While the ASU offense is scoring points and putting up big numbers statistically, their defense is allowing opposing offenses to do the same. Coming in at 63rd nationally in total defense, the Sun Devils certainly aren’t the worst unit the Utes have faced in 2018 but considering Utah’s offense is seemingly firing on all cylinders, there’s a lot working towards Utah’s advantage that should keep Ute fans optimistic heading into another important PAC-12 South matchup.
As has been the case with many of Utah’s conference opponents this season, Arizona State’s rush defense is soft, an area that the Utes can easily exploit. Ranking 65th nationally in rush defense, the Utes have comfortably dominated worse, but even against a top 25 rush defense in Northern Illinois, Zack Moss was still able to average 4.1 yards per carry. Considering ASU is currently allowing an average of 3.77 yards per rush, Moss and company should have no problem gaining chunk yardage.
If the Sun Devils are able to contain the run, Utah’s streaking receivers should benefit from ASU’s dreadful pass defense. Currently ranking 63rd nationally, the Sun Devils are allowing an average of 229.8 yards per game through the air. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the middling pass defense has only mustered three total interceptions on the season (only eight teams nationally have intercepted fewer passes), which bodes well for Tyler Huntley and his burgeoning core of receivers.
Defensively, things definitely look bad down in the desert, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for concern on Utah’s behalf. Interceptions may be hard to come by for the Sun Devils, but they’ve had no problem jarring the ball lose. Through eight games, ASU’s defense has forced nine fumbles, though only five have been recovered and their secondary has combined for 29 defended passes suggesting there’s still enough fight in Sparky to make this defense respectable.
Without question, the most dominating player the Sun Devil’s defense has to offer is linebacker Merlin Robertson. As a true freshman, Robertson has carried the defense on his back at times, leading the team in sacks (five), tackles for loss (tied with fellow freshman linebacker, Darien Butler for seven) and sits behind only senior safety Jalen Harvey in total tackles (Harvey leads with 59 while Robertson has 50 to his name). Robertson’s dominance is a promising bright spot for the Sun Devils to build around in future recruiting classes, but he’s not quite on the same level as other dominating PAC-12 linebackers.
The Sun Devils defense simply isn’t an intimidating force. Utah’s offense should be able to navigate the field with little pressure. If anything, the only thing Ute faithful should fear is the fact that we have officially entered November…a month that hasn’t been kind to the Utes since joining the PAC-12.