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Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Utah Utes Preview and Prediction

Author:
Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham

Utah has already reached several new milestones this season. The No. 4 Utes won their Pac-12 opener for the first time with their earlier victory over Oregon. They have their highest regular season ranking since 2004. Now Utah can take another step forward when it faces Arizona State on Saturday.

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The Sun Devils are one of only two Pac-12 opponents that the Utes have not beaten since joining the league in 2011. Utah trails the all-time series 6-20. It has lost 11 straight games to Arizona State dating back to 1977 when both teams played in the Western Athletic Conference. The Utes last beat the Sun Devils in Salt Lake City in 1973.

Utah seems poised to turn the page and write a new chapter in the series. The Utes have one of their strongest defensive teams yet. Breaking the long losing streak won't be a simple task. Head coach Todd Graham's Arizona State team has bounced back after a rough start and possesses more than enough weapons on both sides of the ball to seriously challenge Utah.

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Arizona State at Utah

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Utah -7

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Three Things to Watch

1. Stretching the Field

Getting multiple receivers involved in the offense is not a problem for Arizona State. The Sun Devils have had a different receiver lead the team in total receiving yards in each of the team's six games this season. Six different receivers have eclipsed 200 receiving yards through six games compared to just four receivers crossing that same plateau during the entire 2014 season. Arizona State is one of only eight teams to have five or more receivers with at least 15 receptions.

D.J. Foster has been the most consistent receiving threat for the Sun Devils. Foster has had at least one reception in 46 consecutive games and currently leads Arizona State with 267 yards and three touchdowns on 29 catches. If he catches a pass in each of the next three games, Foster can overtake the Pac-12 record of 48 straight games with a reception held by former USC receiver Kareem Kelly.

2. Dynamic Defensive Duo

Linebackers Jared Norris and Gionni Paul may be the strongest link in a rugged Utah defense. Norris and Paul have made it easier for the defensive line to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks and the secondary to snag interceptions with their nose for the ball and ability to disrupt plays.

Paul leads the Pac-12 and ranks 4th among FBS players with two fumble recoveries. He is also tied for 4th in the league with a pair of interceptions. Additionally, Paul has 2.5 tackles for loss, a pair of pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Norris has tallied three pass breakups and a forced fumble. Both players are co-leaders for Utah in tackles with 39 tackles apiece.

3. Making a Mark

What can Marcus Williams do for an encore? Williams has enjoyed a breakout season in the Utah secondary this fall and is coming off of his finest performance to date. The sophomore safety snagged a turnover on each of California's first two series on Saturday — hauling in an interception and recovering a fumble.

Williams leads the Pac-12 with four interceptions and 0.80 interceptions per game. He is tied for sixth nationally in those categories. Coming into the season, Williams had just one career interception. His game-changing abilities have turned the secondary into a major area of strength for the Utes defense and a major headache for opponents.

Final Analysis

Utah has had close calls with Arizona State the past two seasons, losing by a combined four points. The Utes held 4th-quarter leads in both games before stumbling late. Breaking through won't be easy. The Sun Devils have an improved run defense over the past two games and their offense is always capable of firing off a string of big plays. The difference is that Utah's offense finally has enough juice to score more than it did the past two years. Arizona State has never defeated two Top 10 teams on the road in the same season before. That streak will continue on after Saturday.

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Prediction: Utah 27, Arizona State 24

— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.