Speed, daring, and just enough discipline saw the University of Utah through past an under-strength Arizona State team 81-27 Saturday in Salt Lake City.
Play in the midst of a dry and stiff wind, the game was well officiated by referee Kurt Weeder and featured two teams that liked to run the ball.
Arizona State worked hard throughout the game, and deservedly recorded their fourth try, and therefore a bonus point, on the final play of the match. But ASU, missing ten starters due to injury, family issues, and illness, were too inexperienced to play a clean game, and Utah punished them severely for their transgressions.
Playing with the wind, which ran from their left corner flag to the opposite corner, Utah pinned ASU in their own end early on. The Sun Devils tried to run out of their 22 and Utah’s defense was up to the task. Center Trevor Trowbridge poached the ball from the ruck and ran in untouched for the first score. Tonata Lauti slotted the touchline conversion without difficulty, as the wind was blowing the ball that direction anyway. Later on, the wind would force a miss in front of the posts, and Lauti resorted to drop kicks for a time.
Moments later, scrumhalf Don Pati scampered weakside from a scrum, took the offload from No. 8 Les Soloai, and went in at the corner. Touchline conversion good. 14-0 Utah. Arizona State put together some impressive runs throughout the first half, with centers Zach Utley and Nate Chapman, and fullback Adam Sandstrom all exposing weak points in the Utah defense.
But a mostly inexperienced ASU pack wasn’t able to anticipate well enough, and couldn’t get to the rucks quickly enough. ASDU got a Sandstrom penalty to make it 14-3, but after that it was a run of Utah tries.
When the Utes offloaded quickly, but carefully, they thundered through the ASU defense, forcing a lot of offside penalties. Those led to tries. Flanker Mike Juszczak scored two just following the tornado, and then Pati simply blew through the line on a quick tap.
Arizona State did manage to get some continuity on a break and that produced a try for scrumhalf Jode de Klerk, and after that some nifty passing put Kolten Molina in a little bit of space, and the flyhalf cut back against the grain very well.
At that point it was 31-13 and halftime looming, but Utah twisted the knife very effectively with Pati shrugging off tacklers before feeding hard-hitting center Timote Houma for the try. Normally a flanker, Houma wasn’t perfect on the day – he was caught out of position on occasion – but you couldn’t fault his aggressiveness, and he epitomized the Utah defensive philosophy, which was based on the ideal that if Utah tackles you, you will remember it.
The second half didn’t start well for Arizona State, and went quickly south from there. Utah once again scored very quickly, and with hooker Mike Shepherd leading the way in the breakdowns, they put the game away early, allowing Head Coach Blake Burdette to run in the subs.
Strangely, it took Utah a while to realize that simple hands to the wing would provide the tries they wanted. Too often Utes would engage contact when they didn’t need to. That habit will not prove a fruitful one when they take on BYU next week.
In the closing minutes prop Colton Rahav scored, and Sandstrom capped off an outstanding passing movement with ASU’s 4th try.
“We wanted to start a little better this week than we did last week and we did that, so I was happy about that,” said Burdette. “There were some [mental mistakes] too, though, and we’ve got to look at that, especially with the big BYU game coming up. This 50-50 stuff has got to stop. When we stick to fundamentals we do well.”
The definition of 50-50 if different for Utah than it is for many other teams – some wild offloads worked superbly for them. But they pushed the envelope a bit too much.
Burdette said he wants to see the backs trust their skills and the abilities of their outside runners. Up front, he said, “we were quick to the breakdown and as far as the contact are and scrums and set pieces I was very happy.”
As for ASU Head Coach Gary Lane, this has been a tough season that has turned into a rebuilding one, but the coach doesn’t like losing.
“Such a young group, and having a leader [on the field] is an issue,” Lane said. “We had intercept problems, offside problems, and defensive structure problems. We have an all-freshman back row, and they have to learn more about how the game works. I was pleased with how they kept playing, and we got a bonus point, but this is how it is for us right now.”
Tries: Trowbridge 2, Juszczak 2, Pati 2, Houma, Soloai 2, Muehle
Convs: T. Lauti 7, Pati
Arizona State 27
Tries: de Klerk, Molina, Rahav, Sandstrom
Convs: Sandstrom 2