With the 'Duel in the Desert' upon us, I reached out to Cory Williams of SBNation's Arizona State blog, 'House of Sparky'. We each asked and answered five questions about the opposing team, and wrote up a statement of why we think our team will win the Territorial Cup.
I know, I'm working with the enemy. But be nice to that dirty Sun Devil fan, he put some interesting stuff out, and was pretty cooperative. That said, I hope the Wildcats bury his Sun Devils.
Full story, link to my answers to his questions, and why the Arizona Wildcats will be victorious, after the jump.
1. Arizona State is 8th in the Pac-10 in passing defense. That stat is critical to beating the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona is averaging 329.8 passing yards per game, and has two healthy top-level QBs ready for action. How can the Sun Devils hope to stop the Air Zona passing attack?
CW- Well, here's the way I see it. The Sun Devils held Andrew Luck to only 292 yards passing, and even though he completed 33/41 passes, he didn't get into the end zone once. Heck, he even threw an interception. Luck is considered an elite NFL quarterback prospect, and ASU was able to keep him off the scoreboard. That screams improvement to me.
Matt Barkley threw three touchdowns, but was picked off twice. Jake Locker was erratic and ineffective against ASU in a loss. The Sun Devils defense gives up a high completion percentage because they only offer you shorter routes and deny the big play. Do I expect "Air Zona" to be kept at bay? Not entirely, as that would be far too much to ask. But I'm convinced that the defense is more effective than the numbers indicate, and have improved as the season has progressed.
2. It appears that former QB1 Steven Threet will be watching the game from the bench, as he recovers from a concussion. Is Brock Osweiler ready to face the 10,000+ strong Zona Zoo, and the dominant Arizona defensive line? Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore will be frothing at the mouth for some sacks.
CW- Brock Osweiler looked like Aaron Rodgers last Friday afternoon. I've never seen a kid come into a game unexpectedly, yet perform with such poise. After having a full week to prepare for the Wildcats, Osweiler is as ready as he will ever be to play such a good defense. UCLA was a mere tune-up, UA is the real deal.
What did I see on Friday to give me confidence in Brock? His decisions were quick and his reads were excellent. I was in the press box, with a good vantage point to view the receivers and assess his choices. For the most part, he found the wide receiver who was most open, all the while moving around in the pocket. Elmore and Reed will surely get their hands on Osweiler, but if he can remain elusive in the pocket, Arizona will be forced to reel back their blitz to ensure the field is covered.
3. Ever wonder what the Sun Devils would look like, if Dirk Koetter hadn't been fired? You'd have still had those recruits that made Dennis Erickson look so good at first, plus Nick 'Sunshine' Foles. Would your team be better off now if Koetter had been given another season or two?
CW- Honestly, I try not to reflect on the Dirk Koetter era. He was responsible for some very painful memories of my college days, including the LSU and USC losses of 2005. I'm not sure I will ever forget those days, the pain of defeat still fresh in my mind. Koetter never put together an excellent finished product in Tempe, and if you can't guarantee that the Sun Devils would have gone 10-3 in 2007 with Dirk at the helm, I wouldn't trade that year for anything.
4. Is Dennis Erickson worth keeping around for another season? Forget the talk of ASU being too broke to pay off his buy-out. Assume for the moment that money was not a factor. Should Erickson be the coach of ASU next season, and why or why not?
CW- Erickson has been mired in a slump for years now. He makes questionable personnel moves and refuses to acknowledge his mistakes immediately. With a new offensive coordinator in place for 2010, he has taken some steps that resonate with Sun Devil fans, and the improvement from last season to today is evident, even if the win/loss column looks eerily similar. I would really like to see what Erickson can do with an older team in 2011, led by Deantre Lewis, Cameron Marshall and the emerging receiver corps we have. I'm cautiously enthusiastic about the future, which I couldn't say last year.
5. If ASU somehow pulls off the upset win in Tucson, do they really deserve to get a waiver from the NCAA and play in a bowl game? They would have only one victory against a top quality opponent. This seems like a case where even if ASU wins Thursday, they should bow out of bowl consideration. Who cares if there aren't enough teams to fill all the bowl slots. That's more of a statement on there being too many bowls. A bowl game is supposed to be a reward for a good job over the course of the season. How can the Sun Devils justify saying that they deserve a bowl game this season?
CW- Not at all. Was it fair that we were forced to play Portland State after San Jose State took a big payday from Wisconsin? Not at all. We attempted to line up home-and-homes with Western Michigan and Ohio, but no one was interested - apparently, money is the only comfort for a blowout loss.
With that said, we could have easily beaten Wisconsin, Oregon State, USC, and Stanford. We truly laid an egg against California. When you know you have to win seven games to make a bowl and you only win six, it's pretty clear: you don't deserve it. I don't want to go to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl anyway.
Why the Sun Devils will win:
CW- It's a tale of two seasons. The Sun Devils started off 2010 by going 0-3 against FBS schools, recovering somewhat to go 3-3 in their last six games in Pac-10 play. ASU is slowly moving forward, improving weekly and playing quality opponents down to the wire (USC and Stanford defeated ASU by a combined five points in the past 4 weeks).
Despite losing our starting quarterback to a concussion, Brock Osweiler appears ready to take the helm and defeat the Wildcats in Tucson. Even with a raucous, unruly crowd in Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats still have to recover from a three-game losing streak in which they never really gained traction against their opponents.
I've watched a lot of Arizona Wildcats football this season writing for the regional hub here at SB Nation. More than I'd care to admit, to be honest. I've attended multiple contests as well, and while I was impressed at times, I was also left scratching my head during other moments. Should Arizona play like they did in the first half against Iowa, the Sun Devils won't have a chance. But I haven't seen that Wildcat team in months, and I don't think they will show up in Thursday evening either.
The trajectory of these two teams are clear: Arizona is in a downward spiral, and Arizona State is edging upward. When opposite forces collide, the results can be explosive, and I expect a close battle in Tucson with the Sun Devils pulling out a victory in the fourth quarter.
ASU 31, Arizona 27