Chris Jenkins

Three Tines to Victory: Utah

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In the final home game of the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils take on the Utah Utes on Thursday night. The Utes come in with a 7-2 record, 5-2 in conference, and in contention for the South Division title, needing a victory to keep up with Colorado. The S&P+ ratings give Utah a 62% chance of victory over ASU, with a projected margin of victory of 5.4 points. However, ASU’s S&P+ rating has dipped recently due to poor performances on the road in which injuries were a large factor. It stands to reason, then, that ASU could outperform their rating in a home game, especially if they are healthier, and pull out a victory. Here’s what will need to happen for that to come to pass:

FIRST TINE TO VICTORY: HEALTH

For ASU to have a chance to win Thursday, they’ll need to be significantly healthier than they were against Oregon. Fortunately, it looks like they will. Manny Wilkins appears set to start at quarterback, and Demario Richard, Kareem Orr, and Armand Perry look like they will play as well. The Sun Devils won’t be at full strength, however, as linebackers Salamo Fiso and Christian Sam, and offensive linemen Sam Jones and Stephon McCray don’t look like they will play. Moreover, the guys that will be back this week need to be able to perform at a high level and stay on the field. Wilkins will need to be closer to full strength than he was against Colorado, and avoid additional injuries, which have piled up since the original ankle injury suffered against USC. Also, Armand Perry struggled while playing hurt against Colorado as well, and will need to perform well to help the struggling secondary.

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SECOND TINE TO VICTORY: OFFENSIVE LINE

To say that the ASU offensive line has struggled lately would be an understatement. After having an efficient running game through the first four games of the season, the Sun Devils have averaged less than 3 yards/carry over the last five, and now have the 93rd ranked rushing attach in terms of success rate. This decline is due to several things, including injuries, facing better defenses, and defenses stacking the box and daring them to pass. It doesn’t get any easier against Utah, who, as usual, have a stout run defense. The line, who is still dealing with injuries, will also need to do a good job of protecting Manny Wilkins, allowing him to have time to make throws and avoid getting knocked out of another game. If ASU can have a serviceable run game, and Wilkins can play the whole game, they’ll have a chance.

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THIRD TINE TO VICTORY: TURNOVERS

An interesting stat popped out at me as I was preparing to write this post: turnover luck. The Utes and Sun Devils are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to this (a definition of turnover luck can be found here). Utah has an expected turnover margin of -4.52, and an actual turnover margin of +9. This comes out to a 7.5 points/game swing. On the other side, ASU has an expected turnover margin of +2.33, and an actual margin of -3, which is almost a 3 points/game swing. What this means is that both teams have turnover margins that cannot likely be sustained over the long term. Utah’s hugely positive margin is bound to come back to earth, while ASU’s should improve over time, if both teams continue to play as they have so far this season. If the bounces (literally and figuratively) just stay neutral on Thursday night, ASU should win the turnover battle, which would go a long way toward a Sun Devil victory.

As we near the end of the season, the Sun Devils are in desperate need of a victory as they try to gain bowl eligibility. Locking that up ahead of the trip to Washington would be huge. If ASU’s key players can stay healthy, the o-line can improve their performance, and they can win the turnover battle (as projected), an ASU win against Utah is well within reach.

For more preview information on Saturday’s game between ASU and Utah, be sure to check out Gary Doran’s Advanced Stats 12-Pac

About Chris Jenkins

Chris Jenkins

Chris is a long time Sun Devil fan who has had season tickets for 20+ years. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2004 with a degree in economics, and later returned to get his master’s degree in accounting, the field in which he currently works. His football passion is analysis of schemes and stats, and his football experience includes being the backup quarterback of his high school football team, and a moderately successful 1-year stint as the offensive coordinator of his little brother’s Pop Warner team. He currently resides in Goodyear, AZ with his wife and 4 children.

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