Filling in for record-setting quarterback Nick Foles is no easy task, but Arizona had the tremendous benefit of retaining Matt Scott on the 2012 roster after he redshirted in 2011 to preserve eligibility.
An accurate passer with excellent scrambling abilities, through the early portion of the season Scott was one of college football's most prolific passers and on the year he has thrown for 3,008 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 61.5% of his passes. Scott is also Arizona's second-leading rusher with 443 yards and five touchdowns on 96 carries.
Over his first eight starts, Scott had mixed combination of five games with 300-plus passing yards, five games with at least three touchdown passes and five games completing at least 65% of his passes.
However, since the USC game Scott has been hampered by concussion-like symptoms, which have greatly affected his play since that point. In his absence, junior college transfer B.J. Denker would be the next in line and has one start to his credit this year.
With the health concerns, Arizona's pass game has dropped off dramatically over the past three weeks as Scott has combined for 284 yards and one touchdown against UCLA and Utah, while Denker threw for 136 yards against Colorado between those games, though he completed 12-of-14 passes that day during a record-setting rushing effort by Ka'Deem Carey.
Where Arizona's passing production has tapered off in recent weeks, the Wildcats have showcased the emergence of Ka'Deem Carey; now the nation's leading rusher.
After a very good true freshman season in 2011, Carey registered 100-yard rushing efforts in each of the season's first two games with four rushing touchdowns. As the season progressed his statistics began to pile up to the point that he now is the FBS leader with 1,585 rushing yards on 250 carries with 19 scores, while also adding 32 receptions for 289 yards and a touchdown.
The Tucson native has had triple-digit rushing efforts in eight of 11 games this year, peaking the past two weeks starting with a conference record 366 rushing yards against Colorado two weeks and 204 yards against Utah last week. With the exception of Arizona's blowout loss to UCLA, Carey has registered at least 25 carries in five of the past six games and is entirely assumed to continue that trend against ASU.
In all, Carey is well on his way to establish new school single-season rushing marks and will pose a tremendous test to a Sun Devil defense that has allowed a handful of breakout rushing games over the past month.
With the departure of sensational receiver Juron Criner to the NFL, most imagined that former five-star prospect Dan Buckner would emerge as the Wildcats' next 1,000-yard receiver. Though Buckner has been solid, the new superstar at the position has been Austin Hill, who has hauled in 68 passes for 1,119 yards and eight scores on the year.
Buckner has been no slouch in his own right, catching 58 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns, while Richard Morrison has registered 23 receptions for 171 yards and two scores.
Elsewhere at wide receiver, David Richards has 22 catches for 224 yards with two touchdowns, Johnny Jackson has caught 22 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown and Tyler Slavin has 17 catches for 168 yards.
Hill and Buckner are clearly Scott's top options in the pass game—which will challenge ASU's secondary enough as it is—but the Wildcats' complementary receivers, as well as Carey, can create an impact in the pass game and must be closely tracked by the Sun Devil defense.
Chris Putton has started seven games at left guard and two at right guard, Shane Zink has started four at right guard and three at left guard, Trace Biskin has started five at right guard, while true freshman Cayman Bundage has earned one start at left guard.
Arizona's Offense in a Nutshell
Statistically, Arizona has remained an elite offensive attack all year, ranking eighth in the nation in total offense, 15th in rush offense, 22nd in scoring offense and 24th in pass offense. Rivalry aside, it has been highly impressive that Arizona has, within this year alone, shifted from a premier passing attack to a nationally prominent rushing team.
In scouting opportunities for ASU to affect Arizona, the Wildcats are decent in sacks allowed (40th in the nation) and TFL's allowed (51st nationally), so opportunities will exist for ASU to pressure Arizona's backfield but it may not be able to be a "bread-and-butter" element Friday for ASU to construct a win.
The likely "X-factor" in the game is the status and ability of Matt Scott, who has been greatly limited the past few games. With Scott at full strength, Arizona has offensive firepower few teams can challenge, but Scott has been much less effective the past three games versus earlier in the year, placing much greater emphasis on the run game.
In all, Ka'Deem Carey will be public enemy number one for ASU as there is zero doubt he will carry the bulk of the load in the run game while also being consistently featured as a receiver out of the backfield. If ASU can prevent him from having a milestone type of game the Devils can level the playing field, but the Sun Devil defense must refine its approach after allowing lesser rushers such as Terron Ward and Curtis McNeal explode in recent weeks.
Arizona also has a tremendous amount of momentum in the run game as the Wildcats have rushed for 758 yards in the past two games alone.
Operating out of a 3-3-5 defense, Arizona uses its defensive linemen primarily to open space for an active set of linebackers, versatile defensive backs and opportunistic cornerbacks.
The rest of the first-string defensive line has been a shuffle as Dominique Austin, Reggie Gilbert, Dan Pettinato, Kirifi Taula and Justin Washington have all seen starting reps. Willie Mobley also adds depth along the defensive line.
Pettinato and Tuihalamaka are tied for the leaders among Wildcat defensive linemen with 24 total tackles, while Mobley has added 17 in a reserve role; Gilbert has 15 and Hood 14. Gilbert ranks second on the team with 3.5 sacks, however the remaining linemen across the entire depth chart have combined for only one sack.
Though linebacker began the season as a position with tremendous depth concerns—and has remained as such throughout the season—the starters have been healthy and consistent with Marquis Flowers starting all 11 games at SAM, Jake Fischer starting all 11 at MIKE and Sir Thomas Jackson starting 10 of 11 at WILL, with former ASU verbal commit C.J. Dozier earning one start.
Fischer is the team's leading tackler (98) and is third on the team with 6.5 TFL's. Flowers is second to Fischer with 86 total stops but leads Arizona with 12.0 TFL's and 5.5 sacks. Jackson has added 55 tackles, including 5.0 TFL's and 1.5 sacks.
Dakota Conwell and Hank Hobson are listed as reserve linebackers on the current depth chart.
Hobson has collected 14 total tackles, Dozier 11 and Conwell six.
Tra'Mayne Bondurant has started all 11 games at Arizona's "Spur" position, with Jared Tevis starting nine at the "Bandit" spot. Patrick Onwuasor has started two games in place of Tevis at "Bandit". Jourdan Grandon started the first nine games at free safety, but Vince Miles has started the last two.
Bondurant ranks second on the team in TFL's (11.5) and third in total tackles (67), while Tevis is fourth on the team with 65 tackles. Grandon has added 55 total stops on the year.
Onwuasor has enjoyed a steady redshirt freshman season with 35 tackles, while Miles has chipped in 20 tackles.
McKnight leads Arizona with three interceptions to go along with his 47 tackles, while Richardson has posted a team-high 13 pass breakups in addition to 55 tackles. Rainey has posted 32 tackles thus far on the year.
Wayne Capers, Jr. is listed as the top reserve at the "Spur" position, while Brendan Murphy joins Rainey as the second-team cornerbacks. Murphy has registered five tackles while Capers has added four.
Arizona's Defense in a Nutshell
Arizona's defensive struggles are well-publicized but have been minimized by the Wildcats' offensive outbursts.
Statistically, Arizona ranks 86th in the nation in rush defense, 117th in pass defense (worst in the Pac-12) and 114th in total defense (second worst in the Pac-12 only behind Colorado and Washington State). Arizona ranks 100th in scoring defense (again, second worst only to Colorado and Washington State), while ranking 73rd nationally in tackles for loss (11th in the Pac-12) and 97th in sacks (worst in the Pac-12).
Though the numbers certainly side with the Wildcats, there are some talented playmakers on the defense especially in Flowers and Fischer at linebacker, Bondurant at "Spur" and McKnight and Richardson at cornerback.
If ASU does not beat itself with mental mistakes on offense the Sun Devils should be able to move the ball and score with relative frequency.
Special Teams Preview
In the kicking game, it has been a tale of two halves of the season for John Bonano, as he began the year 4-of-9 on field goals—including two misses from 25 yards and one from 24—but has connected on 8-of-9 attempts over the last six games, including a season-long 44-yarder last week against Utah.
Kyle Dugandzic is an honors candidate at punter, averaging 43.3 yards on 43 punts, while Richard Morrison has excelled at punt returner, averaging 10.2 yards on 13 returns with a 63-yard touchdown.
Daniel Jenkins is the primary kickoff returner with an average of 20.2 yards on 13 returns, while Jared Baker, Johnny Jackson, Kylan Butler and Ka'Deem Carey have also seen time at kick returner.
As fans on both sides know, this is a game that rarely goes as expected. Underdogs prevail as much as the odds-on favorites and the margin of victory typically does not exceed one score.
One or two plays can determine the fate of this game; one team can be rolling for the majority of the contest only to have a single blunder swing the game's momentum the other direction.
The factor most likely to determine the outcome of the game is how frequently the Sun Devil defense can keep the Wildcat offense off the scoreboard. ASU should be able to score enough points to remain competitive in a game in the 30's, but if the Wildcats top the 40-point mark it may be a marathon too challenging for the Sun Devils.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
No running back in the nation has been as dominant the past few games as has Carey, as he's gone from a very good Pac-12 level back to the nation's leading rusher. There is no doubt that Arizona will greatly rely on him, specifically because of injury concerns with Matt Scott at quarterback and ASU's defensive Achilles Heel against the run.
Carey may prove to be Arizona's football version of Grinnell basketball's Jack Taylor, and if ASU lets him run wild the Devils will face a high-paced uphill battle their offense may not be able to go blow-for-blow with.
Whether or not Matt Scott is 100%—and he likely won't be—ASU will have to set the tone on defense by occupying the Wildcat backfield and attacking the quarterback.
When healthy, Scott has the skill set to be one of the nation's most effective passers, though his past couple appearances have been greatly impacted by physical challenges.
If Scott is below his par Friday and ASU is able to frequently frustrate him, the Sun Devils' chances of limiting the potent Arizona offense greatly increase.
The past three games between these two teams have been determined by a combined eight points, and in each of those three there were significant mistakes by the losing squad each time. In 2009, a muffed punt by Kyle Williams enabled Arizona to set up for a walk-off field goal to win.
In 2010, Arizona had several should-be interceptions off Brock Osweiler and, of course, allowed two PATs to be blocked. Last year, ASU showed poor tackling and suffered a paralyzing turnover that determined the game's outcome.
Friday, everything is magnified. Ball control, penalties, special teams miscues, clock management, all the fine print of the game of football will have to be managed excellently for either team to win.
Assistant Coach/Strength and Conditioning Vince Amey was a defensive lineman for ASU, lettering from 1994-97.
UA OL Trace Biskin attended Westlake (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU TE Chris Coyle and LB Carlos Mendoza.
UA DB Jamar Allah and C.J. Dozier were verbally committed to ASU in 2011 before signing with Arizona.
UA LB Tyler Ermisch, LS Chase Gorham, LB Cody Ippolito, DB Brendan Murphy and OL Carter Wood all attended Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School, as did ASU CB Deveron Carr. UA Assistant Director of Operations Charlie Ragle was Chaparral's head coach from 2007-11 and was a graduate assistant at ASU under Dirk Koetter in 2006.
UA DB Jourdan Grandon attended Avondale (Ariz.) Westview High School, as did ASU RB R.J. Robinson.
UA DL Tevin Hood attended is the brother of ASU DL Jaxon Hood. Both Hoods attended Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton High School, as did ASU RB Dante Alexander and LB Anthony Jones. UA LB Anthony Lopez attended Gilbert (Ariz.) Mesquite High School, as did ASU TE Kody Kohl. UA DL Chris Merrill attended Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro High School, as did ASU DL Corey Adams, FB Danny Clark, RB D.J. Foster, LB Brock Haman, OL Kody Koebensky, DE Jordan McDonald and TE Max Smith. ASU Coordinator of Football Operations John Sanders was head coach at Saguaro from 2007-11.
UA K Casey Skowron attended Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep, as did ASU K Alex Garoutte.