Not much has gone well for the Arizona Wildcats this season, but much of the bad can be quickly forgotten with a win over ASU. They’ll still finish with a losing record and end up missing out on a bowl game for the second straight year, but being able to bring home the Territorial Cup for the first time since 2016 can ease a lot of pain.
But what kind of team will Arizona be facing on Saturday night in Tempe? To help us better understand the Sun Devils, we reached out to Andrew Bell of SB Nation sister site House of Sparky for his insights.
Below are his astute answers to our stupid questions:
ASU had lost four in a row before shocking Oregon last week to gain bowl eligibility. What had been going wrong for the Sun Devils prior to that, and what changed to make an upset of the Ducks possible?
“Even during the four-game skid, ASU hadn’t been playing terrible, but they hadn’t been playing complete games. In every one of their losses, they got off to a slow start in the first quarter and it set them back through the rest of the game. Additionally, they had a lot of self-inflicted harm. There were turnovers, untimely penalties, and uncharacteristic mistakes compared to the way they were playing through their first six games. It was a snowball effect, and it’s what led to the slump up until that Oregon upset.”
Jayden Daniels’ play as a true freshman has been outstanding. What’s been the key to his success?
“Daniels is the real deal. Not only with his talent, but with his mental game. He has continually gotten better every game this season, and he’s very poised and calm. Early in the year, he was very conservative with some of his throws and he valued the football. Some of that was due to play calling, and the other part was him being safe and getting comfortable, which is understandable for a freshman QB. However, what has taken him to that next level in his progression is his ability to hurl the deep ball in recent weeks. He had three touchdown passes on deep shots last weekend, and he’s really starting to open up the offense. Furthermore, his X-factor comes from his legs. When things break down, he’s elusive and can get out of the pocket and make something out of nothing.”
Eno Benjamin’s rushing numbers aren’t as good as a year ago. Is that due to a system change or are there other factors involved?
“The biggest factor is the offensive line. ASU has had a lot of shuffling throughout the season with that group, and they have had freshmen play up front, and they have also had spurts of health issues with guys who have gone down due to injury. Benjamin is still closing in on 1,000 yards, but this year has definitely been a struggle with the rushing attack.”
N’Keal Harry just caught his first NFL TD on Sunday, and meanwhile his successor (Brandon Aiyuk) is leading the Pac-12 in receptions. What does Aiyuk bring to the table?
“Aiyuk doesn’t have the same build as Harry, but he’s just a flat out playmaker. His big breakout game was in last year’s Territorial Cup, and he has only progressed since then. He has taken it upon himself to enhance his game and become a better route runner to be the player that he wants to be. He has certainly turned into ASU’s No. 1 receiving threat, and he has been the main culprit for a lot of Daniels’ deep balls throughout the season. Also, he has been dangerous on special teams as a punt returner.”
This will be the third week in a row Arizona is facing one of the Pac-12’s top run defenses. Who are the guys that will do the most damage in the trenches?
“At linebacker, Darien Butler, Khaylan Kearse-Thomas and Merlin Robertson fill the gaps well, and they hardly miss tackles. On the D-line, Jermayne Lole is a name to look out for along with Rice transfer Roe Wilkins. Another thing that has helped with ASU’s run defense is the tackling of the secondary. Guys like Evan Fields and Aashari Crosswell have made tackles and helped out the front seven.”
Prediction time? Does Arizona end its six-game losing streak and take back the Territorial Cup, or does Herm lead the Sun Devils to another Duel in the Desert victory? Give us a score pick.
“I think Arizona is going to come firing out of a cannon just because of how last year ended and wanting to end the season on a high note. Rivalry games can get wacky and emotions can run high. (Herm) Edwards has reiterated it to his team all season, ‘play with passion, not emotion.’ With that being said, ASU is young and emotion might get the best of them at times. In the end though, I think they weather the storm and the cup stays in Tempe not because of Arizona’s offense, but because of their defensive struggles. I’m going 38-28 ASU.”