As the Arizona State Sun Devils continue their preparation for the 2015 edition of the Territorical Cup, we wanted to get the inside scoop on the Wildcats. David Potts from Arizona Desert Swarm was kind enough to answer some questions for us in this week's Behind Enemy Lines segment.
House of Sparky: Following a Pac-12 South Title in 2014, how are fans in Tucson viewing a 6-5 season? Was this year viewed as a rebuilding year or are fans disappointed that this team does not have more wins?
David Potts: I think fans are disappointed that the team doesn't have more wins. Winning the Pac-12 South last year (which was the product of a lot of good fortune by Arizona) raised expectations, and the team hasn't met those expectations. I don't think it's fair - last year's team over-performed, and this year's team has been decimated by injuries (particularly at linebacker) - but I would say that, as a whole, the fan base is disappointed.
HoS: I have to ask. Rich Rodriguez has been linked to a few jobs, with reports saying he would like to eventually move back east. How is Rich Rod viewed at Arizona and what has been the response to these rumors?
DP: I think Rich Rodriguez is viewed extremely highly at Arizona, and fans do not want to see him leave. The team's performance last season was the best since the Dick Tomey years, and, in fact, would have meant a Rose Bowl appearance if replicated this year.
That said, the response to the rumors has been frustration. I think most Arizona fans believe Rich Rod is staying, often citing the fact that his son is still in high school playing quarterback for Catalina Foothills and Rich Rod has a financial incentive to stay because of the confusing Master Limited Partnership that gives him a bonus for staying.
I'm not as confident as most fans are - I think Rich Rod could easily leave for Virginia Tech, or South Carolina, or some other job that opens up - but that's the perception among Arizona fans overall.
HoS: How much has the injury to Scooby Wright affected the Arizona defense? Where is his presence missed the most?
DP: Scooby Wright's absence has exposed the rest of Arizona's defense. Scooby was a force who could get after the passer and still blow up run plays for no gain or a loss. Without him, Arizona's defense has had much more trouble generating pressure on the passer, which gives quarterbacks (like Luke Falk) all day to find the open man. At the same time, it hasn't been able to stop the run at all, so teams like UCLA just destroy Arizona on the ground.
Scooby was arguably the best defensive player in the nation last season, and with his injuries, Arizona's defense has gone from middle-of-the-road to among the worst in the Pac-12.
HoS: Obviously there is not a lot of love lost in this rivalry, but how do Arizona fans view this ASU squad that sits at 5-5?
DP: With glee! Arizona State was obviously expected to do very well entering the season, with Kirb Herbstreit (among others) even picking ASU to make the playoff, and ASU's failure to meet those expectations is obviously something Arizona fans have enjoyed.
The real joy, though, comes from Todd Graham talking about how this was the best team he has had at Arizona State in the preseason. The fact that Todd Graham set such high expectations and failed to meet them has delighted Arizona fans.
HoS: Besides Anu Solomon (or Jerrard Randall) and Nick Wilson, who are some offensive players that ASU fans should keen an eye on this Saturday?
DP: The first name that comes to mind is Jared Baker. Baker is a fifth-year senior who has seen a lot of playing time this year due to Wilson's injuries. He has rushed for 689 yards at 5.9 yards per carry, which far surpasses his performance in previous seasons. He'll see a decent amount of time on Saturday, and while I don't think he's as good as Wilson at making moves to free himself and gain yards, he can take advantage of the holes the offensive line opens up.
The other guy you should pay attention to is wide receiver Johnny Jackson. Arizona has more talented receivers (notably Cayleb Jones), but I mention Jackson because he was playing wide receiver against Arizona State way back in 2012.
Since then, he played a little bit of safety in 2013 and 2014, but not much wide receiver. He was forced back into a wide receiver role by injuries this season, and in response, he has been extremely productive, ranking second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards.
For a guy who was completely out of the wide receiver rotation last season, Jackson has been phenomenal for Arizona, and Arizona State's defense needs to account for him coming out of the slot this weekend.
HoS: What is your prediction for Saturday?
DP: I think Arizona State probably wins. ASU is the better team at this point in the season, and the fact that the game is in Tempe only seals that for me. That's not to say Arizona couldn't win - and, in this rivalry, the worse team often wins - but I think Arizona's defense will not be able to stop ASU's offense, and ASU's defense will hold up enough to make the difference. I'll take ASU 37 - 31.