TEMPE, Ariz. — Welp, that was rough.
Utah fell in disappointing fashion to Arizona State Saturday afternoon, 38-20. The loss abruptly ended the Utes’ impressive four-game winning streak and brought previous November failings to the forefront of fans minds.
On offense, quarterback Tyler Huntley was knocked out of the game — likely the season — and the offensive line took a significant step back.
Defensively, Utah struggled all over the field, from the secondary to the front four and back again.
Special teams was solid, but all told it was a difficult game for Utah.
The grades are in, and there is certainly room for improvement in the future.
Let’s start with the good, aka Zack Moss.
The Utah tailback was great against the Sun Devils. He rushed for Utah’s opening score of the game, reached the 1,000 yard mark for the season midway through the first quarter and finished with an impressive 132 yards on 18 carries.
He wasn’t alone, either. Huntley carried the ball nine times for 42 yards, including a 23-yard scamper.
While backup running back Armand Shyne didn’t make much of an impact — he was limited to just two carries — he did average 6.5 yards a touch. That was behind Moss’ average for game (7.1 ypc) but equal to that of Arizona State star running back Eno Benjamin.
Wide receiver Samson Nacua also had a strong outing. He finished with a team-high four receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In other receiver news, Siaosi Mariner made an appearance, with an 18-yard reception late. Freshman Solomon Enis had two catches for 25 yards, Britain Covey two for 24.
That is about the extent of good on offense for the Utes, however.
The offensive line, praised throughout the Utes’ four-game winning streak for their steady play, was not good, particularly in pass protection.
Huntley, and after him Jason Shelley, was under significant pressure most of the contest. While Huntley managed to evade ASU’s pressure more often than not — he was only sacked twice — it still had an impact, like on his first-quarter interception.
Huntley had another interception in the game, this one solely his fault, when he threw the ball directly to ASU’s Merlin Robertson.
It was unfortunately that kind of a game for Huntley. The quarterback finished with just 88 yards passing, on just seven completions, before exciting with a season-ending injury.
Shelley replaced Huntley and struggled in his first real action of the season. The redshirt freshman completed just 4 of 11 passes for 59 yards, was sacked once and threw an interception.
All told, it wasn’t the worst offensive showing this season by the Utes — how soon we forget the Northern Illinois and Washington games — but it certainly wasn’t the best.
While the offense did not have its worst outing of the year, the defense most assuredly did. Prior to the game against Arizona State, the worst defensive performance by Utah this season came against Washington State.
In that game, Utah gave up 28 points and 445 yards of total offense. The Cougars also had 21 first downs in the contest and averaged 14.4 yard per pass completion.
All of those numbers are for comparison sake, as the Sun Devils crushed them all.
ASU finished with 38 points and 536 yards of total offense, 251 on ground, 285 through the air. The Sun Devils recorded 25 first downs and averaged 5.0 yards per rush, 15.0 yards per completion.
Leading the way for ASU was its "Big Three" of quarterback Manny Wilkins, running back Eno Benjamin and slot receiver N’Keal Harry.
The trio torched the Utes time and again.
Harry was unstoppable — he finished with nine receptions for 161 and three touchdowns — and made Utah’s secondary look inept.
He wasn’t alone in doing that — fellow receiver Brandon Aiyuk finished with over 100 yards receiving (six catches for 101 yards) as well.
Whether it was Jaylon Johnson, Julian Blackmon, Javelin Guidry, Corrion Ballard, the list goes on and on. Utah’s secondary struggled.
They were not alone. The linebacker duo of Chase Hansen and Cody Barton had their worst game of the year.
Statistically they were OK, they combined for 19 tackles, but only two of those were tackles for a loss. Hansen and Barton were simply cleaning up messes, rather than making an impact of their own.
They were also nonexistent on Benjamin’s 44-yard touchdown run.
The defensive front, meanwhile, struggled to get pressure on Wilkins throughout the game — he was not sacked a single time — and could not get Benjamin under wraps. The running back finished with 175 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Elite throughout the year, the Utah defense laid an egg Saturday.
One of the few bright spots Saturday was the play of Utah’s special teams.
Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky both had excellent outings and have appeared to put any and all early season struggles behind them.
To that point, Gay connected on two field goal attempts, from 40 and 31 yards away respectively. He has now made 12 consecutive field goals, showcasing the form that earned him the 2017 Lou Groza Award.
Wishnowsky, meanwhile, was even better than Gay against the Sun Devils and was arguably the best Utah player on the field.
The Aussie booted four punts an average of 51 yards, including a long of 60.
The return game wasn’t bad either, Covey had a punt return of 36 yards and 33 yard kickoff return. He wasn’t perfect — Covey got away with a poor decision late when he attempted to catch a ball, missed, while slightly touching it, and ASU recovered. The play was called back via penalty, however.18 comments on this story
All told, if there was a bright spot in the game it was special teams play.
Utah was not at its best Saturday, not even close.
There were glimpses of the No. 15 ranked Utes on the field at Sun Devil Stadium — Moss had a great outing, as did Nacua, Gay and Wishnowsky, among other — but they were fleeting.
The defense had its worst performance of the year and when coupled with a season-ending injury to Huntley it ultimately spelled disaster for the Utes.
In spite of strong special teams play, it was a below average outing for Utah.