Bleeding Red: Home field could be key in upsetting Sun Devils

Eight already down and four left to go
At the end of the tunnel there is light
So will the Utes qualify for a bowl?
With a little bit of luck they just might

COMMENTARY — Coming off of a much-needed bye week, Utah hosts Arizona State on Saturday afternoon at Rice Eccles Stadium. Currently these two programs are headed in polar opposite directions.

Arizona State is already bowl eligible; Utah still needs to pick up two wins in their last four games to even be eligible for a bowl game.

After shocking the Stanford Cardinal in Salt Lake City, the Utes have lost back-to-back games to Arizona and USC to give them an even 4-4 record. The Sun Devils are 6-2, have won three in a row, and are currently ranked No. 22 in the BCS Standings.

Utah’s first two losses to Oregon State and UCLA were close games decided by a single field goal and touchdown respectively. Utah has lost its last two games by an average of nearly two touchdowns per game — not a good direction to be trending at this point in the season.

utah

sundevilIn the last three games, Arizona State is averaging 54 points a game, with an average margin of victory of nearly 35 points. Now that is how you like to see your team trending at this point in the season.

I am fairly certain that I am not the only one worried by the fact that the Sun Devils have recently been beating their opponents by more points than the Utes have scored in any of their last five games.

At first blush, the match-up between Utah and Arizona State has all the makings of a blowout in favor of Arizona State. However, even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are only giving the Sun Devils the nod by barely more than a single touchdown, meaning this game could easily go either way.

There is no denying that Utah simply plays better at home. In all honesty, I’m not convinced that the Utes could have upset the Cardinal in Palo Alto. By the same token, I think Utah would have beaten Arizona at home. The fact that the Utes get to play the Sun Devils in the friendly confines of Rice Eccles stadium is certainly a plus. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham agrees.

“We really like playing in front of our home crowd,” he said, during today’s press conference. “The MUSS in our corner at home has been a big boost for us.”

Arizona State’s offense against Utah’s defense will be a true strength vs. strength match-up. The Sun Devils’ high octane offense will be tested against the Utes’ stout defense. As good as Utah’s defense has played at times, one area in which it has consistently been lacking is forcing turnovers. If Utah is going to have any chance of beating Arizona State on Saturday, the defense must finally start taking the ball away.

Currently, the biggest disparity between the two teams, and thus a critical key to the outcome, is that the Sun Devils’ defense is playing much better than the Utes’ offense. When Travis Wilson was healthy, the offense was playing very well. Hopefully, the bye week has given Wilson time to heal and get back to playing at a high level. Utah’s offense is also going to need some help from its defense. It would be extremely helpful if the Utes could generate some scoring from the defensive side of the ball, but at the very least, Utah’s defense must consistently give the offense good field position to work with.

One of the things I hate the very most about sitting in the press box to watch Utah football games is that cheering is not allowed. Seriously. I just don’t get it. Apparently reporters are supposed to be neutral, but I will freely admit that I just don’t see the logic in it. My passion for the Utah Utes is what gives football (and basketball . . . and gymnastics . . .) meaning for me, and piques my interest, win or lose. The fact that I care is the reason I still follow the Utes even when they lose. If I ever lose that passion and turn into a neutral drone, then the joy of the sport will have been sucked out of me and I will be done writing this column.

I am a lawyer by trade. As a lawyer, I owe a duty of loyalty to my client. I am not just expected to represent my client, but the Utah Rules of Professional Responsibility, by which all Utah lawyers are bound, expressly require me to advocate to the best of my ability on behalf of my client. At the same time, as an officer of the court, I am required to be candid and honest.

When it comes to the Utah Utes, I guess I am more of a lawyer than I am a reporter. Regardless of their fortunes, or misfortunes, I will always be loyal to the Utes. I will look for opportunities to advocate on Utah’s behalf, but even then I still feel that I can be candid and honest.

I guess the silver lining in this weekend’s game is that the odds are against me having to suppress too many joyful outbursts as I watch from the press box. Nevertheless, looking back on my legal career, there have been some cases I have won in court that surprised even me. Here’s hoping that the Utes will give me another pleasant surprise this weekend in pulling off another stunning upset at home against the Sun Devils.

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Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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