Pac-12 South supremacy is at stake when Arizona State visits Salt Lake City to battle Utah on Saturday.
The No. 18 Sun Devils (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) have won five straight games against Pac-12 opponents extending back to last season. Their latest triumph was a 28-10 victory over Stanford. The Cardinal tallied just 13 rushing yards against Arizona State's tough defense — the fewest allowed by the Sun Devils since 2018. On the other side of the ball, Arizona State piled up 255 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. It is the sixth time in nine games in which the Sun Devils have rushed for at least 250 yards.
The Utes (3-2, 2-0) have also run off five straight wins over Pac-12 opponents going back to 2019. Utah's latest victory, a 42-26 win over USC, also marked the best all-around offensive performance for the Utes this season. They had their first 300-yard passing game on the road against a league opponent since 2014. Utah also had a 100-yard rusher for the fourth time in five games. Three different players have reached that mark in a game for the Utes so far.
Arizona State leads the series with Utah 22-9. The Utes won the most recent meeting in 2019, beating the Sun Devils 21-3 in Salt Lake City.
No. 18 Arizona State at Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. ET
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Jayden Daniels returns to the scene of his worst career performance. When Daniels faced the Utes in 2019, he tallied a career-low 25 yards on 4-of-18 passing.
The story should be much different this time around. Daniels has become a reliable and consistent quarterback in his third season with the Sun Devils. He already has three 200-yard games as a passer this season. Through six games, Daniels has completed a Pac-12-best 70.1 percent of his passes. He's doing a good job of spreading the ball around downfield. Four different Arizona State receivers have tallied at least 200 receiving yards — led by Ricky Pearsall and Curtis Hodges with 256 yards apiece.
A strong running game remains Arizona State's bread-and-butter staple in its offense. The Sun Devils have tallied at least 150 rushing yards in 10 straight games. Rachaad White has led the way in the backfield, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 with 427 total rushing yards. White has not had a 100-yard game on the ground yet this season, but came close to breaking through last week. He churned out a season-high 96 yards on 13 carries against Stanford.
When Utah Has the Ball
The Utes have become much more consistent and explosive on offense with Cameron Rising at the controls. In his two starts, Rising has accounted for 502 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. He had his first career 300-yard game against USC, throwing for 306 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-28 passing.
Rising's ability to involve multiple players became evident against the Trojans. Devaughn Vele finished with a career-high 84 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Britain Covey tallied a season-high 67 yards on five receptions. Nine different Utes caught a pass against USC.
Utah has taken similar strides forward in the backfield. Tavion Thomas piled up a career-high 113 rushing yards and a touchdown against USC while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. For Thomas, it was his second career 100-yard game and it came after he originally fell out of the backfield rotation following ball security issues earlier in the season. Thomas, Micah Bernard, and TJ Pledger all have 100-yard games this season, giving Utah plenty of choices to ignite the running game on Saturday.
Utah and Arizona State are the last two Pac-12 teams without a loss in league play. This game should be an instant classic. The Utes and the Sun Devils are evenly matched on paper — tough defenses, dynamic quarterbacks, dominant run games. If there's one thing that separates the Pac-12 foes, it's that Utah's run defense isn't as strong as it has been in recent seasons. That plays right into Arizona State's strengths on offense. It may come down to a final drive, but the Sun Devils will secure their hold on the top spot in the Pac-12 South.
Prediction: Arizona State 24, Utah 21
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.