SALT LAKE CITY
The state of Arizona has quietly emerged as the best defensive team in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils in 18th place (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) go into Saturday’s game in Utah and lead the league in several key defensive categories.
They come first in the scoring of Defense (16.2 points per game), Overall Defense (299.0 yards per game), Sacks (21), and Tackles for Loss (43).
In a 28-10 win over Stanford, the state of Arizona only allowed 13 rushing yards – the fewest against a Sun Devils defense since 2018.
With an unmatched ability to pressure quarterbacks and stifle opposing offenses, Arizona State appears poised to fight for a conference title. Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards believes his players can achieve great things if they keep doing the right things.
“I’m with them,” said Edwards. âI can give you a roadmap. You have to drive the car. “
In Utah, the Sun Devils will face a team that has also grown strong after beating USC 42-26 last week.
The Utes (3-2, 2-0) scored their first real away win against the Trojans since 1916 with a lively passing game. Cameron Rising threw 306 yards and three touchdowns after 22 of 28 passes, marking his first 300-yard game of his career.
It was also the first 300-yard passing game for Utah against a Pac-12 opponent on the road since 311 in Colorado in 2014.
The Utes have become more dynamic on the offensive since Rising replaced Charlie Brewer as starting quarterback after a 1-2 start. Utah manager Kyle Whittingham said he was exactly the kind of leader the Utes want in that position.
“He’s an alpha dog,” said Whittingham. âHe is a leader in the truest sense of the word. He commands the room and is the leader of the offensive. “
Arizona State and Utah are the only Pac-12 teams to go undefeated in league play. The Sun Devils got off to their best start under Edwards and want to improve to 4-0 in the league game for the first time since 2007. The Utes want to rise to 3-0 in the Pac-12 for the first time since 2015.
Utah changed its training schedule this week so the entire team could fly to Mesquite, Texas, on Monday to attend Aaron Lowe’s funeral. Several teammates, Whittingham and cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah spoke at the service, which was attended by more than 800 people. Lowe was shot dead at a house party in Salt Lake City on September 25th.
“It was good to see them stand up and express themselves,” said Whittingham. âIt’s not an easy thing. It’s difficult emotionally. I thought they all handled it well and did a good job. “
Arizona State stacked 255 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns against Stanford. It was the sixth time in nine games since the beginning of the 2020 season that the Sun Devils exceeded 200 yards as a team and exceeded 150 yards or more for the 10th game in a row.
Rachaad White has been a consistent contributor in the backfield for Arizona State, finishing fourth in the Pac-12 with a total of 427 rushing yards.
“I think we managed not to give up,” said Edwards. “We’re just trying to keep running and if you do it will ultimately pay off for you.”
BACKFIELD COMING BACK
Tavion Thomas likely secured a bigger role on the Utah backcourt after plunging 113 yards and a touchdown against USC. Averaging 7.1 yards per carry, Thomas gave the Utes run attack a spark that was sometimes missing early in the season.
For Thomas, who was playing his second 100-yard game of his career, his performance against USC was a comeback after being effectively benched earlier in the season. The second back fell out of rotation after struggling to hold the ball. Thomas had a total of two carries against San Diego State and Washington State.
Utah and Arizona State carry five winning streaks against Pac-12 opponents into Saturday’s game. Each team was dominant in these victories. The Sun Devils won their five competitions averaging 27 points per game. The Utes have beaten their last five league opponents with an average advantage of 13.4 points.