Utah faces the challenge of snapping a two-game losing streak against suddenly surging Arizona State.
The Utes (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) suffered a 28-27 setback to USC after the Trojans stopped Troy Williams on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. Utah surrendered a 14-point halftime lead after its defense allowed USC to mount touchdown drives of 88, 93 and 98 yards in the second half. It's a key reason why Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham opted to go for two on his team's final touchdown drive.
The Sun Devils (3-3, 2-1 Pac-12 South) made a huge statement with a 13-7 upset victory over then-no. 5 Washington on Saturday. Arizona State held the Huskies to 230 total yards after allowing more than 400 yards in four of its first five games. It was the first time that the Sun Devils allowed fewer than 300 yards since a 34-10 win over New Mexico in 2015. It also marked their first win over a top-five team in 21 seasons.
Arizona State leads the all-time series 20-8. Utah has won two straight games against the Sun Devils, but has never beaten them three straight times since the series began in 1961.
Arizona State at Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Utah –10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Tyler Huntley start?
Utah's offense may get an extra boost on Saturday. Huntley (above, right) practiced for the first time on Tuesday since suffering a shoulder injury against Arizona. Huntley only took limited reps, but Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham left the door open for him to play – and maybe even start – against the Sun Devils.
If Huntley is cleared to play on Saturday, his presence promises to offer an immediate spark to Utah's offense. The sophomore emerged as an efficient passer and lethal runner before his injury. His decision-making abilities also helped extend drives and keep plays alive at critical junctures.
Huntley passed for 966 yards and became the first Ute quarterback to post back-to-back 300-yard games after throwing for a combined 641 yards against BYU and San Jose State. His 73.8 percent completion percentage in that stretch ranked first among Pac-12 quarterbacks.
On the ground, Huntley totaled 208 yards and three touchdowns on 56 carries. He is still the no. 4 rusher among quarterbacks in the league in total rushing yards.
2. Can Manny Wilkins deliver under pressure again?
Pressure doesn't faze Wilkins. Arizona State’s sophomore quarterback has stood his ground well this season and made big plays even as the pocket collapses around him.
Wilkins threw 192 passes without an interception earlier this season before tossing a first-quarter pick against Stanford. He has not thrown an interception in his other five games this season. His ability to avoid turnovers is even more impressive when you consider that Wilkins has been pressured on 36.9 percent of his drop-backs. Wilkins has tallied three touchdown passes in that situation, which ranks in the top 20 among FBS quarterbacks.
His ability to do well under pressure has helped Wilkins string together a series of big performances. He has thrown for more than 300 yards in five of his last nine games. Wilkins has shown an improved ability to hit receivers on deep routes, with at least one 50-yard pass in four of six games this season. He has thrown for 1,697 yards so far and is on pace to eclipse 3,000 passing yards in late November.
3. Can Utah get Darren Carrington more involved?
Since Huntley's injury, Carrington has vanished from the Utah offense for long stretches. The Utes’ top wide receiver was limited to just nine yards on two catches against USC. Troy Williams ignored Carrington when he was open on several plays, including Utah's failed two-point conversion attempt when the senior was all alone in the end zone.
Entering Pac-12 play, Carrington had 409 yards and four touchdowns on 26 catches. In his last 10 quarters, the Oregon transfer has tallied just 108 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. He did not record a reception in the second half against Arizona or first half against Stanford.
Whittingham noted that Carrington was banged up against USC and the Trojans also bracketed him in coverage. But the Utes need to find ways to get him more involved this week. Carrington remains their top receiving threat, with 593 receiving yards. He ranks second among Pac-12 receivers in both total yards and yards per game (98.8).
Utah absolutely dominated Arizona State a season ago. An improved pass defense has opened a door for the Sun Devils to take a step forward this year. Still, the Utes are capable of giving Arizona State fits if Tyler Huntley is back in action and Troy Williams already proved last year he can handle the Sun Devils. Arizona State isn't likely to snap its seven-game road losing streak this week.
Prediction: Utah 31, 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.
(Tyler Huntley photo courtesy of Utah Athletics/Kory Mortensen)