Pac 12 South Leader Arizona State Turns Focus To A Resilient Utah Squad

The Arizona State Sun Devils may be in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 South but if they want to remain there, they're going to have to beat a familiar foe at a venue in which they haven't had much success lately.

It is also a foe that has excelled in the face of adversity.

Next up for ASU (5-1, 3-0) is a Saturday night showdown against Utah (3-2, 2-0) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. ASU leads the all-time series 22-9 but has lost two of the last three on the road, including a 21-3 setback in a cold, steady rain when the teams last met in 2019.

"It's a tough place to play. They have a nice fan base. We anticipate it will be loud," coach Herm Edwards said in his weekly address with the media.

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Both teams went into that contest ranked with Utah at No. 13 and ASU at No. 17.

That was a season in which quarterback Jayden Daniels was a rookie and the Sun Devils featured a pair of true freshman on the offensive line against a veteran Utes defensive front. They managed just 136 yards total offense.

Now ASU is an experienced-laden squad which comes in on the momentum of three straight conference games in which they have won by double digits, the latest being a 28-10 win over Stanford on Friday.

The Sun Devils are ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press and No. 22 in the AFCA/USA Today poll.

"Another Pac-12 game. Anything can happen," Edwards said. "Very physical football team in all three phases of football. Very well coached. There's a blend of young talented players on both sides."

Utah has indeed proven to be a resilient team.  It had starting quarterback Charlie Brewer, who transferred into the school from Baylor over the summer, quit the team days after being benched in a 33-31 overtime loss to San Diego State.

It also has dealt with tragedy more than once as defensive back Aaron Lowe was shot and killed at a house party two weeks ago. The team flew to Texas for Lowe's funeral Monday.

It was the second time in less than a year that coach Kyle Whittingham has had to navigate his team through such an ordeal. In December running back Ty Jordan, who had been named Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, died as the result of a gun accident. Lowe was actually awarded the scholarship named in Jordan's honor.

"I can't speak for them or their situation but I have been in situations like this as a former player with teammates," Edwards said. "It brings a different side to it. I think it brings a lot of reflection. I think they've done a great job through this. Today hopefully they'll have some closure to it. Coach (Whittingham) has done a good job of being a voice, speaking to young men. That's important. I think they have handled it well."

The Utes are coming off an impressive 42-26 victory over USC at the Coliseum. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising, who took over for Brewer, was named this week's Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Week for his effort in that win.

"The quarterback has given them a spark," Edwards said. "He can run it, he can get it downfield. He's done a nice job for them"

ASU's Johnson honored

Defensive end Tyler Johnson's strong showing in ASU's 28-10 win over Stanford has earned him multiple accolades. The local out of Highland High School has been named National FBS Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

He also took home Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.

Johnson finished with five total tackles (four solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He also forced a fumble that came at a crucial time with the Cardinal driving.

Johnson is the fifth Arizona State player to receive the honor from Walter Camp, the first since teammate Jayden Daniels won on Nov. 24, 2019 after a win over No. 6 Oregon.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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Source : https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/college/asu/2021/10/11/pac-12-south-leader-arizona-state-turns-focus-resilient-utah-squad/6086027001/

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