It's here, Sun Devil Nation.
The most important game of the year. Rivalry Week. The Duel in the Desert.
This Friday, Arizona State will head down to Tucson to take on the hated Wildcats in a battle for bowl positioning, the Territorial Cup, and most importantly, bragging rights over the entire state.
Arizona, like ASU, has exceeded the rather low preseason expectations given to them and have had a solid season, and getting the Cup back from the Wildcats will be no easy task.
Arizona's Season to Date: .It's been a strong debut season for Rich Rodriguez, but also one of big peaks and devastating valleys. Things got interesting in Week 2 with a 59-38 win over then No. 18 Oklahoma State. After climbing to No. 22 after a 3-0 start, the Wildcats got crushed 49-0 against Oregon, the first of three straight losses to ranked teams. The explosive offense helped key four wins over their next five games, the lone blemish being a staggering 66-10 loss to South champion UCLA.
Arizona's Last Game: Traveling to Utah to face a Ute team desperate to stay in bowl contention, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 24-17 heading into the fourth quarter. However, the offense scored twice in the first four minutes of the final quarter to take a lead that the defense would not relinquish. Led by Ka'Deem Carey's 204 rushing yards, Arizona amassed 320 yards on the ground in the 34-24 win.
Arizona's Statistical Leaders:
- Rushing: Ka'Deem Carey- 1,585 yards, 6.3 ypc, 19 TD
- Passing: Matt Scott - 3,008 yards, 61.5%, 21 TD, 9 INT, 135.1 rating
- Receiving: Austin Hill - 68 receptions, 1,119 yards, 8 TD
- Tackles: Jake Fischer - 98
- Sacks: Marquis Flowers - 5.5
- Interceptions: Jonathan McKnight - 3
Arizona's National Ranks (Among 124 FBS Teams):
- Rushing Offense: 15th (224.8 ypg)
- Passing Offense: 24th (297.0 ypg)
- Scoring Offense: 22nd (37.6 ppg)
- Rushing Defense: 86th (182.6 ypg)
- Passing Defense: 117th (305.5 ypg)
- Scoring Defense: 100th (33.6 ppg)
Arizona on Offense: The RichRod offense has been mostly a success in Year One in Tucson, as the Wildcats boast one of the most highly ranked attacks in the nation.
The centerpiece of the run-first spread is sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey. The 5-foot-10, 198-pounder leads the nation in rushing with 1,585 yards and his 19 rushing scores are tied for the third-most in the nation. Not too shabby. Carey has the ability to run with power or speed, as evidenced by his Pac-12 record 366 yards against Colorado. As if that weren't enough, he also has 32 catches for 289 yards and a 20th total touchdown. Junior Daniel Jenkins serves as a shifty change of pace, but only gets about four carries per game with Carey being the clear workhorse.
Quarterback Matt Scott waited for his chance after years of backing up Nick Foles, and emerged in his final year as one of the conferences top quarterbacks, topping 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes. However, he suffered a concussion two weeks ago against UCLA, missed the team's win over Colorado and was clearly not his usual prolific self on Saturday against Utah. When healthy, Scott is a dangerous passer ideally suited for the offense, and can beat teams with his running ability. Scott has totaled 443 yards and five rushing scores on the year.
Helping Scott's ascension has been an outstanding tandem of wide receivers. Sophomore Austin Hill has blossomed into one of the nation's best receivers, and his combination of size (6-foot-3) and speed has led to him making the cut as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. One the other side is Dan Bucker, a big (6-foot-4), sure-handed target who has 58 catches on the year. Hill and Buckner combine to catch nearly half of Arizona's total, but there are other targets ASU must watch. The elusive and versatile Richard Morrison (23 catches), the big-bodied David Richards (6-foot-4, 22 catches) and the speedy Garic Wharton provide Scott many weapons.
Arizona's experienced offensive line has done a very good job this year in both phases. They've obviously helped to clear lanes for Carey's huge season, and the team as a whole is averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry. Led by center Kyle Quinn, the men up front have done a solid job keeping Scott upright, allowing just 1.5 sacks-per-game. They'll face their toughest test against a Sun Devil squad that leads the nation in that category.
Arizona on Defense: While the transition on offense has gone well, the move to Rodriguez' 3-3-5 scheme has been less successful. Entering the final weekend of the season, the Wildcats ranked 114th in total offense and 100th in scoring defense. The defense places a premium on fast and versatile defenders, and ti will take some time for the team to bring in players best suited for the scheme.
The strength lies in the dynamic linebackers, and the team has a pair of good ones. On the strongside, Marquis Flowers has emerged as the team's best playmaker, with a team-high 5.5 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss and two interceptions. Jake Fisher plays in the middle, and is able to cover a lot of ground and make stops. Much like ASU's SPUR Chris Young, UofA's SPUR Tra'Mayne Bondurant makes a lot of stops behind the line, and is second to Flowers with 11 tackles-for-loss.
Outside of Flowers, the pass rush has been underwhelming, as the team ranks just 97th in the nation in sacks. Defensive end Reggie Gilbert has 3.5, but no one else has more than two. Gilbert is the best player on an undersized line that has not done a terrific job of tying up blockers. The team has allowed more than 180 yards on the ground six times this year, and this is despite the team having a lead in many contests that would force an opponent to pass.
The 3-3-5 is designed to thwart a spread offense, but the secondary has done a poor job in limiting opposing passing attacks, ranking 117th in the country. Shaq Richardson and Jonathan McKnight are the starting cornerbacks, and while talented, have not shown the consistency needed. Jared Tevis and Jourdan Grandon round out the starting group. Both sophomores are talented and can grow into stars in the system, but can can be beaten downfield.
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