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Wildcats to beat Sun Devils? Three things they must do

Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins (13) jumps into the end zone for a touchdown against Washington during the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. Washington defeated Arizona 35-28 in overtime. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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There’s no getting around one simple fact with regards to the 2016 Arizona Wildcats.

They’re not very good.

If the 2-9 overall record and current eight-game losing streak did not give that fact away, then a look inside their statistics would certainly suffice.

Arizona is last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, averaging just 21.9 points per game, while the Wildcats are 10th in the conference in scoring defense, surrendering 38.6 points per contest. Opponents are converting third downs at a 52.3 percent clip, and the Wildcats’ minus-8 turnover margin is by far the worst among the 12 teams.

So, can Rich Rodriguez’s squad pull off a home upset against an Arizona State team that is riding a five-game losing streak and fighting for bowl eligibility?

It’s possible, and here are three ways it can happen:

Brandon Dawkins returns to Washington-game form

Stanford Arizona Football

Brandon Dawkins was part of an offseason QB battle that did not appear to produce a clear-cut winner, though when Anu Solomon started the season opener against BYU, it seemed as though the redshirt sophomore would have to sit and watch for a bit. Then Solomon got hurt in practice following the Week 1 loss, at which point Dawkins took over, with mixed results. He threw for 223 yards and one touchdown against Grambling State and then passed for 235 yards and a score the next week against Hawaii, but where Dawkins did most of his damage was on the ground, tallying 215 yards and five touchdowns in the pair of wins. The question then was, of course, how would he fare agianst a stout Washington defense in his first Pac-12 start, and the answer was pretty well, actually. Dawkins threw for just 167 yards and one touchdown (while also being picked off once), but torched the Huskies for 176 yards and two scores on 13 carries. Incredibly effective on the ground while good enough through the air, Dawkins produced the kind of dual-threat game that Arizona’s offense is built around. Dawkins suffered an injury the following week, however, and has not been the same since. If he can recapture that magic, ASU’s defense is the kind he can find success against.

Connect on a big pass or two or seven

Grambling St Arizona Football

If there is one area the Sun Devils are weak, at least defensively, it is their secondary. ASU is last in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed per game, with their 382.9 being well ahead of the next-worst team, Oregon State, who surrenders 287.5 passing yards per matchup. For comparison’s sake, Arizona has allowed 266.4 passing yards per game. At any rate, receivers Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, Shun Brown and Cam Denson, who has come on strong of late, are likely to find themselves open at multiple points throughout the game. Now, will Dawkins not only see them, but throw an accurate pass? Furthermore, will Arizona’s patchwork offensive line hold up long enough against the Sun Devils’ pass rush to allow for big plays to develop? Even if the answer to that last question is “no,” the Sun Devils have struggled with tackling and therefore you could see some short, quick passes turn into long gains.

Get off to a good start

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez before an NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The last time the Wildcats led in a game was Oct. 8, when they took a 14-12 advantage over Utah into the half of a game they eventually lost 36-23. They’ve played five games since then, and barely been competitive for long in them. However, in Arizona State, the Wildcats have found an opponent who has also struggled of late, and though the Sun Devils are more talented, a quick start from the home team could do a number on their psyche as well as instill confidence in a UA team that has not tasted victory since mid-September. The pressure in this game is on Arizona State, who must win in order to gain bowl eligibility, whereas the Wildcats can play as a team with little to lose because they have already lost quite a bit. The Sun Devils are trying to make a bowl game; for the Wildcats, this is their bowl game. Make the visitors sweat a bit, and the Wildcats just might find a happy ending to their dreadful season.

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