Know Your Foe: Arizona

The usual intensity of the Territorial Cup game has kicked up a few notches this year as the in-state rivals are both vying for their 10th win of the year and the winner could be crowned as the Pac-12 South champion. What can the Sun Devils expect in Tucson come Friday? Publisher Jason Scheer answers Sparky’s Huddle members’ question on ASU's next opponent.

One the biggest story lines going into this game is the health of quarterback Anu Solomon. Do you expect him to play and how effective do you think he will be?

Scheer: I do expect him to play, but I would be lying if I said I knew how effective he would be. His ankle has actually been bothering him for a while and the early word is that it has responded well to treatment. As long as he can plant his foot, he should be fine.

If Jesse Scroggins ends up starting or playing significant minutes, how different will this Wildcat offense look especially in the passing game and the offensive scheme overall?

Scheer: It won’t be different in the slightest. Arizona does what it does and that goes for any quarterback. Scroggins can make all the throws that Solomon can and actually has a better arm. It’s just the mental approach that has separated the two. In addition, Scroggins is probably going to be healthier, so if he plays it is more likely he will take off running. Overall, there won’t be a difference in scheme or play calling though.

Running back Nick Wilson has been of the best freshmen players in the league. Has he surprised the coaches with his play and what makes him such a special running back?

Scheer: He hasn’t surprised the coaches at all. They knew what they were getting with him and he has matched their expectations. Wilson is a hard-nosed runner, but he also has deceptive speed. I would say the most impressive aspect of how he has played is that he is becoming more of a patient runner, which means he is hitting the right holes. In terms of inside runners, Wilson is probably as good as it gets in the Pac-12.

From the outside looking in, the Arizona defense may be one of the biggest surprising aspects of this squad. What were the expectations from this group coming into 2014 and what has contributed to their success?

Scheer: The expectations weren’t very high. Arizona had some questions at linebacker and the pass rush was a concern to go along with who would be the second corner. However, Scooby Wright has elevated this entire defense and it shows every game. Jarvis McCall has done a nice job at corner for a freshman, the defensive line has played well for the most part, and Tra’Mayne Bondurant is a major playmaker. Arizona is getting to the quarterback and when it does that, any defense is going to be better.

Linebacker Scooby Wright has emerged as one the best defensive players in the league. Same question with him: are the pre-season expectations matching his current performance and what makes him such a special player?

Scheer: I don’t think anybody could have expected this. He is among the nation’s leaders in numerous categories and one of the best linebackers in the nation. He isn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but there is nobody that prepares and plays harder than he does. Scooby’s instincts are as good as they get and he is very good at shedding blockers and anticipating the play.

What do you think are the biggest concerns the Arizona defense has with the ASU offense?

Scheer: Arizona has been inconsistent with the run, although it tends to be more with power runners than guys who run with more finesse. In addition, it can be susceptible to the big play, which is why Jaelen Strong is extremely scary for this defense.

What is the perception over the job Rich Rodriguez has done recruiting wise in terms of quality, and are the majority of his recruits making an impact on this team?

Scheer: He’s getting the rep of being able to find guys that aren’t highly rated, but able to contribute. Scooby Wright was a two-star, so that pretty much leads to that rep. However, he has also landed some big names like Cam Denson and Nick Wilson. There’s a good mix of his guys making an impact and guys from the previous regime, but the majority of the offense are his recruits.

Arizona has seemingly played better on the road than at home needing some 4th quarter magic/luck to pull out a few games in Tucson. What do you think that can be attributed to?

Scheer: To be honest, nothing. I do think the team likes when it is doubted and that seems to happen when it hits the road. Each player has said that they embrace being booed and that likely contribute to the road success, but I don’t think there is a ton of meaning behind it all.

Rich Rodriguez is 1-7 versus ASU, USC, and UCLA. Is something the fan base is willing to overlook as long as he leads the Wildcats to 8 wins or more each season?

Scheer: For now, yes. He’s not going to be able to continue that though. I think people realize where the program was when he took over and the fan base has been extremely patient. In addition, it also helps that he has beaten Oregon two years in a row and I think wins like those give fans confidence about what the future holds.

Does the fan base agree with the weaker out of conference scheduling approach that keeps the team’s record better, the team healthier, and overall perception of program higher, or would the fans prefer they play more power 5 conference teams in the future?

Scheer: It’s mixed. Some fans don’t believe that playing a stronger out of conference schedule does anything, especially if there is a loss. Others feel that in order to compete with the bigger teams, Arizona needs to schedule them. Personally, I like the way Arizona schedules now. By winning the out of conference games, it leaves it to the Pac-12 schedule and the conference is almost always going to be good enough to convince people on SOS.

Coming into Friday’s game, in what areas does Arizona have the advantage over ASU, and in what areas does ASU have the advantage?

Scheer: This is an extremely even game to me. ASU does have the advantage in experience though, as this will be the first rivalry game for any quarterback Arizona starts, Nick Wilson, and numerous other players. It’s honestly hard for me to name any major advantages for either team beyond that.

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