This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two questions hung over the Utes here on Thursday night against Arizona State, a game that Utah ended up winning by the count of 49-26. The first had to do with the powers of the brain, with attitude and assumptions, the second with physicality, strategy and execution.
1) Would the Utes find it within themselves to go at this game with the same intensity and focus they had dialed up in their previous seven victories and, in some measure, in their two tight defeats?
The background: They were facing a forgettable Sun Devil team that not only had cratered after winning its first four games, then dropping three straight Pac-12 contests and four of its last five, it also was more infirm even than the Utes had been with upwards of 11 starters lost at one time or another to injury. It was a group that had in those consecutive defeats given up 131 points, including 54 to Oregon in its last game, a game in which the Devils yielded four touchdown passes and four scores of longer than 30 yards, a trend that has plagued them all season.
Beyond that, given its favorable situation, Utah also might have been tempted to peek ahead to next week's home game against the Ducks and the biggie the week thereafter at Colorado, a game that if business fell in line with expectation would determine who will win the South, who would go to the Pac-12 championship game, and who would have a shot at the Rose Bowl.
Along that line, ASU seemed the least of the Utes' troubles, a team, hence, easy to overlook, even though Utah hadn't won in Tempe since 1976.
The answer: Well ... it took a while, but the Utes came around.
On the first play from scrimmage, a premature snap bounced off of Troy Williams and ASU recovered. Next, Williams made a bad pitch, and ASU recovered, turning that into a 3-zip lead. Three became 10, 10 became 13, and ... Utah, hello.
The Utes picked up the phone early in the second quarter when Williams hit Raelon Singleton on a 64-yard TD throw, and then fired to Siaosi Wilson for a 27-yard score. But the Devils' N'Keal Harry darted for as sweet a TD run as any imaginable, giving ASU a 20-14 lead. The Utes answered with another Williams-to-Singleton touchdown near the end of the half.
In the second, Joe Williams broke off an 82-yard TD run, boosting the lead to eight. The Sun Devils came back with a 10-play scoring drive, compromised by a failed two-point conversion. Utah countered with a 75-yard drive, ended with another Williams-to-Singleton TD. Chase Hansen slammed the door with a 34-yard pick-six.
While Arizona State was the team supposedly prone to opponents' big plays, the Utes gave up a truckload, too, from the unconventional to the basic. Mental breakdowns played a part, but the Utes also used and benefited from opportunism.
2) Would Utah change its offensive attack to feature the pass over the run since the Sun Devil defensive secondary was one of the worst in the country and its run-stopping was statistically sound?
The background: It is the classic coaching puzzle Do you emphasize what you do best, regardless of the opponent's vulnerabilities, or do you change things up, adjusting to attack those weaknesses?
The answer: Initially and mostly, the Utes poured hot lava at the back end. In the first half, Troy Williams threw 26 passes, completing 15 for 215 yards and the three touchdowns. By contrast, Joe Williams ran only six times for 26 yards. In the second half, those totals settled in at Joe gaining 181 yards on 15 carries, Troy throwing for 296 yards and four scores on 37 passes.
"We let them throw it right over the top of us," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "It's inexcusable."
Ultimately, the Utes answered both questions in what was for them a fine and adequate manner. Their answers weren't perfect, not mentally, physically, strategically or in execution, and neither was the defense. But the result, setting up what comes next, was decent and satisfactory enough. Which is to say, they'd take it, embrace it, and move on.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on the Zone Sports Network, 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.