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Duel in the Desert -Breaking down the matchups

The Duel in the Desert, the Territorial Cup, the
rivalry, the game: Arizona State vs. Arizona. The 85th
meeting between the schools is upon us, as the Wildcats
travel north to take on the Sun Devils in Tempe.

The Wildcats are basically playing for pride, as their
season has gone horribly wrong. The Sun Devils are
playing to stay alive in the race for the Pac-12 South
championship, and possibly to save Dennis Erickson’s job.

Two of our on-staff writers, Adam Green and Vince Marotta
have more than a rooting interest in the game, so they
break down the matchup, and try to keep their “fanhood” at
a minimum in the process.

Vince Marotta (ASU fan) Adam Green (UA fan)
Sun Devils on
offense:
The Sun Devils have been extremely consistent
on offense this season, as they are averaging 430 yards
and 34.7 points per game in Pac-12 play. The passing
combination of Brock Osweiler to Gerell Robinson has been
rolling as of late, producing four 100-yard games in the
last 5 contests. The Sun Devils’ running game goes as
Cameron Marshall goes. Marshall had back-to-back 100-yard
games against Colorado and UCLA, but sputtered last week
in the loss at Pullman with only 37 yards. On paper, it
would appear that ASU should have their way when they’ve
got possession of the ball as Arizona’s defense has
struggled in all areas (ranked 109th in the country).
Wildcats on offense:
The Wildcats score, on average, 29.3 points per game.
They throw for 368.3 yards per game and have scored fewer
than 20 points just twice this year. However, they can’t
run the ball and can’t protect the passer. Nick Foles can
be great, but without time to find his bevvy of talented
receivers he won’t have a chance to pick a vulnerable ASU
secondary apart. That’s important because it’s tough to
expect much out of the running game, which at 91.2 yards
per game ranks 116th in FBS. I will say this: if it comes
down to one final drive, my money is on Arizona. People
forget how before the tragic ending of last year’s game
the QB had led his team to what should have been the game-
winning touchdown in the final minute.
Sun Devils on defense: Here’s where things get
interesting…ASU’s defense has been downright bad the last
two weeks. The Devils have been gashed for 15 plays of
20 yards or more against two pretty average offenses.
And those big plays have come in both phases of the
defense. The Bruins had 5 running plays of 20-plus yards
and Wazzu had 7 pass plays of 20 yards or more. The
Devils are banged up, and are vulnerable against Arizona’s
potent passing game.
Wildcats on defense: This category pretty much
ignores the fact that Arizona doesn’t really have a
defense, but we move on. Pass rush? Nope. The Wildcats
have just 8 sacks on the year. Stop the run? Not really,
as Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Stanford can
attest to. Oh, and you don’t even want to know about the
secondary. In total, the team gives up 36 points per game,
and is basically a sieve. RB Cameron Marshall may have his
way, or it could be QB Brock Osweiler. ASU’s offense isn’t
great, but they sure may look the part Saturday.
Sun Devils on special
teams:
Jamal Miles is always a threat to take back a
kickoff return for a touchdown, but his fumble on a
kickoff sealed the Sun Devils’ fate in Pullman. The
bigger concern is in the kicking game. After a stretch of
making six straight field goals, Alex Garoutte missed
three against UCLA, including the potential game-winner
and a chip shot 22-yarder last week. As bad as Arizona’s
kicking has been for most of the year, they get the
advantage with John Bonano, who has connected on 6 of 7
field goal attempts since taking over the job from the
two-headed monster of Alex Zendejas and Jaime Salazar.
Wildcats on special
teams:
Don’t expect anyone from the Old Pueblo to feel
bad about ASU and Alex Garoutte’s struggles in the kicking
game. This was a sore subject last year and, really,
through the first six games of this season. Who could
forget Alex Zendejas and his, ummm, struggles? The kicker
rebounded from his late-season struggles last year to miss
four of 10 extra point attempts this year, but only after
he replaced the man who was supposed to replace him, Jaime
Salazar, who had made just one of four field goal
attempts. Good news, though, as senior John Bonano has
taken over the place kicking duties, and has made all 14
of his PAT attempts and is six of seven on field goals. He
hasn’t had to make a clutch kick yet.
Sun Devils coaching: Hot seat alert! Dennis
Erickson was almost a sure-fire bet for a contract
extension two weeks ago. Now, he’s coaching for his job.
A loss against a wretched U of A team (led by an interim
coach) would likely make Lisa Love’s decision for her.
Erickson needs to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game to
save his job (in my humble opinion).
Wildcats coaching: The Sun Devils may be on the
verge of firing their coach, a move the Wildcats made just
more than one month ago. Mike Stoops went 3-4 against ASU,
but it was his record against everyone else that got him
the boot. Enter Tim Kish, the defensive coordinator-
turned-interim coach who has guided the team to a 1-3
record. He won’t be back next year, so the players will
have to be motivated simply by playing their rivals and
hoping to put something good on film for the next coach.
Prediction: This
game will be the polar opposite of LSU-Alabama. This
year’s showdown for the Territorial Cup is defense
optional. Talent reigns in the end, and ASU will prevail,
49-41.
Prediction: The
Wildcats will hang around for a bit but it won’t look
pretty. Nick Foles will be under pressure most of the game
and the defense will get shredded by ASU’s dink-and-dunk
pass attack. This will be like the games I remember the
teams playing when I was in school. A comfortable 24-14
ASU win in which neither team looks particularly
impressive.