Arizona State got off to a fast start this year, opening the season 4-0. After their quick sprint out the gate, the Sun Devils have tumbled in the standings, dropping 4 of their past 5 games. Similar to Utah, Arizona State has suffered from a string of injuries and comes into this game off a bye week. This week is a critical game for both teams as they hope to finish strong down the final stretch of the season.
Arizona State’s averages 35.7 points per game and has shown an ability to score a lot of points (68 against Texas Tech) when healthy. Worth noting is the Sun Devils average a touchdown less 29.5 ppg against Pac-12 opponents than their total season scoring average. On the ground, the Sun Devils rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 averaging only 3.86 yards per carry and 155.78 total rush yards per game. They are better through the air where they average 239.3 yards passing per game. This ranks Arizona State 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense with 395.1 total yards per game.
The Sun Devils have suffered in the injury department this season, which may help to explain some of their struggles. In their last game against Oregon, the Sun Devils were missing 10 regular starters. They hope to have some of those players back this week. Including at the quarterback position.
Sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins (6-3, 197 lbs.) is expected to start on Thursday night. Wilkins has struggled with shoulder and ankle injuries this season, missing games against UCLA and Oregon. He appears to be ready to go this week after having a bye week to get healthy.
Wilkins will provide a boost to the Sun Devil offense with his duel threat ability. In his first 4 games this season, Wilkins averaged 271.25 yards passing and 65.75 yards rushing. Wilkins presence makes the Sun Devils a better team and his ability to run will add a wrinkle for the Utah defense to guard against.
The Sun Devils have two very capable runners with juniors DeMario Richard (5-10, 219 lbs.) and Kalen Ballage (6-2, 227 lbs.). Both backs have remained consistent in their production while the Sun Devils had some inconsistency at other positions. Richard runs with a low center of gravity and can use both his speed or power to get yards. Ballage does it all, accounting for 12 rushing touchdowns, 1 receiving touchdown and 1 passing touchdown this season.
A key to beating the Sun Devils will be stopping Ballage. Against Texas Tech, Ballage almost single handedly won the game for Arizona State, accounting for 8 total touchdowns. Richard has only accounted for 3 touchdowns this season, but leads the team with 134 carries.
Arizona State is hopeful to have star receiver and kick returner Tim White (5-11, 175 lbs.) back for this week. White leads the Sun Devils with 47 receptions and 573 yards receiving and also has a punt return for a touchdown. Freshman N’Keal Harry (6-4, 220 lbs.) has been a big contributor leading the team with 4 receiving touchdowns on 380 yards receiving. Sophomore Jalen Harvey (6-1, 195 lbs.) has 20 catches for 322 yards.
Utah has good run defense and should be able to limit Arizona State’s rushing attack. The secondary should be getting Marcus Williams back this week which will greatly aid in guarding against the Sun Devils having success throwing downfield. A weakness for Utah’s defense has been giving up the big play, of which the Sun Devils are definitely capable. Utah has the stronger team, and if they can limit momentum changing big plays, they have a great chance to get a win in Tempe for the first time since 1976.