No matter how much it is analyzed and discussed, the past is the past. When the ASU football team takes the field against Utah, the Sun Devils (2-1) will forget about their first three games and experience a new beginning.
“It’s conference play now,” junior safety Alden Darby said. “Winning the Pac-12 and going to the Rose Bowl is still very much our goal.”
The Pac-12 South is wide open, but ASU’s path to the Rose Bowl starts with the Utes (2-1). The Sun Devils are favored in Saturday’s Pac-12 opener, but the Utes’ defense will present some challenges.
Utah senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is projected as a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft and is coming off a seven-tackle performance against BYU. Lotulelei is on the radar of every Pac-12 coach, including ASU’s Todd Graham’s, who is impressed with the Utes’ entire defense. Utah is allowing just 16 points per game.
“They’ve got probably one of the best defensive tackles in the whole nation,” Graham said. “They’re very well-coached, very well-schooled schematically.”
Lotulelei has 14 tackles on the season and plays with a physicality and speed similar to ASU redshirt junior defensive tackle Will Sutton, Graham said.
While Lotulelei anchors the defensive line, Utah’s secondary is talented as well. Junior safety Brian Blechen missed the first three games of the season because of a team rules violation, but will be ready to go against the Sun Devils.
“We think he is one of the best football players we will play this year,” Graham said.
In ASU’s two victories, the offense has had a lot of success scoring early. Being the first team to score puts pressure on the opponent and it is something the Sun Devils are looking to do again this weekend.
“We just have to go out there and execute,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “Getting off to a good start and a great rhythm is something that’s very important to us.”
Utah’s offense is only averaging 328 yards per game, but that does not mean the ASU defense can relax.
Graham has been impressed with Utah’s receiving core and senior running back John White, who missed Utah’s last game. White’s status for Saturday is unknown.
Utah will be without junior quarterback Jordan Wynn, who retired earlier this season after suffering a shoulder injury. Senior Jon Hays — the third straight backup quarterback to start against ASU — is capable of leading the offense after Wynn’s departure.
“He’s a backup, but he’s a starter,” Darby said. “He played all last year. We don’t see any of the guys as backups, we treat them like they are starting quarterbacks. We don’t take any of them lightly.”
Hays made his first career start last season when ASU visited Utah and threw three interceptions. He has not thrown an interception this season and has three touchdown passes in two games played, but is facing a talented Sun Devil defense.
“We’re playing with 100 percent confidence,” Darby said. “We have a goal on that field. (We have) one vision, one heartbeat and we are all on the same page (trying to) get that ball (back to our offense).”
The Sun Devils are 13-3 against the Utes in Sun Devil Stadium and have won eight straight games against Utah.
ASU’s defense has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season.
With a measly 29.7 penalty yards per game, ASU leads the Pac-12.
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