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Hunkered down in the trenches, Saiosi Aiono's eyes used to be fixed directly ahead of him. After all, a 300-pound defensive tackle about to lunge at you begs for attention.

But as a senior, Aiono often finds his eyes drifting.

"Sometimes I don't even look D-line," he said. "The secondary tells the whole story."

Safeties tell where the blitz is coming from. If Aiono can't glean anything from the safeties, then his eyes move up: What are the linebackers doing? Are they tilting? Are they covering for blitzers? The defensive line is last in the progression, and by that time, Aiono usually knows what is about to happen.

"It's like reading a book," he said. "That's why I love center, because it made me see football from a whole different perspective."

Utah's offense is far from perfect, but it has done a few things very well: Giving creases for Devontae Booker and keeping Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson clean in the pocket. The Utes have the No. 24 rushing offense nationally (216.2 ypg) and are No. 4 in fewest sacks allowed with only two thus far.

The difference is perspective — specifically the perspective that comes from having the same offensive line coach and the same offense as last season. This fall is the first time these offensive linemen have been allowed to build off the offensive terminology and scheme they already know.

It's made a world of difference: Instead of figuring out who to block, they're fine-tuning how they block.

"I remember this time last year, we're barely getting in the groove of the offense we learned in spring," Aiono said. "But this time, we come in, we knew the plays already. We're just thinking about playing ball."

A lot of that confidence comes from Aiono, who teammates say is tireless in the film room. He doesn't dedicate a specific number of hours per se, just until "I feel comfortable." He reviews full games, then specific plays that Utah might run, how teams react, what personnel they'll use, and on and on.

A center's most important job is picking up blitzes. His instructions radiate to the guards, then the tackles. Travis Wilson has the power to trump Aiono in Utah's offense, and he sometimes has to great success. But most of the time, the offense is relying on Aiono's eyes.

"Anytime we have a protection, we're trying to do the best we can to put our offensive linemen on their most dangerous blitz threats," offensive co-coordinator and line coach Jim Harding said. "He spends a lot of time on his own and takes pride in making sure we slide the right way. And because of that, he's put us in a lot of good positions so far this year."

One of Utah's surprising early struggles this year was in the run game: After the Utes mauled through several defenses last year with Devontae Booker, Michigan kicked off the season bottling them up for only 127 yards on the ground.

That's improved week-by-week, to the Utes rolling up 265 yards last week against Cal. It helps to have a Heisman dark horse in Booker.

"You know, Book is Book," J.J. Dielman said. "He's gonna run hard, he's run over people, run through people, jump over people. And if we open the holes for him, he's gonna get every yard that there is to get."

Booker also gets credit in the passing game, where he's improved as a blocker. Said Harding: "He isn't a guy who takes that lightly."

Against Arizona State this week, Utah may face its toughest challenge yet. Dielman estimates the Sun Devils blitz 70 percent of the time. Their pressure shook Wilson in 2014 when he managed only 57 passing yards and was sacked three times.

"It's extremely frustrating because I've watched that game more than once," Dielman said. "That's not the offense we are, and that's not the offense we certainly are this season."

ASU coach Todd Graham agreed with that sentiment in a conference call this week, calling Utah's offensive line much improved this season. Whether that's just lip service or not will be determined Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Aiono thinks back to last week against Cal in the fourth quarter, when Booker was crossing the 200-yard mark. He saw the Golden Bears were coming off the line with less urgency: Against the run, they looked beaten.

"It may take longer to put up points and stuff, but to physically dominate the front seven with our five, it's rewarding," Aiono said. "Obviously we want it balanced with the pass so we can shoot up the score. But I'm sure we'll get it fixed this week."

That, Aiono said, would be a beautiful story indeed.

Twitter: @kylegoon Utah's offensive line

• Four returning starters, including Saiosi Aiono, Isaac Asiata, J.J. Dielman and Leka Uhatafe

• No. 4 in fewest sacks allowed, giving up only 2 this year

• No. 24 in rushing offense with 216.2 yards per game

• Devontae Booker is No. 15 in rushing yards with 665 yards —

Arizona St. at No. 4 Utah

P Saturday, 8 p.m.