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ASU vs. Arizona: Game Preview, Key Match-Ups, Prediction and More

Everything you need to know for ASU's crucial Pac-12 battle against the Arizona Wildcats is right here.

(Photo: ASU)

Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) at Arizona (7-4, 4-4)

Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. MST / 10:00 p.m. EST

Location: Tucson, AZ

Point Spread: Arizona by 3

TV / Radio: ESPN / 620 AM

Weather Forecast: High 70s, clear

Series History: Arizona leads the all-time series 47-37-1 and currently owns the Territorial Cup after last season's thoroughly disappointing 31-27 Wildcat win.

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 their 34-24 win.

Team Match-Up Advantages

EVEN Uofa_icon_medium
Uofa_icon_medium Uofa_icon_medium Asu_icon_2_medium Asu_icon_2_medium Asu_icon_2_medium EVEN

ASU on Offense: After a couple of rough outings, the Sun Devil offense returned to form in last week's demolition of Washington State. Then again, it was against Washington State. All season long, the Sun Devils have dominated bad defenses and struggled against strong units that bring pressure. Thankfully for the Devils, Arizona is definitely in the former category.

When given time, Taylor Kelly is able to put together the types of game he has against Washington State—four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Arizona's new 3-3-5 defense places a premium on speed and versatility, and while full of athleticism, the unit is lacking in size and pass rushing ability. Just two players have multiple sacks on the year, and should ASU's offensive line be able to give Kelly time, he should be in line for a big day.

Another major factor in Kelly's favor is a Wildcat secondary that has struggled, ranking just 117th against the pass. Cornerbacks Jonathan Knight and Shaq Richardson are talented, but have struggled with consistency, and with the recent string play of Sun Devil wide receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, they could find open space downfield. Tight end Chris Coyle (6-foot-3) has a great chance to break ASU's season record for receptions by a tight end (he needs five) against a Wildcat backline that doesn't have a player over 6-feet tall.

This could also shape up to be a nice game on the ground for ASU.

Given their 3-3-5 scheme, the front six of the defense lacks size, and the Sun Devils can exploit this with some power running with Cameron Marshall and Marion Grice. If successful, that should in turn open things up on the edges for D.J. Foster. Arizona has some talent at linebacker in the dynamic Marquis Flowers (5.5 sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss) and Jake Fischer (98 tackles), but there should be plenty of room for ASU's talented backs.

Arizona uses two versatile positions in their defense, the SPUR and BANDIT, with each acting in a hybrid linebacker/safety role. SPUR Tra'Mayne Bondurant is especially adept at making plays behind the line (11.5 tackles-for-loss), and must be accounted for on every play.

In total, this is a match-up that should see ASU being able to move the ball very effectively in each phase of the offense, and provided they do not commit any costly errors or turnovers, the Sun Devils should be able to score in the forties.

Key Match-Ups:

  • ASU's Offensive Line vs. Arizona's 3-Man Line: One of the best defenses to Arizona's explosive offense is a strong Sun Devil running game. The lighter-than-average Wildcat front line (average weight: 262 pounds) is not very adept at stopping the run, so ASU could find success with some power running on Friday.
  • RB D.J. Foster vs. LB Marquis Flowers: After just 12 total touches in the prior two weeks, Foster got 11 in the big win over Wazzu, and the Sun Devils will need to feed their best offensive weapon again to keep pace with the Wildcats. Flowers has been one of the few bright spots for the UofA defense, and is able to fly all over the field with great closing speed.
  • QB Taylor Kelly vs. SPUR Tra'Mayne Bondurant: Much like ASU's own SPUR (Chris Young) Arizona's Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a very versatile defender who can attack an offense from a number of angles. While Arizona is not a great pass rushing team, Kelly will still need to be aware of where Bondurant is in both phases of the game.
  • ASU's WRs vs. Arizona's Secondary: The Sun Devil wide receivers came to life last week, led by Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles. Whether that was a fluky performance in an otherwise disappointing season is unknown, but facing a very suspect Wildcat secondary that ranks 117th against the pass could help extend the hot streak.

ASU on Defense: Arizona State has faced some elite offenses so far this year, but the Wildcats may present the most diverse attack that the Sun Devils will face all year. RichRod's spread option attack has been one of the most productive in the nation, and can attack both on the ground and through the air with equal deadliness.

Carrying the load for the offense is sophomore 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. 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. ASU's front seven has been gashed throughout the year, so the trio of Brandon Magee, Steffon Martin and Chris Young will need to play fundamentally sound and bring down Carey when they get their hands on him.

When the Wildcats aren't riding Carey to big success on the ground, quarterback Matt Scott has typically been dicing teams up through the air. The senior has thrown for 3,008 yards and 21 touchdowns already, but suffered a concussion against UCLA, missed a game, and looked off his game in last week's win over Utah. It's unknown if he'll continue to show lingering effects of the concussion against the Sun Devils. When healthy, he can also beat teams with his legs, as the RichRod offense demands. Scott has 443 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

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, so ASU's cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr will be ready, but shutting down that elite pair will be much easier said than done.

The best defense against Hill and Buckner, as well as other dangerous receivers such as the speedy Garic Wharton and shifty Richard Morrison, will be ASU's pass rush. The Sun Devils lead the nation in sacks, but the experienced Wildcat line allows just an average of 1.5 sacks-per-game. Can they 'Cats hold back defensive tackle Will Sutton and Devilbacker Carl Bradford, who have combined for 20 sacks on the year? It will be a critical battle, and one in which ASU must have success.

Ultimately, Arizona is going to score on ASU. The key will be for the Sun Devils to make just enough big plays, whether its a sack or turnover, to stop enough Wildcat drives to give the ASU offense a chance.

Key Match-Ups:

  • ASU's Front Seven vs. RB Ka'Deem Carey: The Sun Devils have struggled all year long against the run, and now they are facing the nation's leading rusher. Carey is a dynamic playmaker, and for the Sun Devils, it will likely being a matter of limiting how much damage he can do. ASU's defenders will need to ensure they wrap up Carey and bring him down on first touch or it will be a long night.
  • CBs Osahon Irabor vs. WR Austin Hill and Dan Buckner: Much like Oregon State or USC, the Wildcats have two very talented receivers who catch the majority of the team's passes. Therefore, ASU's cornerback tandem will know the ball is coming their way. Both Hill (6-foot-3) and Buckner (6-foot-4) have great size and skill which will present problems for Carr and Irabor.
  • ASU's Pass Rush vs. Arizona's Offensive Line: No team in the nation has more sacks than the Sun Devils, and they'll need to add to that total to have a chance to slow down UofA. Matt Scott has been rusty since his return from a concussion, and with two deadly weapons at wide receiver, the best defense for ASU will be to knock Scott around before he can get rid of the ball.

Special Teams: Punter Josh Hubner may not have made the cut as a Ray Guy Award finalist, but he's still arguably the nation's top punter, able to blast booming kicks or pin opponent's deep with great accuracy. Kicker Jon Mora has made seven of his 10 field goals, but continues to have the kind of misses that prevent a coaching staff from having confidence. The Sun Devil return game continues to struggle, but Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles still have the potential to make a play on any touch.

Arizona kicker John Bonano started the year just 4-for-9, but he has made eight of his last nine, and can hit from beyond 40 yards. Punter Kyle Dugandzic has had a solid season, averaging over 43 yards on his kicks and pinning 18 of 43 inside the 20. The Wildcat return game has been poor, with the team ranking 50th in the nation on punt returns and a paltry 107th on kickoff runbacks.

ASU's To Do List:

  • Play with controlled intensity
  • Capitalize on all offense chances against a bad Wildcat D
  • Rattle Matt Scott early
  • Limit the damage Carey can do
  • No turnovers

What It All Means: There will be blood. There will be yards. There will be points. This Friday should see a fiercely contested battle, with each team looking to draw first blood for their new head coach in this latest chapter of the rivalry. Given how the match-ups lay out, this game could easily see over 1,000 yards of total offense and plenty of big plays. In the end, however, ASU's ability to make plays on defense, even if it's just one key sack or interception late in the game, should be the difference in a narrow Sun Devil win.

Prediction: ASU wins 41-38

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