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Opponent Preview: ASU’s Offense

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NCAA Football: Arizona State at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t let the Sun Devils’ sub .500 conference record fool you — Sparky is dangerous. They may be sitting at the bottom of the PAC-12 South, but Arizona State fields a potent offense that is averaging nearly 29 points per game. ASU’s 4-4 record is a bit misleading considering every loss has been by seven points or less, a trend that experts predict to continue this weekend as Utah enters as -7 point favorite. Needless to say, this definitely feels like a classic trap game.

The ASU offense is a three-headed monster headlined by senior quarterback Manny Wilkins, junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry and sophomore running back Eno Benjamin. Together the trio functions as a well-oiled machine and make for one of, if not the most well-rounded offense the Utes have faced this season. Through eight games, the Sun Devil’s offensive unit is averaging 6.26 yards per play and an impressive 422.9 yards per game with 177.3 yards coming on the ground, and 245.6 yards through the air.

At the heart of the offense, Manny Wilkins has flourished in his final season at ASU, completing 63.2% if his 253 attempts and has thrown for 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions on the season; and for the first time in his career, he looks much more comfortable in the pocket, rushing an average of 7.6 times per game in 2018 compared to 10.6 last season. Much of this improvement could be attributed to his veteran status and better coaching, but it’s hard to ignore the impact of N’Keal Harry.

Harry has made a name for himself as one of the top receivers in the nation, racking up 667 yards on 46 catches along with six receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. Covering the junior star presents a unique challenge for Utah’s secondary thanks to his NFL-ready skillset. While he’s not the fastest receiver, Harry’s escapability is impressive and even against tight coverage he’s shown a knack for coming up with big grabs. As one of the most dynamic athletes on the field, the Utes will need to limit his production if they hope to keep their win streak intact.

As the final piece to ASU’s offensive trio, Eno Benjamin will look to control the ground game. Currently ranked 7th nationally, right behind Utah’s own Zack Moss, Benjamin has amassed 938 yards on the ground this season with nine touchdowns to his name. While Benjamin’s numbers are certainly impressive, he struggled mightily against Michigan State and San Diego State, who are currently one and two nationally in rush defense. Against the Spartans, Benjamin averaged 2.1 yards per carry on 13 attempts with his longest run maxing out at six yards. He fared even worse against San Diego State the following week, averaging a measly 1.6 yards per carry on the same number of attempts, but was able to muster eight yards for his longest carry. Considering Utah’s third ranked rush defense is equally stout, it’s entirely possible Benjamin will once again be stymied.

With Utah’s remaining schedule shaping up to be very manageable, a win against the Sun Devil’s would bolster the Utes chances to clinch the South division title significantly, but fans should be cautiously optimistic heading into this match-up. The Sun Devils just might be the most potent, dangerous 4-4 team in the nation.