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Previewing ASU’s offense and some USC trip observations

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to lie, today was the first day since Saturday’s heartbreaker that I’ve been able to look at anything on the internet related to Utah football. I had all these grand plans to write up a story about our experience in Los Angeles, but after that gut-wrenching, knock out, drag down loss, I just didn’t have it in me. Call me weak, I probably deserve it.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to witness some amazing moments in Utah football history. I was there in 2003 for Alex Smith’s “breakout moment” when we beat 22 ranked Oregon. I’ll never forget my sophomore year in 2004 where we’d blow everyone out, from Texas A&M to BYU (duh) to Pittsburgh. I traveled to New Orleans and rang in the New Year when we knocked out Nick Saban and Julio Jones in the Sugar Bowl. And recently, I’ve witnessed us go “full Oregon” against Oregon in Oregon. But with all the ups come the downs. Seeing last year’s heartbreak in Berkeley was difficult, but Saturday might have been the toughest pill to swallow. Taking a 14 point lead into halftime and subsequently watching the University of Spoiled Children chip away at it was torture, and as the clock ticked to 0:00, I felt completely deflated.

I will say, after a few days of pondering, that the game against USC has (temporarily) ended my pessimism on the Utes this season. Yeah, we aren’t going to the Playoff or the Rose Bowl or even the Pac 12 championship this season, but there was a lot to like coming out of Saturday. The play of Zack Moss will definitely give our offense a lift going forward, regardless of who is taking snaps at quarterback. Seeing Demari Simpkins take on a bigger role was encouraging. And I’ll defend the 2 point conversion attempt until I die. If there was ever a “good loss,” this might be it (or maybe typing that out is just therapeutic). And with that, let’s move on and take a look forward at how the Utes will matchup with the ASU offense.

Arizona State Offense

Arizona State is a true enigma. This year was supposedly Todd Graham’s last as the coach of Sparky, but after some key wins over Oregon and Washington (how’d they pull that off??), ASU looks like a semi-contender in the South.

On offense, they boast the 25th ranked passing game in the FBS- averaging over 12 yards per completion and 288.7 passing yards/game. Quarterback Manny Wilkins has completed 8 touchdown passes and thrown only 2 picks. Sparky likes to spread the ball around in the air, with five receivers having over a hundred yards on the year, and six different receivers with touchdowns in the air. On the ground, while Arizona has scored 12 touchdowns thus far this season, it only averages about 114 yards/game, ranked 125th in the FBS. However, it should be noted that ASU does like to spread the ball out on the ground as well- 10 players have carried the ball, with four of them scoring touchdowns.

As far as specific players go, the Utes should be on the lookout for N’Keal Harry and Kalen Ballage (the Trib beat me to it and wrote a good briefing about both of these players. I would check it out.) Harry leads the team with 555 yards in the air, averaging 12.9 yards per reception. He’ll also be utilized in the backfield, and has even thrown one touchdown pass this season. Ballage leads Sparky on the ground, where he’s scored 5 touchdowns and carried for just over 300 yards. He is supplemented with Runningback Demario Richard, who has rushed for four touchdowns and 216 yards in six games.

So how do the Utes matchup here? Honestly, I feel great about this matchup. While Arizona State does run some read option, Quarterback Manny Wilkins has been largely ineffective on the ground, rushing 64 times for only 42 yards. The real key on the defensive side of the ball (and the game generally) for the Utes is their ability to stay focused after the past two weeks. These losses have been tough on the fan base, and surely the team. But if the Utes do their homework and affirm to themselves that the season is not lost, I’m confident that the D will do its job. Also, and as an aside, can we please see Marquise Blair destroy someone this week? The dude is a heat seeking missile.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss the ASU defense, and look at how they were able to hold Washington to 7 points last week.

1. LA is amazing, by the way. We had such a good time exploring Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Even better than the city? The crew we had. Going to a Utah game at 18 is so different than it is at 30+ years old. Our group featured dads, single dudes, lawyers, doctors, shoe salesmen, Mormons, and non-Mormons- a group of friends whose lives have all diverged and gone down various paths. But the one thing that will always bind us together is our time at the University of Utah. I’ve got friends that went to Michigan, Texas, Oregon, and USC. Yeah, their programs get more TV time and are known for their “pageantry,” huge stadiums and massive (and smug) fan bases. But they don’t root like they have a chip on their shoulder. They’re not “newcomers” to the limelight. We are, and always will act like we’ve got something to prove. That’s what makes us great. ml_lm