’s defense.
The Sun Devils defense has had their share of problems this season. They are giving up an average of 513.6 yards per game and 36.6 points per game. Both land the Sun Devils defense near the bottom of the Pac-12. Against Oregon in their last game, the Arizona State defense gave up 734 yards, the second most in school history.
Most of the yards come in the passing game, where the Sun Devils are on pace to finish with their worst pass defense in school history. The Sun Devils are giving up a whopping 397.6 yards passing per game. Arizona State has played some pass heavy teams, such as Texas Tech, Cal and Washington State, but the numbers reveal a bigger weakness than just the opponent.
Against the run, the Arizona State defense is actually surprisingly strong, ranking 2nd in the Pac-12 in yards per carry allowed (3.52). The Sun Devils only give up 116 yards per game on the ground, tops in the Pac-12. With Utah’s strength on offense being the run game, this poses an interesting match up.
The Arizona defensive line has solid talent with Jojo Wicker (6-3, 263 lbs.) becoming a major contributor this season at defensive end with 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Tashon Smallwood (6-0, 274 lbs.) plays on the interior with 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Alongside Smallwood is nose tackle Viliami Latu (6-2, 296 lbs.) with 21 tackles and 2 sacks.
This the most exciting position group for the Sun Devil defense. Marcus Ball (6-3, 223 lbs.) has switched back and forth between the bandit safety position and spur linebacker position, serving in a hybrid role with his versatile skill set. He leads team with 59 tackles to go with 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery. DJ Calhoun (6-0 228 lbs.) has been a stabilizing force for a banged up position unit, with 53 total tackles and 4.5 sacks. Junior college transfer Koron Crump (6-3, 218 lbs.) has been a great addition turning into one of Arizona State’s best players, leading the team with 9 sacks in addition to 30 tackles and 3 forced fumbles.
This position has struggled with some injuries and the results on the field have shown as much. Maurice Chandler (6-0, 191 lbs.) and J’Marcus Rhodes (6-0, 207 lbs.) have stepped in with injuries to guys like cornerback Kareem Orr (5-11, 198 lbs.) and safety Armand Perry (6-0, 195 lbs.) Redshirt senior De’Chavon Hayes (5-11, 187 lbs.) leads the team with 3 interceptions with 5 pass breakups, and serves as the veteran presence of the group.
Utah’s strength is running the ball, stopping the run also happens to be the strength of the Arizona State defense. Expect Utah to try and establish the run anyway, especially on the road. Joe Williams has shown since his return that he can find yards against some very tough defenses and should expect to be able to find running room against the Sun Devils. If the Sun Devils stack the box, Troy Williams has the arm talent to exploit a depleted Sun Devil secondary.