(Tyler) Huntley is that guy, maybe just seeing him on film, that they feel a lot more confident in him throwing the ball down the field. We see a lot more passes with him than Troy (Williams). —Todd Graham
Todd Graham said he celebrated Arizona State’s upset of then-undefeated and fourth-ranked Washington last weekend for less than an hour.
“I celebrated in the locker room for about 30 minutes, and then I was upstairs watching Utah film,” he said. “I think it’s really important (to keep moving forward mentally), especially in the Pac-12. Every week you’re going to play in a big game. Every week anybody can beat anybody. There is such parity You’ve got to be focused; you’ve got to make sure you respond the right way from a big win like that.”
While Utah looks to stop a two-game losing streak when the Utes host the Sun Devils Saturday at Rice-Eccles at 1:30 p.m., Arizona State looks to beat the Utes for the first time in three seasons.
To beat Utah, the Sun Devils will rely on their athletic sophomore quarterback, Manny Wilkins, and their significantly improved defense led by junior defensive end Jo Jo Wicker, who was named to both the Ted Hendricks Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy preseason watch lists.
Wicker had a half a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and three solo tackles against Washington in their stunning 13-7 upset of Washington.
The Sun Devil defense was so stifling, Huskies’ quarterback Jake Browning and the Washington offense was 3-of-14 on third down. The defense held the Huskies to 230 total yards, and it’s the first time the Sun Devils have held an opponent’s offense under 300 yards since the 2015 season.
Arizona State pulled off that upset without a single defensive turnover, thanks to the impressive play of sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins. He was 29-for-41and 245 yards passing with N’Keal harry as his favorite target (nine catches, 79 yards).
Wilkins has overcome a number of challenges to earn the starting job and has proven himself to be one of the league’s most consistent quarterbacks. The Arizona Republic published a heart-rending profile on Wilkins that detailed the hardships he faced after losing his father to drugs when he was 10. He struggled with behavior issues causing him to be expelled as a freshman, and he never attended the same school for more than three years.
At Arizona State, he’s found stability and structure that have helped him earn a top 25 ranking nationally. Like Williams and Huntley, he faced a serious challenge to his role as starter, after former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett transferred to ASU during the offseason.
He retained his position, and by all accounts, is playing better than ever.
The Sun Devils only managed 40 yards rushing, so that should make moving the ball on the ground difficult as Utah’s run defense has been outstanding this season. Harry could test the Ute secondary in a number of ways, as he’s also thrown for a touchdown, so a trick play or two might be in store.
Graham said the team’s preparations haven't changed regardless of who plays quarterback for Utah.
“We think that both of them are very, very talented,” he said. “We consider both of them starters. Huntley is that guy, maybe just seeing him on film, that they feel a lot more confident in him throwing the ball down the field. We see a lot more passes with him than Troy.”
He said the run-pass option looks different with Huntley on the field, but otherwise, there isn’t much difference between the two.
What is of concern for Graham is both the emergence of Utah’s run game last week against USC and the play of its offensive line.
“I can’t say enough about them,” he said of Utah’s offensive line, pointing out that the Utes had four offensive linemen drafted last spring. “And their offensive line coach, I don’t even know his name (Jim Harding), but he does one heck of a job because they’re as good an offensive line as we’ve played to this point, as far as discipline and technique.”