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Q&A with House of Sparky: Expert previews the Sun Devils

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Max Madden of House of Sparky gives us the inside scoop on that school up north

Northern Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils are set to battle on the gridiron Saturday at 2:30 p.m. MST in Tempe with the Territorial Cup and a whole lot of bragging rights on the line.

Arizona enters with a 7-4 record. ASU is 6-5. Both squads are 5-3 in Pac-12 play.

We wanted to know more about that school up north, so we asked Max Madden from House of Sparky, ASU’s SB Nation site, for some insight.

Here’s our Q&A:

It seems like ASU is an up-and-down team. How would you describe the way the 2017 season has unfolded?

Man, how much time do you have? After the first few weeks of the season the program seemed to be heading in the complete wrong direction, then Phil Bennett and the defense rattled off a few unbelievable defensive performances and it seemed that the Sun Devils had a shot at the South division. ASU got blown out by USC, dashing any of those hopes, and is now beating everyone it should. It's been a wild ride.

What are ASU's strengths and weaknesses this year?

Strength is definitely in offensive versatility. In the past it was solely the run game, but over the last couple of years Arizona State has developed a plethora of receiving options to complement its veteran backs. Look for every pass-catcher to get involved Saturday, from Kyle Williams to Jalen Harvey to -- of course -- N'Keal Harry.

Weakness? You guessed it, the secondary. Bennett has performed admirably considering the departures he's had to deal with and the first-year starters he's had to put on the field for entire games, but it is still not good. Like, bottom 15 in the country not good.

Manny Wilkins' numbers are pretty good this year. In what areas has he improved the most over the course of his career?

Decision-making has been his key improvement here. With the run-pass option last year he consistently wanted to pull the ball and make huge plays downfield by hurdling defenders and taking on ones he definitely shouldn't. Now, he's an experienced quarterback who makes good decisions and only escapes the pocket when he needs to.

We all remember what happened in last year's Territorial Cup when Arizona rushed for 511 yards and beat the Sun Devils 56-35 without attempting a pass in the second half. Could ASU have similar difficulty stopping Arizona's running game this year?

ASU's rush defense has, somehow, remained near the bottom of the barrel in the conference this year. A turnaround during the moment they need it the most would have to come from linebackers Christian Sam and A.J. Latu, as well as guys on the line in George Lea/Renell Wren and Tashon Smallwood.

Like Arizona, ASU surrenders a ton of passing yards through the air. Why is that?

Inexperience. Neither starting cornerback in Chase Lucas or Kobe Williams had started a game at the position at the FBS level. Lucas was an all-around athlete in high school and Williams played at the junior college level last year.

Will this game actually determine Todd Graham's fate?

I think so. I wrote a column about it here, explaining for the most part that ASU has a history of letting its coaches go when they get into the same kind of three to four-year rut Graham has been in. Another year with no more than six wins and a mediocre bowl game (with a loss Saturday) wouldn't likely convince the administration that that the program is headed in the right direction.

Will the Territorial Cup stay in Tucson?

I don't believe it will. It's about as close to a push for me as I've seen all season, but I'm going to give ASU a 41-38 edge for being at home.