What started out as a stout, immovable unit at the start of the season, the Arizona State defense has gone from giving up just seven points per game in their first three matchups (including a 10-7 victory against the then 18th ranked Michigan State Spartans on the road), to now averaging 28.33 points allowed in their first three games of conference play. Despite their drop-off in production as the PAC-12 portion of ASU’s schedule trudges forward, the Sun Devils have successfully knocked off a pair of top 20 teams on their way to an impressive 5-1 record under head coach Herm Edwards in his second year.
While not the team’s leading tackler, redshirt freshman safety, Cam Phillips has been the key to the Sun Devil’s defensive success. Accounting for 26 solo tackles, nine assists, two tackles for loss, four pass deflections, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery in his first full season, the 6’1”, 175 lb rising star is well on his way to becoming one of the top defenders in the PAC-12.
Joining Phillips in an impressive downfield attack is stat leader, Evan Fields. The 6’0”, 193 junior defensive back had a monster game against MSU, racking up 13 of his 13 of his 42 total tackles this season against the Spartans, and has 2.5 TFL’s to his name beyond that.
As Utah fans gather Saturday afternoon to witness star running back, Zack Moss attempt to break the all-time rushing record, an important stat to keep in mind is Arizona’s rush defense. Currently ranked 13th in the nation and second in the conference (behind Utah), the Sun Devils are limiting opponents to an average of 2.97 yards per carry, and 91.7 yards per game. With a potentially wet game on the horizon, a strong ground attack from the Utes is likely, meaning Moss and his talented core of backups will be tested more this week than they have been so far at the midway point of the season.
Both Utah an Arizona State are desperate for a win to gain some separation in a crowded South division race. Whoever falls this week will face an uphill battle to climb back into the race for the top spot. WIth Utah’s offense firing on all cylinders since the disappointing collapse at USC, Arizona State’s highly touted defense will seemingly have their work cut out for them.