ASU tries to extend winning streak over Utah

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Overwhelming opposing defenses has become a trademark for Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly this season.

Kelly has the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils running like a fine-tuned offensive machine with his ability to extend plays and punish teams through the air and on the ground.

Through eight games, he has thrown for 2,511 yards and is averaging 313.9 yards passing per game. Kelly is on pace to break the school records in both categories.

His running abilities have also played a huge role in Arizona State's three-game winning streak. Kelly has rushed for 209 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries in those three victories.

"I said this the other day: He's almost like having an offensive coordinator on the field," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "He understands the strengths and weaknesses of what we're doing and that's what makes the offense work is his ability to make decisions."

Utah is no stranger to the damage Kelly can do. The Utes lost to the Sun Devils 37-7 in Tempe a year ago after Kelly led Arizona State to touchdowns on the team's first three possessions.

The Sun Devils (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) seem to have little to fear from Utah (4-4, 1-4), a team they have beaten nine straight times and face again Saturday. Utah is struggling to find an offensive punch since upsetting Stanford last month. Still, this has all the classic trap game elements with a closing stretch of Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona on the horizon for Arizona State.

Utah could bounce back if Travis Wilson is fully healthy and confident. Wilson played sparingly against USC and Arizona because of an injured throwing hand. He completed just 8 of 23 passes for 66 yards in those games while throwing four interceptions.

Wilson said Utah's bye week has been beneficial for healing his injured hand.

"It's feeling 100 percent now," Wilson said. "It's feeling better. The trainers did a good job of taking care of me and getting me better."

Having Wilson at full strength means good things for the Utes. They are 4-2 this season when he passes for more than 200 yards.

Five things to watch for when Utah hosts Arizona State on Saturday:

RED ZONE FINISHERS: When Arizona State gets inside the 20, putting points on the board is almost automatic. The Sun Devils have scored in the red zone on 42 straight drives this season. They convert in the red zone 95.5 percent of the time, a rate that ranks fifth among FBS teams.

APPLYING PRESSURE: Kelly will need to be able to make plays under pressure. Utah excels at getting to the quarterback. The Utes are tied for second in the Pac-12 with 27 total sacks. They rank third nationally in sack average with 3.38 per game. Senior DE/LB Trevor Reilly leads Utah with 5.5 sacks.

FINDING FIRST DOWN: Jaelen Strong isn't just Arizona State's leading receiver, he is a go-to option for moving the chains. Strong has a team-best 720 yards and five touchdowns on 49 receptions so far this season. Thirty of those receptions have been first-down catches. Eight first-down catches have come on third or fourth down and Strong has two touchdown catches coming off fourth-down plays.

PINNING IT DEEP: Utah punter Tom Hackett knows how to make things easier on the Ute defense. The sophomore leads the Pac-12 in punt average with 43.1 yards per punt. Hackett has put 19 punts inside the 20 this season to rank second in the league. He also has 11 punts that have covered more than 50 yards to lead the Pac-12.

POTENT POOLE: A strong outing from sophomore RB Bubba Poole usually adds up to a Utah victory. The Utes are 3-0 this season when Poole leads the team in rushing yardage. Poole has 495 yards on 106 carries to lead Utah's running backs. He has two 100-yard games, gaining 117 yards against Oregon State and 111 yards against Stanford. Poole is also second on the team in receptions (28) and fourth in receiving yards (227).

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