ASU football vs. No. 16 Utah: Scouting report, prediction

Oct 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver N'Keal Harry (1) runs a punt return for a touchdown during the second half against the Southern California Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

ASU (4-4, 2-3 in Pac-12 play) picked up its first road win of the season last week, beating USC 38-35 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That win snapped the Trojans’ 19-game home winning streak. More importantly, it kept ASU’s hopes for a Pac-12 South title berth and a bowl game alive.

The ASU coaching brain trust believes Utah (6-2, 4-2) is the toughest foe it will see this season.

Utah (No. 14 AP, No. 16 Amway Coaches Poll) has won four straight games and is averaging 41 points in that stretch. It is coming off a 41-10 thrashing of UCLA.

“We’re going to have to play our best and we’re going to have to play our best in all three facets of the game,” ASU coach Herm Edwards said earlier this week.

“They’re scary,” added defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.

Arizona State owns a 21-8 advantage in the series, including a 15-4 mark at home.

The Sun Devils defeated the Utes 30-10 last season. Manny Wilkins threw for 140 yards, Demario Richard ran for 93 and Brandon Ruiz converted three field-goal attempts.

Utah vs. ASU picks, predictions

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. MST. TV: Pac 12 Network. Radio: KMVP Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

3 things to watch

1. Can the young ASU defense contain Utah RB Zack Moss?

The Sun Devils are starting four freshman on defense and have given up some big games to opposing running backs this season. Most notable was the 254-yard effort by freshman Jermar Jefferson of Oregon State on Sept. 29. But the Sun Devils have shown improvement since then led by linebackers Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler, both true freshmen. ASU held Utah’s Zack Moss to 49 yards on 12 tries last year but the Sun Devil personnel was vastly different.

2. How will the Sun Devils respond if senior safety Jalen Harvey can’t play?

Harvey left the USC game with a stinger in the neck/shoulder and did not compete in contact drills this week. He is the team’s leading tackler and one of the few seniors on that side of the ball. It was sophomore Evan Fields and senior Dasmond Tautalatasi getting playing time in Harvey’s absence last week, and they would be the ones called upon this week as well.

3. Can the ASU offense build on a stellar offensive showing this week?

ASU is coming off one of its better offensive performances of the season with 38 points and 449 yards, led by its big 3 of QB Manny Wilkins, RB Eno Benjamin and WR N’Keal Harry.  But the Sun Devils will find the going tougher against a Utah team which is ranked first in the Pac 12 in total defense (287 ypg), rushing defense (81.1), second in scoring defense (16.8) and fourth in passing defense (205.9).

ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens starting to find his stride

About Utah

Utah is the only team in the Pac-12 South that has not played in the conference title game and the Utes are looking to remedy that this season. Kyle Whittingham, now in his 14th season, is the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and the third-longest tenured coach at the same school in the NCAA FBS. His overall coaching record is 111-56 with an impressive 11-1 showing in bowl games. Utah has finished in the AP top 25 in three of the past four seasons and five times total under Whittingham. Utah’s No. 2 final AP ranking in 2008 was the best in school history. 

Star power

Zack Moss, Jr., RB, Utah: The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder has run for 964 yards and 10 TDs on 161 tries with five games of 100 or more yards. His best showing was a 211-yard, 3 TD effort in last week’s 41-10 throttling of UCLA. It was the first 200-yard game by a Utah back since 2016. Moss ranks third in the Pac-12 and sixth in the NCAA FBS in rushing and ranks seventh overall in yard per game (120.5). He is a running back that prefers to run between the tackles. “He’s isn’t going to try and run around you, he is going to try and run you over,” ASU Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzales says.

N’Keal Harry, Jr., WR, ASU: The 6-foot-4 standout ranks 32nd in the NCAA (FBS) with 46 catches for 667 yards and six touchdowns. He is coming off a strong showing against USC, highlighted by a 92-yard punt return that gave the Sun Devils a 31-28 lead. He also had four catches for 95 yards. “He is a difficult match up,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says. “He is a big kid, 6-4, 220-plus, but it is great to have confident corners. You have to mix it up and you can’t do one thing the entire game against a guy like that. So, we are going to have some answers to him.” Harry was last week’s Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week.

ASU defenders Evan Fields, Dasmond Tautalatasi prepare for possible duty

Trending

4 – Number of games this season in which the Sun Devils offensive line has not allowed a sack. In the last 18 years, the most games ASU had gone without allowing a sack was two. Senior RT Quinn Bailey and junior C Cohl Cabral have not allowed a sack.

6 – Number of turnovers for ASU offense this season (3 fumbles, 3 interceptions) That is tied for fourth-fewest in the NCAA FBS.

33 – Number of consecutive games junior N’Keal Harry has at least one reception. That’s every game in his ASU career.

73 – Percentage of passes completed by Utah junior QB Tyler Huntley in the Utes four-game win streak. He has completed 66 of 90 for 879 yards.

938 – Rushing yardage total for ASU sophomore RB Eno Benjamin through eight games. He is on pace to have the best single season during the Pac-12 era for an ASU running back, already within 291 yards of Ryan Torain’s Pac-12-era school record of 1,229 yards for a season (2006). 

ASU’s dynamic N’Keal Harry still learning nuances of special teams

Bottom line

With the upset of USC last week the Sun Devils gave themselves a chance for a Pac-12 South title and revived hopes of a bowl berth. But this is one they have to win to keep a postseason playoff berth in tact. Utah is the lone team in the South with two conference losses while the other five teams each have three so it is a tight race.

Prediction

Utah 41, ASU 28

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