QB Travis Wilson… can be rattled if put under pressure while dropping back to pass.
Tonight’s battle between ASU and #4 Utah may well decide the Pac-12 South Division this early in the season. What makes it even more unique is that it will be second top-10 team the Devils face (on the road, no less) in their 2015 campaign.
ASU has already disposed of UCLA in Pasadena and now faces the team that has arguably played them the toughest over the previous two seasons. It was a last minute improbable interception by Will Sutton in 2013, and an overtime field goal by PK Zane Gonzalez in 2014 which allowed ASU to escape with wins.
ASU on Offense – TE Kody Kohl
Kohl had a breakout game against Colorado last weekend. He had no drops over the middle which has somewhat plagued ASU receivers (minus Gary Chambers) this season.
Many of Utah’s coverage schemes will mimic what CU showed last weekend. This could leave to Kohl running wild over the middle or to the outside from his H-Back (tight slot) spot. Kohl will be put in the H-Back position to create mismatches with linebackers attempting to cover him. Although Utah LB’s are fast and physical, they haven’t had to cover players in space with the speed and hands that Kohl.
If WR Tim White can continue to stretches things vertically for ASU, there should be enough room for Kohl to do work underneath across the Utah second and third levels (10-20 yards down field).
ASU QB Mike Bercovici had better not lock his eyes on receivers the way that that Jared Goff of Cal did last week. By doing a great job at disguising their secondary coverage schemes, Utah kept Goff confused and ultimately picked him off five times. With Bercovici’s propensity to lock onto receivers and throw into tight spaces, I see a higher risk for turnovers. Keep an eye on this.
Utah on Defense: The Secondary
The Utes decided early and often last week that they would disguise their secondary coverage schemes while pressuring prolific Cal QB Jared Goff. That lead to 5 interceptions by Utah and a big win.
Given the questionable health of ASU’s first team running back DeMario Richard, the Utes have likely planned on forcing QB Mike Bercovici to beat them with his arm.
The important question that persists is can the Devils impose their run game, something that was expected last week against CU but didn’t come to fruition, even with Richard on the field. Utah has several “ball hawks” in their secondary, including safety Marcus Williams who will bait Berco into poor throws. Accuracy, smart decisions, and finding a “go-to” receiver in the passing game will be key to dismantling an over-aggressive Ute secondary.
Utah on Offense: QB Travis Wilson
It would have been horribly easy to choose RB Devonte Booker as the player to watch going into this game. But here’s the thing, Booker will do what he does, steadily and incredibly, no matter who Utah faces.
ASU will want to force someone other than Booker to beat them.
What I’ve seen from QB Travis Wilson this season is a player that can be rattled if put under pressure while dropping back to pass. Last week, Cal showed that they did not have the athletes or defensive scheme to cause havoc in Utah’s backfield. However, ASU does.
If Hell’s Gate can get to Wilson, the Devils will create turnovers that will decide this game. One thing to watch for is Wilson’s ability to extend plays with his feet and pick up yards on the ground. Discipline by the Devils’ outside defenders will be key here to cut him down, and/or prevent him from impromptu big gains with his feet.
ASU on Defense: The Front 7
Utah will unleash their all-everything running back Devonte Booker. However, the ASU Hell’s Gate defense has been exceptional against the run all season. Being able to rotate DL to keep players fresh, and having a deep LB corp has been a game-changer for ASU in Nickel Coverage (3rd and long situations).
I would think that the Devils will continue to stack the box (with 8 players) to stop Booker, as well as blitz (more so than usual) QB Travis Wilson into poor decisions. This is, however, a double-edged sword. If ASU can’t get pressure on Wilson with their front 7, he will have time to pick apart Field Safety Kareem Orr, who has given up a few big plays due to inexperience.
Bandit Safety Jordan Simone is better in run-support than in pass coverage, and has been over-matched by tight ends in deep routes over the middle this season. The caveat here is whether Spur LB Laiu Moeakiola, who dinged up his knee last week, will be able to play. Laiu is hands-down the Hell’s Gate secret weapon because he can blitz, stop the run, and cover in space as well as anyone. His absence would be a welcome development by Utah and one that they will focus on.
Utah, as a team and fan base, is hungry to put their stamp on the Pac-12 after being the proverbial bridesmaid the past few years.
ASU will have to deal with as raucous a crowd as they have faced all season since playing Texas A&M in the opener, which we all know clearly affected the ASU offensive rhythm. Going into the season, this is the ONE road game that this DieHardDevil writer was most concerned about.
Utah has done nothing but impress this season and confirm my concerns. Weather, altitude, and crowd noise will certainly be a factor on Saturday night.