ASU Football: How can the Sun Devils upset Utah?


Depending on who you talk to, the Arizona State Sun Devils either have a fantastic chance of upsetting no. 4 Utah on the road, or they’re done before the game even starts. There really isn’t an in-between. With the Sun Devils coming off of their two best performances of the season, upsetting a formerly top ten UCLA team on the road before easily dispatching of the Colorado Buffaloes at home last weekend, ASU football comes in supremely confident, even against an opponent that has looked as impressive this season as the Utes have.

Utah boasts some extremely impressive wins this season, as it’s no mistake that they currently sit at no. 4 in the country. They handled the much-improved Michigan Wolverines in the season’s opening week, trounced Oregon by more than 40 points, and escaped with a six-point win against Cal and top quarterback prospect Jared Goff last week. So how does Arizona State avoid becoming their latest victim? Obviously, we’re going to have to see more of the play that we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks from this squad.

Where the Devils will have an opportunity on offense is in the passing game. This Utah team ranks 102nd in the country in pass yards against per game (258.8), in what is one of it’s more obvious shortcomings. Mike Bercovici is off to a fantastic start to the season. He has 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions through these first six games, averaging 267.3 yards per game.

The gameplan has started opening up for him as his targets have improved. D.J. Foster has been a steady presence, along with Devin Lucien. But Tim White becoming a force in the deep passing game and Kody Kohl starting to emerge as a presence in the middle of the field could make a tremendous difference for him in this one. It’s important to note that this is a defensive unit that made top quarterback prospect Jared Goff toss five interceptions last week. Bercovici will have to be smart, but effective, with the football.

Especially because Utah’s run defense is much more formidable. They rank 38th in the country in rush yards against, at 133.2. The combination of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage obviously has the skills to get ASU football over the hump against that unit, but it may be up to Bercovici and the passing game in order to get the Arizona State offense where it needs to be.

Defense and special teams will likely be the name of the game for the Sun Devils, though, as those are the units in charge of sparking things in a road game of this caliber. The defense is going to bring the blitz constantly against quarterback Travis Wilson, who they pressured relentlessly last year and limited to 12-of-22 passing. Utah’s offensive line has been superb this year, though, having allowed just two sacks. It’ll be interesting to see how the blitz-heavy ASU defense is able to break through against that line.

Along with an improved Wilson, the Utes also sport a top ten running back in Devontae Booker. Perhaps the largest threat in this offense, the Arizona State defense will have their work cut out for them. But we’ve seen this group stop top tier running backs before, having limited Heisman candidate Paul Perkins to just 62 yards on the ground against UCLA two weeks ago. If they can slow Booker, the defense will be able to set a tone like they did against the Bruins in Pasadena.

If it comes down to special teams, both sides have impressive groups in that regard. Arizona Sports’ Criag Grialou has a solid writeup on that. Utah has the ability to find the big play in the kick and punt return game, while sporting a punter and kicker that can pin you deep at every opportunity. Fortunately, so do the Devils. A team that can find an advantage there could have the overall advantage for the night.

In order for the Sun Devils to pull off one of the more monumental upsets in the history of their program, given Utah’s current standing in the rankings, we’re going to have to see a lot of what we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks from them. The defense will have to set a tone by pressuring the quarterback and forcing mistakes. They’ll have to tackle in space, given their propensity for blitzing. The offense will have to open up and allow Mike Bercovici to do his thing down the field. He has to be aware of staring down his receivers as well. The running game has to create balance. An advantage in special teams will have to be forged.

If they do all that, we could be looking at a shakeup in the top five and a ranked ASU football program. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Randy Holt is the managing editor for Devils in Detail. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.