Arizona State has been a Pac-12 nemesis for Utah. Is this the year the tables turn?

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov 3, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The promotions people in Utah’s athletic department have created a theme for every home football game this season, except Saturday’s meeting with Arizona State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Beating the Sun Devils might be a sufficiently novel concept. ASU has proven to be Utah’s toughest opponent in the Pac-12 South, while tormenting Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley the past two seasons and shredding a proud defense last November, winning for the sixth time in eight games.

“Every year is its own, complete entity … and I don't think anything in the past will play into this game,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

The present is interesting enough, with No. 13 Utah (5-1) as a two-touchdown favorite against a No. 17-ranked opponent that has not lost a Pac-12 game by more than seven points in coach Herm Edwards' two seasons. The Sun Devils have a habit of staying close, whether the game is high-scoring or low-scoring.

This contest could go either of those directions, with rain in the forecast and two outstanding running backs facing two excellent defenses against the run. Utah’s Zack Moss should be fully recovered from a shoulder injury after easing back into action with five carries, including a 91-yard touchdown, at Oregon State last week. He needs 55 yards to become the school’s career rushing leader.

ASU’s Eno Benjamin, who ran for 175 yards against the Utes last season, once was a prime recruiting target for Utah — although who knows how his career would have played out on the same roster with Moss. Similarly, Utah pursued ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels, who may have redshirted this season behind Huntley. Instead, he’s leading the Sun Devils (5-1) as a freshman who “has captured a lot of people’s imagination because of how he has played in big moments,” Edwards said.

Freshman running back Jordan Wilmore picked Utah over ASU in February, though. The Utes wouldn’t have needed Daniels this season, but merely keeping him away from ASU may have helped them Saturday. Utah’s secondary will face another star receiver, Brandon Aiyuk. The Utes may assign cornerback Jaylon Johnson to Aiyuk, but Kyle Williams is another capable receiver who could exploit that strategy.

Huntley is compiling some remarkable passing statistics as a senior, although the Utes lost the only game that came down to the fourth quarter, at USC in September. ASU intercepted Huntley four times in a 30-10 road victory in October 2017 and ended his 2018 season with a broken collarbone last November, with Utah trailing 21-17 in the third quarter of a 38-20 defeat. Huntley passed for 88 yards in that game.

Huntley has become known for his thorough preparation, although he watches only the opponents’ games of this season. “Nothing will do me good {to study] something about last year,” he said. “It’s all about what they’re doing this year and how their players are reacting.”

Even so, his personal history vs. ASU makes this a checkpoint game in Huntley’s career, starting a pivotal stretch for himself and his team. If he overcomes the Sun Devils for once and beats good defenses from California and Washington, Huntley will deserve to be remembered as one the top quarterbacks in school history and one of the country’s best performers in 2019.

“It’s just good to see him grow,” said sophomore receiver Solomon Enis. “I mean, he was good last year, but this year, I think he took another step. The whole nation is taking notice now. We’ve known this since the beginning, but it’s good to see that he’s getting national recognition — and the team along with it, because he’s leading us.”

The audience for Saturday’s meeting of top 20 teams might have been bigger, but ABC chose Washington vs. Oregon, leaving Utah-ASU to the Pac-12 Networks. That slot has angered some Ute fans, who want more exposure for their team. The word will get out, though, if the Utes can reverse their Sun Devil curse.


At Rice-Eccles Stadium

Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Networks.

Radio: ESPN 700.

Records: ASU 5-1 (2-1 Pac-12); Utah 5-1 (2-1).

Series history: ASU leads, 22-8.

Last meeting: ASU 38, Utah 20 (2018).

About the Sun Devils: ASU coach Herm Edwards, 65, is 12-7 in his second season, including 7-5 in Pac-12 games. … ASU is third in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions offensively (42.5 percent), but 10th defensively (42.1 percent). … Dave Christensen, Utah’s offensive coordinator during a 9-4 season in 2014, is ASU’s offensive line coach. … The Sun Devils are committing the fewest penalties per game (5.0) among Pac-12 teams, although their average penalty is nearly 11 yards.

About the Utes: Utah is committing the most penalties (12.67) among Pac-12 teams. … In the Pac-12 era, Utah is 3-6 in Top 25 matchups, but 2-0 as the higher-ranked team. … With a 17th career 200-yard passing game, Tyler Huntley would move to No. 4 in school history. … Bamidele Olaseni, who has yet to play as a junior college transfer, is the No. 2 right tackle on the depth chart. … Utah’s home game vs. California next Saturday will kick off at 8 p.m. on FS1.