Through nine weeks, it appears that not a lot of teams are interested in winning the Pac-12 South. Entering last Saturday, USC and Colorado were a half game behind the division-leading Utah Utes (4-2). However, the Trojans fell at home to Arizona State, whose only other Pac-12 win was against 1-4 Oregon State, and the Buffaloes lost to those last-place Beavers in overtime.
The difference in the South between the last-place Sun Devils and first-place Utes is a measly 1.5 games, making each game for the rest of this season vital for every team in the division. ASU has three games against division opponents remaining, starting this Saturday at home against Utah. If they can upset the No. 16 team in the nation, ASU will crunch the conference even closer and immediately vault back into being contenders.
- Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has struggled against ASU. They are 2-5, including last season in Salt Lake City where the Devils dominated 30-10. Current Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley threw four interceptions, including a pick-six by ASU linebacker Jay Jay Wilson, and ASU ran for over 200 yards. However, this Utes team has significantly improved on offense, turning the ball over less and improving their yards per play. The 1-2 punch of Huntley and running back Zack Moss has scored more often and taken care of the football. The Utes also blew out Stanford 40-21 on the road this season, while the Devils lost to the Cardinal in Tempe.
- The 38 points Arizona State scored against USC was the team’s highest output on the road this season. The offense relied heavily on the ground attack – Eno Benjamin delivered for 185 yards and two scores (nearly three but one was called back), and quarterback Manny Wilkins also provided 89 rush yards on nine touches. ASU averages the second-most yards per rush in the conference as a team, but they run the ball more than just one other team in Pac-12 South, USC. Still, Benjamin is the seventh-leading rusher in the country, just behind Zack Moss.
- Utah’s defense allows the 14th-fewest points per contest with 16.8 (out of 130 teams). The Utes’ run defense is third in the nation behind Michigan State (held Benjamin to 27 yards) and San Diego State (allowed only 21 yards to Benjamin, his lowest output this year). Chase Hansen leads the way for the Utes with 68 tackles, 14 for loss. In Utah’s last loss against Washington State, they were beat through the air, as Cougar quarterback Gardner Minshew tossed for 445 yards and three touchdowns. Manny Wilkins has not had a game of which he reached 400 yards, but he has hit 300 yards three times.
- Speaking of Manny, Wilkins is climbing ASU’s all-time passing ladder. He has 1,965 yards this season and 7,564 throughout his career at Arizona State. That has him sitting in fifth-place in school history behind Andrew Walter, Rudy Carpenter, Jake Plummer and Taylor Kelly. Kelly has 8,819, so in order to take over fourth, Wilkins would need just over 313 yards per game the rest of the way, if ASU fails to make a bowl game. He averages about 246 this year, a step down from 2017 (252). If the Devils do get a 13th game, Wilkins would need just 251 yards per contest to break the top four.
- Despite getting beat by Wazzu through the air, Utah leads the Pac-12 South in interceptions and is second in passes defended. While ASU struggles in those areas, the Sun Devils have forced nine fumbles, over double the Utes’ total, and both teams have nine sacks on the year.
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