Quarterback B.J. Denker began the season looking like a left-handed liability, but as the year evolved so did his play and of late he has been regarded as one of the league's most improved players.
Though his passing numbers are greatly modest at 2,066 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, Denker's accuracy and decisions have improved. Denker always has had a tremendous knack for potency as a rusher, having totaled 811 net rushing yards with 11 scores this year, ranking him fifth among FBS quarterbacks in terms of total rushing yards on the year.
Last year's national rushing champion, Ka'Deem Carey has continued to be one of the country's elite backs this season with 1,559 yards on 290 carries with 16 touchdowns, adding 26 receptions for 173 yards and a score.
Carey has every tool desired of an elite running back and is a plausible one-man band that can take the team on his back to victory.
Daniel Jenkins holds the role of Carey's backup at running back and has totaled 377 yards this year with one touchdown. Sun Devil fans remember Jenkins from his heavy duty against ASU last season as he toted a career-high 21 carries in place of an injured Carey.
Arizona suffered a major blow at wide receiver this spring when returning 1,000-yard receiver Austin Hill suffered a season-ending injury, leaving major holes at the position group in terms of both experience and production.
Both players have responded admirably to the early need for their contributions as Grant leads the team with 44 catches, totaling 353 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips' 486 yards and seven touchdown catches lead Arizona and he ranks second behind Grant with 39 receptions.
Senior Terrence Miller was a hopeful candidate to break out this season and though his contributions haven't been sensational, he has been solid with 36 receptions for 435 yards and one touchdown. Miller enters Saturday with significant momentum having hauled in nine receptions against Oregon a week ago.
From left-to-right, the Wildcat offensive line consists of tackle Mickey Baucus, guard Cayman Bundage, center Steven Gurrola, guard Chris Putton and tackle Fabbians Ebbele. Through all games, only two possible starts have been missed by the five typical starters giving Arizona tremendous stability along its offensive front.
Offense in a Nutshell
There's zero doubt that the Wildcat offense is going to feature immensely heavy doses of Carey, plausibly amassing 40-50 total touches on the night. It's a greatly challenging task for ASU to shut down or even limit Carey, but the need will be for the Devils to prevent huge gains and tackle effectively to bring him down when contact is made.
Denker's success largely hinges on Carey's; if Carey is gaining yardage with ease, Denker will have time to throw and receivers such as Phillips, Miller and Grant open to his disposal.
Due to a low total count of pass attempts, Denker's mobility and a solid line, Arizona allows very few sacks so it is integral that ASU make physical contact on the Wildcat QB in any way possible to interrupt his momentum.
Arizona's 3-3-5 defense is guided up front by ends Reggie Gilbert (29 tackles, 7.0 TFL's, 4.0 sacks) and Sione Tuihalamaka (42 tackles, 8.0 TFL's, 2.0 sacks) with Tevin Hood at nose tackle (34 tackles, 5.5 TFL's, 1.0 sack).
In all, the Wildcat defensive line features a greater emphasis on versatility than bulk as other than the 300-pound Hood, no defensive line player in this week's two deep weighs more than 271 pounds.
The Wildcats feature a very strong trio of starting linebackers, paced by seniors Jake Fischer (75 tackles, 2.0 TFL's) and Marquis Flowers (78 tackles, 7.5 TFL's) with standout true freshman Scooby Wright (76 tackles, 9.0 TFL's) more than holding his own alongside the two veterans.
Fischer earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 recognition last season, while Wright ranks second in the Pac-12 in tackles among freshmen this year.
Arizona's five-man secondary includes a steady pair of seasoned cornerbacks in senior Shaquille Richardson (52 tackles, 3 INT's) and junior Jonathan McKnight (43 tackles). Senior Richard Morrison (one tackle), formerly a wide receiver, is joined by true freshman Devin Holiday (seven tackles) as the top reserve cornerbacks.
Spur Tra'Mayne Bondurant (61 tackles, 5.5 TFL's, 4 INT's), Bandit Jared Tevis (70 tackles, 4.0 TFL's) and FS Jourdan Grandon (57 tackles, 2 INT's) are the key figures at Arizona's three safety positions. Behind Arizona's three starting linebackers, Tevis, Bondurant and Grandon rank fourth, fifth and six, respectively, on the team in tackles.
Defense in a Nutshell
Under first-year coordinator Jeff Casteel, Arizona's 3-3-5 defense has improved dramatically from a very rocky 2012 season.
Though the Wildcats haven't done much in terms of generating pressure in opposing backfields, Arizona is one of the better teams in the league in terms of team interceptions and overall turnover margin and can make ASU pay if ball control issues arise.
The probable difference maker when Arizona is on defense is how ASU can handle itself in the run game if Marion Grice is out of action. If players such as Deantre Lewis and/or D.J. Foster are able to fill the void adequately, Arizona's defenders likely will have to play closer to the line and create opportunities for Taylor Kelly in the pass game. However, if ASU is consistently unable to push the run game beyond the first level of defense, the Wildcats will be able to play to their greater strengths with defensive personnel.
Arizona undoubtedly will look to rally around senior defensive leaders such as Fischer, Flowers and Richardson in hopes of pulling off an upset Saturday.
Special Teams Preview
Consistency with field goal kicking has been a major issue as Jake Smith has converted just 12-of-18 attempts on the year, making a mere 5-of-10 from 30 yards and beyond.
Among kickers with enough field goal attempts to be eligible to be ranked in the conference pecking order, Smith ties for next-to-last in the Pac-12 in terms of accuracy (66.7%).
Despite his struggles with reliability, Smith has shown leg strength during the year, connecting on a 53-yarder against California, but he also has misses from 28 and 34 yards.
Drew Riggleman handles punting duties for the Wildcats and ranks eighth in the Pac-12 with a 40.3-yard average.
Arizona's return game has been decent if unspectacular, with kick returner Jared Baker averaging 24.4 yards, while Johnny Jackson (8.5 yards) and Nate Phillips (6.8 yards) have shared punt return duties.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
Limit Run Game Dynamics
When facing Arizona, the temptation is to focus on generating a way to limit All-American runner Ka'Deem Carey, but to simply do that opens options for Denker to be dangerous on the ground.
With the double threat in place in the Wildcat backfield, ASU's defense has to be both aggressive and intelligent and work to create the quarterback pressure it did in last week's nine-sack effort on mobile UCLA passer Brett Hundley.
ASU can do itself a major favor by etching out an early lead on the Wildcats and force Denker in to more passing situations, which could limit the rushing prowess of both Arizona's quarterback and star running back.
Focus With or Without Grice
If Marion Grice is not available for action Saturday, it is imperative that ASU retain continuity not just in terms of the outcomes on the field but also in team demeanor and focus.
If Deantre Lewis gets the call for substantial carries, his athleticism absolutely has to be coupled with greater focus than what has been seen the past few games as Lewis' ball control has been an issue. This game would present an outstanding opportunity for redemption from those woes and most signs point to increased action for Lewis if Grice is out.
Elsewhere on the offense, Taylor Kelly will need to provide a steady, unwavering guiding presence in all facets and, as he did against UCLA, move the ball dangerously with his feet.
Special Teams Stability
The nightmarish special teams that had subsided for a few games returned last week against UCLA, primarily on kick and punt returns and in the punt game. In a rivalry game that nearly every year sees massive momentum plays occur on blocked kicks or other special teams miscues it is crucial for ASU to tighten its discipline in these areas.
In the battle for the Territorial Cup, not only can crazy, unexpected things happen, but seldom does a year pass where something of that nature does not occur.
Each game since 2009 has seen the visiting team claim victory, and all four of those contests have been stressful, emotional affairs.
Both teams enter Saturday riding highs from last weekend –Arizona rebounded from a horrible loss to Washington State in unbelievable form to upset Oregon, while ASU claimed an elusive marquee road victory at UCLA and claimed the Pac-12 South title.
The magnitude of this game is one the Territorial Cup simply hasn't seen in several years as a Sun Devil win will enable ASU to host the Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Both teams have to be sure to avoid a hangover from emotional wins last week and there's no reason not to believe Saturday will stray from the rivalry's recent trend of close, tense competition.
Arizona Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach Charlie Ragle was a graduate assistant coach at ASU under Dirk Koetter in 2006.
Arizona Strength and Conditioning Coach Vince Amey played for ASU from 1994-97.
Arizona FS Jamar Allah verbally committed to ASU before ultimately signing with the Wildcats.
Arizona S Anthony Lopez attended Gilbert (Ariz.) Mesquite High School, as did ASU TE Kody Kohl.