With Travis Wilson healthy, Utah eager to snap two-game losing streak.
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Between Travis Wilson's desire to atone for his recent struggles, the Utes' hopes of getting bowl eligible and their fervent wish to end a disappointing two-game losing streak, Utah has plenty of motivation going into Saturday's game against No. 23 Arizona State.
But will all those motivating factors in the world be enough to help the Utes end a losing streak against the Sun Devils that stretches back to 1976?
The Utes believe they will even if few others do.
"We feel like we can win," linebacker Jason Whittingham said. "We want to get a bowl game but we have the mindset that there is no reason we can't win our last four games."
The Utes have been in this position before, taking an us-against-the-world approach into their game against Stanford and shocking the No. 6 Cardinal 27-21.
That win gave the Utes their first significant Pac-12 victory, and it might just be the outcome that keeps the Cardinal from playing for the national title after Stanford knocked off Oregon Thursday.
Unfortunately for the Utes, the luster of that win has been dirtied some by their last two losses.
Whittingham acknowledged that the Stanford win seems long ago thanks to the recent frustrations, but feels his team has the character to respond.
"They're a competitive group and if nothing else, you're playing for the love of the game and for the competition of it all," he said. "We're still playing for a bowl bid and a lot of these seniors are playing for a chance to play after college. They have to showcase their skills. But more than anything else, you shouldn't need anything but the competitive nature from within."
ASU could pose a bigger challenge for the Utes than Stanford, due to the matchup issues the Sun Devils present.
Arizona State has a more prolific passing game than Stanford, and has posted 50-points or more in its last three wins. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is ranked at the top of the national stats in several passing categories and running back Marion Grice is 11th in all-purpose yardage, averaging 162.3 yards a game.
All in all, the Sun Devils are a complete team with a balanced attack, by Whittingham's estimation.
"That's really the key, they force you to defend everything," he said. "They spread. They force you to defend the entire field in both the run and the pass. That makes it difficult and the quarterback is very efficient and running that offense to perfection."
A few weeks ago the Utes would have been more worried about their defense slowing such an attack rather than their offense holding its own.
But Wilson's recent struggles and the absence of Utah's top tight ends have hurt the Utes' productivity, to the point that Whittingham said last week the Utes may have to go with more of a run-focused offense, like Stanford.
The problem is, Utah's run game seems to be in constant flux as well with backs Bubba Poole, Kelvin York and Lucky Radley all sharing the load.
No. 23 Arizona State at Utah
O At Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff • Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network. Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 4-4, 1-4; ASU 6-2, 4-1
Series history • ASU leads 18-6
Last meeting • ASU 37, Utah 7 (Sept. 22, 2012)
About the Utes • The Utes are 3-1 at home this year and are 94-39-6 coming off bye weeks. … Co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson served as ASU's head coach from 2007-2011. … Utah is third nationally in sack average (3.38).
About the Sun Devils • Are 1-2 in road games this year. … Have scored more than 50 points in their last three games. … Quarterback Taylor Kelly is seventh nationally in total offense (353.3). … Marion Grice is 11th nationally in all purpose yards (162.3).