Happy Thanksgiving Sun Devil fans! We hope you are enjoying your turkey day, and you are gearing up for this Saturday’s Territorial Cup.
Arizona is currently on a losing streak heading into Tempe this weekend, and they have had a couple of firings on the defensive side of the ball, losing their defensive coordinator and defensive line coach over the course of the season.
The Wildcats are not bowl eligible for the second consecutive year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look to play spoiler on a Sun Devil senior day come Saturday night.
For more insight about ASU’s rival to the south, we reached out to Brian Pedersen of our SB Nation sister site, AZ Desert Swarm, to ask a few questions about the Wildcats going into the matchup.
What has been Arizona’s biggest struggle on the defensive side of the ball?
More than anything, Arizona has been unable to get any semblance of a pass rush this season. This is despite a major emphasis on beefing up the defensive line with some junior college transfers, and while they’re constantly improving, it hasn’t produced results.
The Wildcats’ strength on defense are the linebackers (Tony Fields II, Anthony Pandy, Colin Schooler) but with them having to do so much up front to help the line, it leaves the secondary on too many islands and they aren’t good enough to cover for more than a few seconds.
What are your impressions of Grant Gunnell as a freshman quarterback?
He has tremendous poise for a true freshman, though that’s probably relative when comparing him to Jayden Daniels.
He’s a pocket passer that can run a little bit but is better off using his arm, and when given time he can do that. However, Arizona’s offensive line has been riddled with injuries the last six games and that’s caused him to regress a bit.
What’s the possibility that Khalil Tate starts at quarterback on Saturday being that he’s a senior in his final game?
Tate will undoubtedly play, it’s just a matter of if he starts or comes in for his set of series. That’s how Kevin Sumlin has done it the last few games, with the better guy in practice starting and then he rotates until he thinks one is the better fit for that game.
Tate came off the bench for Senior Night last week, so that’s an indication Sumlin won’t automatically play the senior over the freshman in the last game.
It’s year two of Arizona not going bowling. What’s the perception or frustration level of Kevin Sumlin and the program at its current stage?
The frustration level is very high, and understandably so. Many people wish Rich Rodriguez was never fired, but a lot of those same people wanted him gone, so there’s lots of hypocrisy in the fan base.
The Sumlin players that are involved on offense and defense show promise while the RichRod leftovers haven’t gotten better under Sumlin, and the result of that is inconsistent play.
Who is one under the radar player that ASU fans should know about?
None of Arizona’s receivers can hold a candle to Brandon Aiyuk, but speedy slot Tayvian Cunningham is dangerous if he can get loose.
Same with converted QB Jamarye Joiner, a receiver who could be huge in the future as he continues to learn the position that he just started playing in training camp.
This is the fifth time since 2004 that Arizona enters the Territorial Cup knowing it won’t be playing a bowl game afterward, and strangely enough it has won three of those games (most recently in 2016).
And though all signs point to this Wildcat team just being ready to be done with it all, I’m calling for the upset in a typical batshit-crazy Duel in the Desert. Arizona 34, ASU 31.