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After forcing but a single turnover in their first two games, Arizona States injury-depleted defense has more than made up for their slow start.
They forced Utah into five turnovers during Saturday's 35-14 victory, their second straight game with five takeaways. In their last four games, the Sun Devil defense has 17 takeaways.
Much like their last road game against Illinois, the Sun Devils struggled early, fell behind 7-0 and then rallied to force a stalemate that lasted most of the first half. Part of that struggle included Sun Devil Alden Darby's third interception in the last two games on the first play of the second quarter.
However, Utah looked to break that monotony late in the half as they had the ball at the ASU 16 yard line. Utah's John Hays, making his first career start at the FBS level, lofted a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by safety Eddie Elder to thwart the Utes' threat. Elder, who dropped three easy interceptions a week ago, secured a halftime lead for the Devils.
Echoing the events of the USC game, Utah stormed back on the opening drive of the second half to take a lead. After they appeared stopped, the Utes faked a punt then used a flea-flicker to get inside the ASU five yard line, where they quickly scored the go ahead touchdown.
An ASU field goal on the ensuing possession cut the lead to 14-13, but the defense was just about to unleash their wrath on Utah.
On the first play of Utah's next possession, linebacker Shelly Lyons stripped running back John White IV, ASU recovered and soon Brock Osweiler found Mike Willie for a 14-yard touchdown to retake the lead.
The next Utah drive met the same fate. Hays' throw on the first play was picked off by safety Clint Floyd, and after a lumbering 25-yard run by Osweiler, Cameron Marshall punched in an uncontested touchdown run for pad the Devils' lead to 28-14.
The turnover well was next yet dry, as the next Utah drive ended with another fumble, this time recovered by Lyons.
As good teams do, the Sun Devils made their opponents pay for their ball control sins.
The ensuing 10-play drive was capped with another Osweiler to Willie connection, this time from 12-yards to extend the score to the eventual final score of 35-14.
ASU (5-1, 3-0 in the Pac-12) now travels for the toughest game of the season at Autzen Stadium to face the Oregon Ducks (4-1, 2-0) in a possible conference title game preview. With the Ducks' star running back LaMichael James out for the game, another multi-turnover effort from the ASU defense could key another huge road win.
ASU got off to a slow start against Utah on Saturday afternoon, as the Utes took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter. Up to that point, Brock Osweiler looked hesitant, declining to go for the big play and relying too much on the swing passes (which Utah covered quite well).
A slew of Utah turnover turned the tide, as the Sun Devils scored 25 points in the second half to key a 35-14 rout of the Utes in Salt Lake City.
Utah quarterback Jon Hays threw three interceptions and the Utes had five total turnovers as inconsistent play finally got the best of the home team. The ASU defense really picked up the offense today, showing Osweiler and company that they can perform at a high level in an intimidating venue.
The confidence and swagger of Arizona State was evident as the turnovers piled up. The penalty count was high - 17 penalties between the two teams, adding up to 148 total yards.
Osweiler completed 25 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wideout Gerell Robinson had a banner day, catching seven passes for 101 yards. Mike Willie caught two touchdown passes, with Cameron Marshall and Jamal Miles also hitting paydirt.
With the win, Arizona State improves to 5-1, taking a commanding 3-0 Pac-12 record and leading the South division by a wide margin. It is far too early to call a winner in the South, but the Sun Devils would have to misstep horribly to lose this division. The Sun Devils now control their own destiny, heading to Oregon next Saturday in a game that will have championship-level implications.
After getting a big road win today and LaMichael James unlikely to play, the Devils have a real chance to defeat the Fighting Ducks.
For more on the Sun Devils, check out House Of Sparky.
The second half began with Utah receiving the ball and looking to make amends for their lost opportunity at the end of the second quarter.
They seemed to strike a major blow when blown coverage by ASU's Alden Darby resulted in a 74-yard gain inside the Devils' five, but a holding penalty on tackle John Cullen negated the play and derailed the drive.
Or so it seemed.
A gutsy fake punt deep in their own territory gained 14 and kept the drive alive. A flea flicker caught ASU off guard yet again and Jamarr Jarrett roughed Jon Hays on the throw to put Utah inside the Sun Devils' five yard line. A pass interference call on Deveron Carr gave Utah first and goal at the two. Hays then found Dallin Hays for a leaping touchdown to give the Utes a 14-10 lead.
ASU looked to answer back. They marched to midfield where the drive faced a fourth and one and ASU went for it. Osweiler used his 6'8" frame to sneak it for the first down. Three fruitless plays later presented another fourth down play and again the Devils went for it. Osweiler dropped back, found nothing but scrambled for the first down. However, they soon faced a fourth and eight from the Utah 17, and Alex Garoutte connected on a 35-yard field goal to cut the Utah lead to 14-13.
Osweiler then found Mike Willie for a huge 32-yard gain down to the Utah 12. But he wasn't done. Three plays later, Osweiler avoided the sack and sidearmed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Willie. A Utah penalty on the extra point convinced Dennis Erickson to go for two, which was successful on a slant to Aaron Pflugrad.
Oh, but the defense wasn't done.
Some tough Utah runs moved their drive into ASU territory as the quarter came to a close.
Not much scoring in this one, as the Sun Devils and Utes are locked in an epic defensive struggle.
With a few moments remaining in the second quarter, Cameron Marshall and ASU finally started moving the ball on the ground. The Utes put together a strong defensive stand in the red zone to hold the Sun Devils to a field goal.
Utes quarterback Jon Hays was impressive in his first NCAA start, though his inexperience cost Utah some important points at the end of the half. Hays is fast can make plays happen on the run.
Brock Osweiler completed 15 of 26 pass attempts for 153 yards, though he looked erratic and slightly nervous in the pocket against the Utes and their rowdy crowd.
Josh Hubner has been busy for ASU, kicking five punts and averaging 40 yards per punt.
The Utes will receive the ball at the start of the second half, and with a three point lead ASU must get over the jitters and play some strong football in every aspect of their game.
Arizona State's huge game against Utah began with the Utes taking a gamble in kicking off to Jamal Miles, but it paid off as he was stopped at the 15-yard line.
The first Sun Devils' drive featured two catches by tight end Trevor Kohl, the first two by any ASU tightend this season. However, the drive stalled around midfield and the Devils were forced to punt, but a 30-yard punt return by Charles Henderson gave the Utes great starting position at the ASU 46.
The Utes were able to move easily on the Devils' defense early, and a 30-yard touchdown run by John White IV capped their five play scoring drive.
The second Sun Devil drive saw the running game fail to get anything going yet again, culminating in a failed third and one that saw an Osweiler incompletion.
The defense was able to pin the Utes back on ensuing drive, forcing a punt that gave the Sun Devils excellent field position at the Utah 46. What looked like another three and out was bailed out by a personal foul on Utah that negated a sack of Osweiler. On the next play, Osweiler hit Gerrell Robinson with a dart for 18-yards to the Utah 13. Three plays later, Osweiler hit Jamal Miles on a slant for the touchdown to tie the game.
Utah began their next possession at their 28-yard line. The Utes continued to use short passes to make things easier on their first-time starting quarterback Jon Hays. After one first down, ASU's defense stiffened on third down to force a punt that rolled into the endzone for the touchback.
A false start penalty and a bad swing pass to Kyle Middlebrooks pushed ASU back within their own five yard line. A pass to George Bell returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage and gave ASU some more room to punt. A nice 50-yard punt by Josh Hubner pushed Utah back to their 29-yard line.
A reverse on the opening play picked up 14-yards and also saw ASU cornerback Osahon Irabor injured.
Utah ran a reverse, and Irabor was the only player around to make a tackle. He dove headfirst, leading with his helmet to take out the Utes player at the legs.
Irabor stayed down in what appeared to be a preventative measure. After he stood up, it was clear that he was in pain. It could be a minor issue, such as a bad stinger. Neck injuries, even small ones, have a way of manifesting themselves in the future.
The ASU secondary is already depleted, and losing Irabor for even a few possessions could be a bad thing. Fortunately, on the next play of the game, Irabor's replacement, Alden Darby, intercepted a Jon Hays pass to give the Devils the ball at their own 15 yard line.
For more on the Devils, check out House of Sparky.
This is a big weekend for Arizona State football. A win would give the Sun Devils a commanding lead in the Pac-12 south division race and could potentially put them on track for home field advantage in the conference championship game. The Utah Utes have not performed up to expectations this season and a win in Salt Lake City would be huge for the program.
Here is all of the game day coverage you will need to get ready for the showdown:
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. (PDT)
Weather Report: It should be a cool and comfortable day for football in SLC. Sunny skies, temperatures in the mid-50's, just a 10-percent chance of rain.
Television Coverage: Fox Sports Net; Craig Bolerjack and Joel Klatt will call the action with Petros Papadakis on the sidelines.
Radio: KTAR 620 AM - Sirius 128 - XM 193
Previous Matchups: The two programs have not met since 1993. ASU leads the all-time series with a record of 16-6. They have won seven games in a row.
For more on ASU football, check out House of Sparky.
Could the Pac-12 South be decided in Week 6?
If Arizona State could happen to pull off a big road victory in Salt Lake City on Saturday against the Utah Utes, any drama this race could hold would be put to bed.
A win would move ASU 3-0 in conference and dropped Utah to 0-3. With the struggles of the rest of the division and the ineligibility of USC, it would take a historic collapse by the Devils to not be playing on December 2nd for the conference title.
But first things first. Utah is a desperate team that knows their very season could hang in the balance on Saturday. Despite injuries, they still have a very talented roster and while be playing before a very raucous crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
How can ASU overcome their well-documented road struggles and score the win in Utah?
1st - Stop the Run
Utah's top weapon, even before the injury to starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, was running back John White. He's been inconsistent this season, with a pair of big games (150 yards against Montana State and 174 yards and three touchdowns against BYU) mixed in with two games in which he failed to top 60 yards. Nevertheless, he's a talented speedster who can create major problems for ASU if he can get to the second level.
It will be crucial for ASU's front seven to keep White in check. They've had their share of difficulty in stopping the run this season (see Marc Tyler).
Should they be successful in shutting down the Ute running game, it will force the game onto Jon Hays' shoulders, which leads us to 2nd down...
2nd - Force Hays into Turnovers
With Jordan Wynn sidelined for two to three weeks, Jon Hays takes over the quarterbacking duties for Utah. Coming up from the junior college level, Hays initially signed to play at Nebraska-Omaha before they dropped the football program and he ended up in Utah.
This will be Hays' first start at the FBS level and his passing skills are unpolished, at best. He is a threat running the ball, something ASU has struggled with of late, but he's not the caliber of athlete as Nathan Scheelhaase or James Franklin.
He'll be facing an ASU defense that has forced nine turnovers over the last two games. If they can force the game onto Hays, that turnover total should continue to grow.
3rd - Get the Utes into 3rd Down
It's only appropriate for the third point to revolve around third down.
When it comes to defensive effectiveness on third down, there are no better unit's in the nation than Arizona State. The Sun Devils have only allowed 16 of 66 3rd downs to succeed, a sterling conversion rate of only 24.2%.
Conversely, the Ute offense has struggled in sustaining drives. They rank a miserable 104th, having only converted 17 of 51 chances (33.3%). The majority of those chances took place while they still had their starting quarterback Jordan Wynn healthy.
Look for the Devils to keep up their success in this area. With an inexperienced quarterback, the Sun Devils will attack. Defensive ends Jamarr Jarrett and Davon Coleman have each played very well lately and will have a challenge with Utah's talented tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. If ASU can win this battle, look for multiple turnovers coming from Hays.
4th - Block for Brock
The Sun Devils' only loss of the season was a direct result of poor pass protection that resulted in critically high numbers in both sacks and turnovers.
Utah has seven sacks on the season, but only two have come from the defensive line. ASU's blocking schemes must account for blitzes from linebackers and defensive backs or else risk encountering the same fate as their last road game.
If they can protect quarterback Brock Osweiler, look for him to have a field day against a Ute secondary featuring new starters at every position.
Goal - Execute
A recurring theme in many of these games is that on paper, the Sun Devils are clearly the better team. In most every position area except for offensive line, ASU has a clear advantage in this game. That means that should they execute their gameplan they should walk out of Rice-Eccles Stadium with a major victory.
Easier said than done.
As has far too often been the case, ASU is their own worst enemy. After getting their penalties under control lately, it was a propensity for turnovers that nearly derailed them last week.
The Sun Devils cannot continue to play such a perilous type of game and expect to win each week.
Prediction: 31-21 ASU
For more in-depth analysis of this game, listen to Speak of the Devils, the premier ASU podcast, now on iTunes.
The Arizona St. Sun Devils could be decimated by senior losses for next season. Shelly Lyons and Colin Parker will both be moving on, as will primary backup Oliver Aaron. Brandon Magee will be back after suffering an injury early in fall camp, but he does plan to redshirt and return, so that is a potentially positive development for ASU football.
However, the strength of ASU's defense next season will hinge on whether star linebacker Vontaze Burfict decides to come back for his senior year with the Sun Devils. Burfict is one of the likeliest candidates to be a first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and it would make perfect financial sense for him to forego his senior year of eligibility and head off for the bright lights of New York City in April.
But according to Craig Morgan of ASU Rapid Reports for CBS Sports, Burfict is considering coming back. Arizona State might lose a step as a team, but with Burfict back, they'll still be a force to be reckoned with and a definite competitor for the Pac-12 South title in 2012.
To discuss the future of Burfict with the Sun Devils, go to House of Sparky.
The Arizona State Sun Devils have been dealing with a litany of injury problems this season, but may have caught a bit of a break this weekend against Utah. Junior quarterback Jordan Wynn will not be suiting up in Salt Lake City this weekend due to a shoulder injury he suffered in their loss to Washington last week.
The Utes will look to backup Jon Hays to get the job done against the Devils, a summer transfer who’s played in two games for Utah already this season, completing 10 of 17 of his passes for 156 yards with a TD and an interception. His presence has also prompted Ute’s coach Kyle Whittingham to possibly implement some offensive tweaks this Saturday:
We have to change some things in our offense to play to our quarterback’s strengths," he said. "It will necessitate that we do some different things. We’ll play more shotgun and more spread.
Hays is much more of a mobile QB than Wynn, something Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson is well aware of:
Very athletic. Can run the football. I’m sure if he’s the quarterback they’ll do some different things in the running game.
It’ll be interesting to see how this change at signal caller affects the outcome of the game this Saturday. Definitely something to keep an eye out for.
Amidst bad injury news about center Garth Gerhart and Evan Finkenberg, the ASU Sun Devils received some good news featuring a player that left the game entirely a few weeks ago. Guard Adam Tello practiced with the team for the first time since leaving a few weeks ago, according to Doug Haller.
Tello, a senior, opted to leave the ASU program a few weeks ago while dealing with back pain. He heard news about the team's injuries and asked to come back, though, at a time of relative instability for ASU's offensive line.
This is a noble move by Tello, who has put the well-being of his team above his own health at this point. Let's just hope that it is the right personal decision for Tello himself: we can only hope that his back pain has subsided during his weeks off and that he has recovered well enough to bear the physicality of the college football season. Watching him injure his back would be too cruel for a player who has proven his selflessness.
Tello has started six games for the Sun Devils, two as a guard last year and four as a tackle in 2008. He has familiarity with the Sun Devil offense, which should serve him and his teammates well as they continue to weather the storm of injuries this season.
Tell me if you haven't heard this one before: The Arizona St. Sun Devils have suffered another potential crippling injury at a critical position.
You won't tell me, because you have heard it before.
The ASU Sun Devils Athletics Department tweeted that left tackle Evan Finkenberg injured his knee in last week's victory over the Oregon St. Beavers, and he could be out for a significant period of time after undergoing surgery. Add this to the injuries to center Garth Gerhart and right tackle Aderious Simmons, and ASU could be back to the patchwork O-line that sunk their conference title hopes the past two seasons.
Here are the potential scenarios for the O-line.
For more on ASU football, go to House of Sparky.
Center Garth Gerhart's sprained ankle doesn't sound as serious as coach Dennis Erickson originally thought, and the 302-pound senior has a chance to play this Saturday when Arizona State travels to Salt Lake City to play Utah.
Gerhart has been regarded as ASU's best offensive lineman, and when one looks around football at all levels these days and sees the importance of the center-quarterback snap exchange (see New York Jets this past Sunday, Dallas Cowboys last week), it's easy to see how critical Gerhart is to the Devils and QB Brock Osweiler.
That said, Erickson had this to say about his center Monday:
"He'll get treated but there's the possibility that he could play," Erickson said. "If not, Kody (Koebensky, a sophomore who filled in for Gerhart during last Saturday's game) will play. Andrew Sampson (starting right guard) will be in there, will be the backup center...
"I don't know that Garth will be able to practice much even if he does play. Kody, he did a commendable job, I thought, Saturday night," Erickson added. "Andrew was our backup last year so it's not like it's a hard move for him. We've got some moves that we can make up front. We can always move (starting right tackle Dan) Knapp inside if Aderious (Simmons) is healthy. Adam Tello can play in there... but to answer you're question, yeah, he (Gerhart) has a chance to play."
Koebensky, Erickson said, will be better this week if he has to play because he got game experience against Oregon State, and Koebensky will run with the first-team offense in practice.
"That position is the hardest position to play in football. To me, it's almost like losing a quarterback," Erickson said of playing center.
At another position, kicker, Erickson expressed faith in kicker Alex Garoutte, in part because the team doesn't have many options. Garoutte missed a 35-yard try in the second quarter Saturday, his only attempt of the game, and is 3 of 6 this season with two misses from 30 to 39 yards.
"In practice, he's kicking it good, he's kicked off extremely well," Erickson said of Garoutte. "It's focus and just getting confidence. To me the worst thing you can do is start moving kickers around, try this guy, try that guy.. Alex is our kicker and he'll get better."
The Arizona State Sun Devils continue their march to a potential Pac-12 South crown when they take on the Utah Utes, sans their starting quarterback.
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