The Arizona State Sun Devils finish off their regular season on Friday against their rival, the Arizona Wildcats. We caught up with our sister site AZ Desert Swarm and their writer Brian Pedersen to discuss the Wildcats.
Brady Vernon: Arizona’s season has been less than ideal, but what can you say have been a few positives from the program?
Brian Pedersen: On the offensive side, seeing senior Gary Brightwell finally get a chance to show his complete skill set has been enjoyable. I’ve routinely referred to him as Arizona’s Alvin Kamara, both in terms of what he can do and how little he’s been utilized.
Sophomore RB Michael Wiley just had his first 100-yard game and should keep getting better.
Defensively, the line is vastly improved (yes, I’m writing that after Colorado ran for 400+ yards) but that has only further exposed the other weaknesses, namely the lack of speed on the edge and the non-existent depth in the secondary.
And true freshman punter Tyler Loop has been tremendous, which is great for him and the team but it also means he’s gotten way too much run already.
BV: What has been your opinion on what you have seen from Grant Gunnell and Will Plummer this season?
BP: Gunnell is hurt because of the offensive line, and that’s also what has prevented Plummer from looking better.
When given time to throw, Gunnell showed better arm strength and great decision making, but he rarely had those opportunities. Plummer has run his way out of trouble but is still learning the college game.
BV: How much did the transfers on defense affect that unit?
BP: As noted earlier, the D-line has been the top improvement from a year ago. And most of that is due to grad transfers Aaron Blackwell and Roy Lopez, along with second-year JUCO guys Trevino Mason and Myles Tapusoa.
All that size up front has forced teams to either go outside or, as was the case with Colorado, stack a side with an extra lineman and a tight end.
BV: Assuming the university decides to move on from Kevin Sumlin, who are a few candidates you’d like the Wildcats to look at?
BP: There’s a guy on the ASU staff that Arizona fans would love to see return to his alma mater, but who knows if Antonio Pierce wants to cross over that line again.
If Arizona parts ways with Sumlin, which I really don’t see happening this offseason, it can’t go for another retread. There was no reason to dump Rich Rodriguez, at least from a results standpoint, but he shouldn’t have been replaced with another recently fired coach.
The next coach will need to be an up-and-comer from the Group of Five (Nevada’s Jay Norvell, maybe San Jose State’s Brent Brennan?) or a first-time head coach.
The latter worked and helped Arizona recover from the John Mackovic era, and it may be the way to go again.
BV: What is your score prediction and what player has the biggest impact on the game?
BP: Arizona seems to have figured out how to avoid slow starts. It’s the rest of the game that’s become the issue.
I look for another early lead, some more red zone struggles, and then the defense wearing down with ASU winning 28-16. Jayden Daniels should have the biggest impact, as how he manages RPOs will be very important.