What is real and what is a fluke?
That’s the question heading into Saturday's Utah-Arizona State showdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the Utes host the Pac-12 upstart Sun Devils in a crucial South Division showdown.
Arizona State’s surprising upset of Pac-12 favorite Washington last week was so impressive — and out of the ordinary — that few expect the Sun Devils to duplicate such an effort this week.
ASU won’t have the same energy it rode at home last Saturday. The defensive prowess shown in stopping Washington’s offense is not something that is a proven trend by the program. And Kyle Whittingham’s back is kind of against the wall, needing a home win. When he’s in this kind of position he morphs into part Sylvester Stallone, part Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The most important statistic in this game is who is giving up more yards per play. Utah ought to win the yardage battle and that will lead the Utes to victory. Also, because of its special teams play, Utah is more prone to force ASU into bad field position, and it has a knack for causing turnovers.
ASU’s defense allowed 5.77 yards per play before the Phoenix-rise-from-the-ashes performance last week at home. The Utes, be it with Troy Williams or Tyler Huntley at quarterback, have averaged 5.17 yards per play. Plus, at USC, the Utes seemed to find ways to attack on the ground consistently with Zack Moss.
It was Moss who had 128 yards against North Dakota in Utah’s opener. He gained a season-high 141 yards on 20 carries against USC, a team many believed would limp its way to the Rose Bowl.
In other games involving local teams, Utah State will have its hands full stopping UNLV’s run game. USU ranks eighth in the league in total defense and allows 3.7 yards per rush. The Rebels rank second only to Air Force in run productivity. But UNLV outgains the Falcons in rushing yards per play, 6.2 to 4.9. This doesn’t bode well for Matt Wells' squad.
BYU’s trip to Greenville demands the Cougars find some semblance of hope and are rewarded with an increased fighting spirit — things that the team lacked on its trip to Mississippi State. The Cougars will match up far better against the Pirates than the SEC foes who have embarrassed them with size, speed and depth.
If they don’t step up and take advantage of that, beginning in the trenches, and with much better execution, a nightmare season will turn into something worse. This BYU team is as banged up as any in recent memory.
The BYU-ECU contest is a game of mumblety-peg: Which team will give itself a reason to be dispirited first? Both are fighting to get out of a smothering paper bag. This will make it interesting, a fight of who will survive. The one that delivers the first big disappointment to the other first may win.
This week’s picks:
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 35: Cowboys’ offense best in the league.
Wisconsin 40, Maryland 21: Badgers are a football machine.
Florida State 42, Louisville 24: Cardinal defense a disaster.
Virginia 28, Boston College 24: Bronco’s got it rolling.
Alabama 45, Tennessee 10: Saban sleepwalking to a win.
UCF 45, Navy 28: Midshipmen face nation’s No. 1 scoring offense.
Oregon 38, UCLA 31: Bruins simply can’t stop the run.
Notre Dame 35, USC 21: Irish ramble past banged-up Trojans.
Washington State 34, Colorado 31: Leach is unleashed.
Boise State 37, Wyoming 21: Broncos too smooth.
UNLV 38, USU 21: Rebel rushing game bowls over Aggies.
Arizona 28, Cal 21: Khalil Tate turned loose.
Penn State 17, Michigan 14: Lions well rested.
Utah 28, ASU 21: Devil defense slinks back to reality.
BYU 28, ECU 24: BYU to surpass 325 yards offense?
Last week 9-2; Overall 60-22 (.731)