It’s rivalry week in Tempe again as Arizona travels up north from Tucson for the annual in-state battle for the Territorial Cup against Arizona State (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12)
It has been a season of frustration and far more valleys than peaks for the Wildcats (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12), but those games don’t matter this week. No matter the records, both teams, excluding 2020, show up to play for 60 minutes each year.
Ahead of the matchup, we at House of Sparky caught up with our brethren at Arizona Desert Swarm and their staff writer Brian Pederson for a Q&A on the Wildcats.
Jack Johnson: Arizona State has dominated the last two editions of this rivalry game. How does Arizona keep this game from being another blowout?
Brian Pederson: Arizona is going to try to control the clock as best as possible, which it has managed to do in quite a few games this season. It also has to avoid shooting itself in the foot with penalties, particularly in the red zone, and not turn the ball over.
JJ: Defensively, there has been improvement across the board with the edition of Don Brown as the DC. What has been your impression of it this season?
BP: The defensive improvement is by far the biggest revelation for Arizona from the Kevin Sumlin era, and even going back to the RichRod days. Still a lot of big plays being given up, but the pressure on the quarterback and frequency of defenders in the backfield has been great to see. With Brown leaving to be the UMass head coach after this game, who Jedd Fisch hires to be the new DC will be one of the most important parts of the offseason.
JJ: There was that vicious two-week stretch where Gunner Cruz and Jordan McCloud both suffered season-ending injuries. We saw a little bit of Will Plummer in that 70-7 romp last year? How far has he progressed since then?
BP: Plummer is incredibly tough, as evidenced by him going to (and coming back from) the locker room at least twice during the streak-ending win over Cal. He’s also gotten much better with his decision-making, turning it over less of late and choosing to be safe sometimes instead of just always taking unnecessary risks. His ability to run on scramble plays has also been solid.
JJ: How much of this season can be blamed on Jedd Fisch? Or is the adhesive from the Sumlin era still being scraped off?
BP: It’s really hard to put too much blame on Fisch, in my opinion, because of what he inherited. He took over a team that gave up last year, and the veterans he retained (or convinced to come out of the transfer portal) have given maximum effort despite Fisch being their second or in some cases third head coach. The fact that Arizona has led or been within one score in the fourth quarter in eight games this season is a testament to the improvement, but the inability to get over the hump shows there’s still a long way to go.
JJ: Let’s hear a score prediction. Arizona State by how much?
BP: Great teams cover, and Arizona has managed to do that a lot when a big underdog. ASU keeps the cup, winning 34-17. There’s definitely some #BadBeats potential in this one.
JJ: Lastly, I love Arizona investing more into the Desert Swarm uniforms again. What have been your thoughts?
BP: It’s something the fans have wanted for a while, though going with white at home for the first two games wasn’t well received. Fisch doesn’t seem like a big uniform guy, in terms of variety, so expect these jerseys to stick around for a while.
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. MST. It can be viewed on television on the Pac-12 Network.