Friday’s Territorial Cup battle between the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats is still a few days away, but we’ve got some questions that need answers.
Thankfully, our Arizona sister site Arizona Desert Swarm was gracious enough to help us out. Below, managing editor Jason Bartel talks about the disappointing Wildcat season, the differences between this year’s team and last year’s, and much more.
House of Sparky: I know expectations weren't super high in Tucson before the season started, but I don't think anyone expected things to go this far off the rails. How did everything unravel so quickly?
Jason Bartel: What makes this season worse is that this team was a last-second field goal against BYU and an overtime failure against Washington away from starting 4-0. The offensive line hasn't been great, and with multiple injuries at quarterback and running back, this offense just never found its groove. We knew the defense wasn't going to be good, but we had no idea the offense would be so bad.
I think you can pinpoint the spiral downward starting on the play where freshman running back J.J. Taylor broke his ankle against the Huskies. Ever since then, it's just been horrible.
HoS: What's the biggest difference between this Arizona team and the one we saw last year?
JB: No offensive production. Arizona has a wide receiver playing running back (Samajie Grant), and while ASU fans may be familiar with Brandon Dawkins' work in last year's game, he hasn't really progressed much since then. In my opinion, it all starts with the offensive line's poor play, but there hasn't been any reason to believe the offense will do anything good.
HoS: Anu Solomon looked solid in the little time he played last week at Oregon State. What's his status for Friday, and how does his presence change the Wildcat offense?
JB: I doubt he plays. It sounds like he suffered some sort of toe injury on his left foot, and that Dawkins will get the start. His presence makes defenses have to respect the pass a little bit more, but frankly, Solomon has regressed from the quarterback we saw two years ago. I don't know that him being behind center would make a huge impact this week.
HoS: As bad as this season has been, Arizona did take Washington to overtime and was very competitive against teams like BYU and Utah. What did the team do successfully in those contests, and why haven't they been able to do it consistently throughout the year?
JB: That BYU game was just two offenses that were still trying to find their way. I can't explain to you why Arizona kept it close against Washington, and for whatever reason, Arizona always plays well against Utah.
Honestly, I think those games were more about the opposing offenses struggling to take advantage of an underachieving Arizona defense than anything. The Wildcats haven't done anything well this year, and appear to have gotten worse as the year's progressed.
HoS: How confident are Wildcat fans heading into this game?
JB: Not very, but it is the Territorial Cup, so anything can happen. There's really no reason to be confident when you've lost your last eight games and you haven't even been competitive in most of them.
HoS: Let's talk Rich Rodriguez. Is he definitely coming back in 2017?
JB: About two weeks ago, a report came out that athletic director Greg Byrne told boosters that Rodriguez was definitely coming back next year. I also believe that, but if ASU proceeds to blow Arizona out of the water this week, then I could see a change coming. But realistically, he'll be back next year, and hopefully makes a couple of much-needed changes to the coaching staff (special teams and offensive line primarily).
HoS: Lastly, let’s hear your prediction for this one.
JB: At the risk of being run out of Tucson, I'm taking Arizona State in this one. Let's say 34-24. I've watched enough Arizona football this year to know that picking them to win is just plain silly.