We head into the final week of the regular season, which means it’s Territorial Cup week. To find out more about the Wildcats we asked Scott Moran from AZ Desert Swarm a few questions:
Brady Vernon: How would you grade Kevin Sumlin’s first season thus far? Is there anything he’d change if he could go back to the beginning of the year?
SM: If I had to grade this season for Sumlin I’d probably give it a B-. That’ll change a lot depending on the result of Saturday’s game, but I think it’s fair. In terms of changing stuff from the past, I’m really not sure Sumlin himself would want to do that. He received harsh criticism for not even trying to match his scheme to Khalil Tate’s ability, but in the long run I think that’s paid off and will help next season. The only thing I would hope he wants to change is some of the mistakes Arizona made consistently in September, but a lot of that is just unavoidable mistakes from young players.
BV: Khalil Tate came into this season with a ton of hype around him, but it hasn’t been fulfilled. What went wrong for the quarterback?
SM: Like I mentioned before, Sumlin and OC Noel Mazzone really didn’t give Tate much of a leash in terms of running the ball. It’s clear now that they were trying to turn him into a pass-first run-second quarterback instead of the other way around, but Tate took basically seven games to figure that out. The even bigger reason for his failure to live up to the hype is an ankle injury that bugged him for almost the entire season up until the Colorado game. On the rare occasion he did take off, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t at 100%. Luckily for the Wildcats, both those issues are at least partially fixed, and Tate will be amped up trying to beat our rival at home.
BV: Despite the Washington State loss this past weekend, it seemed that the Wildcats had been playing better of late. What changed compared to the first few games?
SM: A couple of things have changed this team from a below-average disappointment to a solid team that might salvage a bowl game. The biggest change has been Tate’s health coming back, along with his more pass-centered approach to playing quarterback. This team does have legitimate talent, but Tate is the heart and soul of the team and it’s clear how sorely we missed him in the earlier weeks of the season. Another very important development has been the improved play of the defensive line. Arizona fans knew that getting to the quarterback would be a major weakness this year, but since the Oregon game the defensive line has actually played great. Players like PJ Johnson and Kylan Wilborn are young studs i the trenches that’ll play a key role in the ASU game.
BV: This might not have the best answer, but who are some people on the defense we should look out for?
SM: I mentioned young stars in Johnson and Wilborn, but three sophomores on defense are the three main players to watch. Lorenzo Burns is probably our best cornerback, and considering he’s faced some strong passing attacks, it’s good that we have him. Colin Schooler and Tony Fields are probably our two best defenders overall, and they both play linebacker towards the middle of the field. Both have come up huge both stopping the run and occasionally in coverage, and both seem to get better and better with each passing week. Burns vs. N’Keal Harry will be a great matchup, as will Schooler and Fields trying to slow down Eno Benjamin.
BV: What would it mean for UA to win to become bowl eligible and get the Cup back?
SM: This is probably the most important ASU game for Arizona since 2014, despite the 11-11 combined record. This team came into the season with expectations of 8 or 9 wins, and it was just assumed that we would beat Arizona State along the way. Now though, this game has a completely different atmosphere. Arizona is a home underdog, but they’ve been playing so much better lately that most people down here think there’s a good chance the ‘Cats win. Sumlin’s first season will be remembered one of two ways: a disappointing start followed by a promising finish leading into next season, or a train wreck that burned up most of Sumlin and Mazzone’s goodwill. Which one it will be rests almost entirely on this game.
BV: Score prediction and why?
SM: There is no way that this game isn’t down to the wire. ASU and Arizona has been remarkably alike this season: both with solid play from the skill positions, both with often sloppy defense, both wildly inconsistent, and both actually managing to stay in the Pac-12 South race well into November. The fact of the matter is, this game is essentially a draw in my opinion based purely on talent and past performances. However, Arizona is playing for the chance to make a bowl, and it’s in Tucson. That’s enough for me to say UA 38-ASU 35. Should be a thrilling edition of the Cup series either way.