Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — After coming up on the short end in Pac-12 games against Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona and USC, the Utah Utes acknowledge it’ll take a Stanford-type performance to get the job done against 23rd-ranked Arizona State.
Saturday’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, they attest, will require the efficiency that took place in their 27-21 upset of the then fifth-ranked Cardinal on Oct. 12.
“It takes that type of effort every week. In this conference, you’ve got to be on top of your game,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got to protect the football. We’ve got to play tough defense. We’ve got to play great on special teams. All those things that we need to do to win a game in this conference have to show up.”
The Stanford game is the only Pac-12 contest this season where the Utes had more takeaways than turnovers. They recovered two fumbles and lost one interception. In their four conference losses, they have turned the ball over 15 times and had just four takeaways.
“One thing we’ve got to do is solve the turnover margin problem,” Whittingham said. “That’s the issue on this team and so we talk about it and talk about it and we’ve got to solve it.”
In other words, the Utes could use another Stanford-type performance — on both sides of the ball.
“Definitely. How we played against Stanford, we really executed all of our plays really well,” said quarterback Travis Wilson. “We really owned the game plan. Yeah, it’s going to take a big game out of us Saturday.”
The Utes wound up with 410 yards of total offense and 21 first downs against the Cardinal. The defense, meanwhile, held them to 389 yards and only 13 first downs.
Arizona State comes to town averaging 515.1 yards of offense and 46.6 points per game. A Stanford-type performance by the Utah defense, thus, would greatly enhance Utah’s chances on Saturday.
“Absolutely. They’re a really good team,” said defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly. “They hung in there with Notre Dame and they beat Wisconsin. So you’re not talking about a pushover team. This is a team that has great speed. They’ve played and won a lot of games against good opponents and are well-coached.”
The key to success, he explained, may be to make the Sun Devils one-dimensional on offense.
“I think defensively we’ve just got to stop the run. If we stop the run and make them throw the ball, it’s going to really help our chances, get our pass rush in,” Reilly said. “And offensively, I think if we can hold on to the football and not turn it over and run the football it’s going to be a big advantage for us.”
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