Mike Slifer

Three Tines to Victory over Utah


This Saturday, the ASU Football (4-2, 2-1) team invades Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes (5-0, 2-0) in a PAC-12 South showdown.  As expected, this matchup is critical for both teams.  For ASU, it’s an opportunity to stay alive in the hunt for the PAC-12 South title.  The same applies for Utah, although the Utes are shooting higher than that as they are ranked fifth in the country and eyeing a playoff spot.

ASU Sun Devils @ Utah Utes (-6.5)

This should be a wildly intense game.  Much is on the line and both teams are desperate for the win.  The ASU Devils Den offers the Three Tines to Victory over Utah for the Sun Devils.

First Tine to Victory:  Make Travis Wilson Beat You With His Arm

Utah Quarterback Travis Wilson is having a good year.  A three-year starter, Wilson is a veteran quarterback.  He is efficient and plays within his limitations.  He rarely turns the ball over, especially this season.  But most experts and analysts agree that Wilson is not a “premier” quarterback.  He is not the type of signal-caller that will pass for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns on a regular basis.  Wilson is Defense sackmore of a game manager.  He’ll make the necessary throws as needed.  And that’s been enough for Utah.

ASU’s best chance to stymie the Utah offense is to stack the box, neutralize the Utah running attack and force Wilson to do it all.  In truth, he will probably make some plays, but it is unlikely that Wilson will be able to sit in the pocket all night long and pick apart the ASU secondary.  Additionally, while Wilson is a decent athlete, he’s not the type that’s going to scramble away from trouble and create problems.  Therefore the ASU defense would be wise to take away all other options other than having Wilson perform his absolute best as a passer on prime time TV.  The Sun Devils cannot let Utah be balanced in their attack with a solid running game and occasional play-action passes that go for numerous first downs.

Second Tine to Victory:  Perfect The Non-Verbal Communication

Mike Norvell Taylor KellyAs everyone witnessed in the opener against Texas A&M, playing in a loud environment can be problematic.  And it is going to be extremely loud in Salt Lake City.  While ASU is on offense, they won’t
be able to hear each other when it comes to audibles, checks or line calls.  They also won’t be able to hear the cadence from ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici.  This phenomenon wreaked havoc on ASU in Houston for their first game.  Assignments were blown, defenders were able to get a head start on the snap and confusion was rampant.  The Sun Devil offense had better be well-rehearsed in their non-verbal play-calling and adjustments.

This Tine applies to the defense, as well.  The “Muss” or the student section at Utah will also make a lot of noise while ASU is on defense, especially on key plays.  The defensive calls and checks for alignments, keys and assignments will have to occasionally be relayed to each other with hand signals.  They better be prepared for that.

Third Tine to Victory:  Get Back to Being Tempo-Crazy

For this particular opponent, it would be wise for ASU to really push their tempo offensively.  While the Utah defense is improved this season, they are still not the most athletic bunch, especially in the secondary.  The M.O. for the Utah defense over the years has been to gut it out with discipline, technique and a well-executed game plan.  The worst thing ASU could do is take their time running plays.  This will give the Utah defense time to catch their breath, switch out personnel and process down and distance.  DJ FosterThe Sun Devil’s best bet is to get as many snaps as possible.  This will force the defensive backs to run with receivers downfield repeatedly.  It will require the big down lineman to huff and puff their way to ineffectiveness.  The more snaps ASU can get, the more potential there is for them to break off big, explosive plays.  A slow, ball-control, methodical offensive tempo will play right into the hands of Utah.

In the end, to be victorious, ASU will have to beat Utah at their own game.  They’ll need to run the ball efficiently, commit no turnovers or stupid penalties and be sound on special teams.  Under head coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah has a reputation for not beating themselves and being fundamentally sound at every position.  The Sun Devils have the talent, experience and moxie to beat Utah in their own house, but they’ll have to step it up one notch in their execution.

About Mike Slifer

Mike Slifer

Mike Slifer has been a teacher and football/basketball coach at the high school level for 17 years. He brings a unique perspective to the analysis of the game. Mike’s experience as a position coach, coordinator and head coach provides him with unique insights. He is interested in writing for an audience that wants more details, technical explanations and “coach think” as part of the discussion of the sport.

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