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Opponent Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The circus that has been the Arizona State football program reached peak levels of absurdity last week after head coach Herm Edwards was fired (seemingly on his home field, just seconds after Eastern Michigan upset the Sun Devils), becoming the second coaching casualty early in the season after Nebraska parted ways with Scott Frost one week prior. Despite the turmoil, drama, and controversy that will undoubtedly define the Herm Edwards era, the Sun Devils have been consistently good for most of the PAC-12 era, making a bowl game every season since 2016 (excluding the COVID year), a stretch that predates Edwards’ reign. Without his dark cloud hanging over the program, is now the time for the Sun Devils to take a step forward? (SPOILER ALERT: probably not)

As Kyle Whittingham stated earlier this week, there shouldn’t be much of a schematic change for Utah to account for under interim head coach, Shaun Aguano. The former running backs coach and Chandler High School legend promises to be less conservative in his approach, however even under Edwards, the offensive and defensive coordinators were seemingly steering the ship as Edwards worked as more of a figurehead. Aguano, despite great success at the high school level, would be wise to keep that same approach intact as he learns to navigate a P5 head coaching role.

Ranking 101st in rush defense, allowing 175 rushing yards per game, Utah’s stable of running backs (which may or may not now include freshman QB Ja’Quinden Jackson) will likely see a heavy dose of the workload, exploiting a weak defensive line that is surrendering an average of 4.38 yards per rush. Their secondary, on the other hand, has been nothing short of impressive, ranking 24th nationally, surrendering 172 yards per game, thanks in large part to sophomore corner Ro Torrence (6’3”, 210 lbs). The former Auburn Tiger caught the attention of scouts as a JUCO phenom, earning NJCAA defensive player of the year honors in 2021 while leading Hutchison Community College to a national championship. Torrence didn’t see much action during his lone season at Auburn with most of his minutes coming during the Birmingham Bowl against Houston where he delivered three solo tackles and a forced fumble. Now with the Sun Devils, Torrence has already recorded eight total tackles and a team-leading three pass deflections in his starting role. As Utah’s offense takes strides to incorporate the wide receivers more, Torrence may be the x-factor the Sun Devils need in this PAC-12 After Dark matchup.

Offensively, Utah’s stout rush defense will be tested against Doak Walker watchlist stud, Xazavian Valladay (6’0”, 200 lbs). The senior running back transferred from Wyoming for his final season and has already amassed an impressive 361 yards on just 52 attempts, establishing himself as one of the PAC-12’s top running backs.

Manning the offense is sophomore quarterback, Emory Jones (6’3”, 210 lbs), who joins the Sun Devils by way of Florida, where he split time with Anthony Richardson last season. Thankfully, Jones isn’t nearly as athletic as Richardson which should come as a sigh of relief after seeing how badly the latter was able to dominate Utah’s defensive front. Statistically, Jones is having his worst season to date, completing 59.5% of passes on 42 attempts, with just one TD. Jones is mobile under pressure, but far from a true rushing threat, averaging less than two yards per attempt on 21 carries, but three touchdowns on the ground.

Utah currently sits as a -16.5 point favorite and an 83.4% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. A win would be the first three-game win streak Utah has secured over ASU, who currently holds a 22-10 overall record over the Utes dating back to 1961.