Knock on wood, but Utah currently has the best quarterback in the PAC-12. With a QBR of 87.4, Cam Rising (or #ThiccBoi7 as he’s affectionately known) is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference and actually ranks fifth nationally among eligible quarterbacks. To say the Utes have their man may be a bit of an understatement at this point, and they have Arizona State star quarterback Jayden Daniels (junior, 6’3”, 185 lbs) to thank for it.
Rewind to December 13, 2018. Daniels was committed to Utah, and fans were already smelling roses just imagining Daniels taking over after Tyler Huntley. Then, almost without warning, the future of Utah football signed with Arizona State. The Sun Devils wound up signing not just Daniels, but two other four-star quarterbacks to their 2019 class, leaving Ute fans perplexed. Why would Daniels go to a team with that much competition for the starting job when he was the clear heir apparent after the 2019 season? Who will replace Huntley now? What comes next for Utah football? Those questions were all answered four weeks later when Rising announced he would be transferring from Texas to don the drum and feather in Salt Lake. While some fans are still bitter over the whole ordeal, it has so far worked out well in Utah’s favor.
In his first (and so far only) meeting against the Utes, Daniels was a relative non-factor in ASU’s 21-3 loss at Rice-Eccles, completing four passes on 18 attempts for just 25 yards and an interception. His ground game was equally ineffective, gaining a paltry eight yards on 16 carries. His single-game QBR of 12.1 qualifies that particular loss as Daniels’ worst performance of his collegiate career but is far from indicative of his offensive prowess.
Currently ranking fifth among active PAC-12 quarterbacks, Daniels is having his best season yet, completing 70.1% of his pass attempts, with 1,269 yards through the air, 369 yards on the ground on just 55 carries, with seven total touchdowns and three interceptions. Ute fans may look back now and say Daniels was overhyped, but he’s far from a bust.
Daniels will benefit from a deep receiving core consisting of junior Ricky Pearsall (6’1”, 200 lbs), redshirt freshman LV Bunkley-Shelton (5’11”, 195 lbs), and senior tight end Curtis Hodges (6’8”, 240 lbs), who might be the best tight end in the PAC-12 not wearing a block U on his helmet. The trio has accounted for 51% of all catches this season, with Hodges reeling in an impressive 12 targets for an astounding 256 yards on his own. Despite this production, the Sun Devil offense would be nothing without senior running back Rachaad White.
White (6’2”, 210 lbs) is the heart and soul of the ASU offense, accounting for 647 yards of total offense. To put that in perspective, the Sun Devils have gained 2,644 yards in total all season, meaning White is responsible for 24.4% of all yards gained, while his ten total touchdowns account for 38.4% of all end zone trips. A violent runner akin to Zach Moss, White has explosive burst speed with the ability to stop, change direction, and find a hole without losing an ounce of momentum while also playing a vital role in the passing game as an effective slot receiver. Utah’s defensive line will need to play at their highest level if they hope to contain the PAC-12’s most efficient offensive weapon.
ASU is one of, if not the most complete teams in the conference. They’re nationally ranked and atop the PAC-12 south for a reason. Overlooking this team will be costly for a Utes team that appears to have found its groove, but if they can play as perfectly as they did against USC, expect a wild shootout in this week’s edition of #PAC12AfterDark.