Arizona Preview

For the first time since 1986 both Arizona State and Arizona enter this game ranked in the Top 25, as both squads vie for a Pac-12 South championship. Thus, the battle for the Territorial Cup will have much more than just bragging rights on the line. What can the Sun Devils expect Friday in Tucson? Joe Healey examines ASU’s next opponent.

Arizona Offensive Personnel

No freshman quarterback in the nation – no, not even Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett – has enjoyed the statistical success of Arizona redshirt freshman passer Anu Solomon, who ranks ninth in the nation and first among freshmen with 3,216 passing yards as well as 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions and 329 rushing yards with one score.

As outstanding as Solomon has been in 2014, that effort has been completely compromised as it applies to Friday’s game as he missed the second half last week against Utah after re-aggravating an ankle injury, forcing scarcely used fifth-year senior Jesse Scroggins into action.

With the clock ticking to Friday’s afternoon kickoff, Solomon has been generalized as “questionable” for the game – though in a rivalry such as this, it is tough to believe that Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez will truly tip his hand as to Solomon’s health.

If Solomon plays, it is safe to say he will be well below full health, plausibly altering his mechanics both in and out of the pocket.

If Solomon is out of action, Scroggins likely takes over as starter. After signing with USC out of high school in 2010, Scroggins spent two seasons with the Trojans before transferring to the junior college level before ultimately signing back into the Pac-12 with Arizona in 2013.

Scroggins did not see game action behind B.J. Denker and others last season, but has been Solomon’s primary backup in 2014 as he has seen action in three games with 73 passing yards and 29 rush yards to his credit. Should Scroggins start, it would mark the first FBS start for the journeyman passer, a tall task to behold in such a heated matchup against two highly ranked teams.

A gifted athlete and powerful passer, Scroggins has been knocked for his lack of throwing accuracy, and one would speculate that his overall inexperience is a trait Arizona State will work to exploit if Scroggins is in fact Arizona’s starting quarterback.

No matter the starter at quarterback, the Wildcats have a known commodity in freshman running back Nick Wilson. After losing All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, uncertainty existed this offseason as to who would be the primary ballcarrier, but Wilson has hushed those concerns by becoming the first freshman in school history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards.

A talented rusher between and outside the tackles, Wilson has totaled 1,085 net rush yards with 12 touchdowns while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Wilson’s name can be expected to be called a great deal on Friday and his overall performance is critical to Arizona’s success against ASU.

In a reserve role, Terris Jones-Grigsby has provided a solid punch for the ‘Cats as he has added 513 rushing yards and three scores to spell Wilson.

The latest in a line of productive FBS transfers for the Wildcats, former Texas Longhorn Cayleb Jones has enjoyed an excellent season with team-highs of 60 receptions for 803 yards with eight scores. Former 1,000-yard receiver Austin Hill ranks second on the team in receptions (38) and touchdown catches (four) while totaling 541 receiving yards.

Sophomore Samajie Grant has been a solid option in the pass game, as he has collected 36 receptions for 554 yards with three touchdowns on the year.

Before suffering a season-ending injury, Nate Phillips caught 25 passes in nine games, and in his absence the next men up are Trey Griffey (23-324-1), former Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal (23-196-2) and David Richards (21-174-1)

Tyrell Johnson (13-114-2) also earns limited action in the pass game, while running backs Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby are good for about one reception per game.

From left-to-right, the Wildcat offensive line figures to consist of tackle Mickey Baucus, guard Cayman Bundage, center Steven Gurrola, guard Lene Maiava and tackle Fabbians Ebbele. The group includes notable experience, with seniors at center and both tackle positions.

Arizona Offensive Summary

Though the offense as a whole likely won’t undergo any substantial schematic changes, all curiosity for this game points to the condition of Anu Solomon – if he’ll play and if so, to what level of effectiveness.

The general idea is that Nick Wilson will be featured early and often – perhaps to a Ka’Deem Carey level of use – as the Wildcats will hope to pound him through the Sun Devil defense to open up options in the pass game.

The Sun Devils undoubtedly will blitz heavy and frequently, a philosophy that either could create early advantages and turnover opportunities for ASU or expose holes for the Wildcats to attack.

Whether it’s a first-game starting quarterback in Scroggins or a gimpy Solomon, if for any reason Arizona stalls in its use of Wilson, the Devils can gain a marked advantage. Arizona State, however, despite its frenzy of forced turnovers lately, has allowed high yardage totals and has been beating on multiple occasions on the back end when the initial pressure is unsuccessful.

Arizona Defensive Personnel

Using a 3-3-5 defense, the Wildcat starting lineup includes end Reggie Gilbert, nose Parker Zellers and tackle Dan Pettinato up front.

Pettinato leads all Wildcat defensive linemen with 37 tackles, adding 2.0 sacks, while Gilbert has posted 35 tackles including 4.5 for loss with 3.0 sacks, with Zellers adding 13 tackles on the year.

At linebacker, Scooby Wright III is well on his way to All-America accolades and possibly the Pacific-12 Conference Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year Award. Wright’s season statistics are nothing short of superhuman as he ranks sixth in the nation in total tackles (126), while leading the FBS in tackles for loss (22) and ranks fifth nationally in sacks (12). Wright also has forced five fumbles, making him one of the most fearsome and well-rounded defenders in the Pac-12 Conference and the nation as a whole.

Elsewhere at linebacker, both Cody Ippolito and Derrick Turituri see action on the strong side with Jake Matthews as the primary weak side linebacker.

On the year, Turituri has posted 37 tackles including 5.0 for loss with 3.0 sacks, while Ippolito has registered 35 stops including 5.0 for loss. Matthews has tallied 29 tackles of his own with one sack.

In the Wildcat secondary, Bandit Jared Tevis has risen from a walk-on to all-conference caliber player, while Spur William Parks has also emerged into a reliable defender.

On the year, Tevis has totaled 100 tackles including 8.0 for loss with 3.0 sacks as well as two interceptions. Parks ranks third on the team with 62 tackles and is second on the squad with 9.5 tackles for loss.

Senior Jourdon Grandon starts at free safety for Arizona, with veteran Jonathan McKnight joined by freshman Jarvis McCall, Jr. at cornerback.

Grandon ranks third on the team with 69 tackles and has a pair of interceptions, while McKnight has broken up 11 passes on the year and totaled 43 tackles of his own. McCall has enjoyed a solid freshman year with 44 tackles and five pass breakups.

In reserve duty, free safety Jamar Allah has totaled 24 tackles while blue-chip freshman Cam Denson has collected 18 tackles from his cornerback position.

Arizona Defensive Summary

The Wildcat defense features unique strengths and weaknesses but as a whole, the group, guided by the dominant play of Wright, has succeeded to a high level in 2014.

In all, Arizona ranks 95th in the nation in total defense, but on only two occasions have the Wildcats allowed more than 28 points to an opponent.

Similar to ASU, Arizona gets in the backfield at an above average rate (27th national in sacks, 29th in tackles for loss), but when quarterbacks are protected, the ‘Cats generally struggle as Arizona ranks 113th nationally in pass defense.

Against the run, Arizona ranks 66th nationally and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in four consecutive games and in six of eight Pac-12 games in 2014.

The cliché’ “bend but don’t break” element of the Arizona defense shows clearly in the Wildcats’ standing with the ninth-best turnover margin in nation, similar to Arizona State which ranks fifth in the category on a national scale. However, the Wildcats also rank 106th nationally in red zone defense, creating a total defensive portfolio that very much exhibits risk-reward behavior by Arizona.

When the Wildcats are on defense, all eyes will first be on how much Wright and company can disrupt the shaken Taylor Kelly at quarterback and what sort of resistance Arizona can place against D.J. Foster, who enjoyed a spectacular day on the ground last season against the ‘Cats in what was Fosters first true college action at running back.

Arizona Special Teams Summary

As a whole, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron has had a forgettable season. Though he was able to convert a game-winner against Washington, Skowron’s performance against USC—and the Twitter rage from Arizona fans that followed—remains a distinct memory. Also, having connected on only 68% of his field goal tries (17-of-25), Skowron stands as the least accurate among the Pac-12’s primary placekickers.

At punter, the Wildcats have had much greater success as Drew Riggleman averages 46.5 yards on 53 punts, third-best in the nation and tied for the highest average in the Pac-12 conference.

In the return game, Tyrell Johnson is the primary kick returner with a 21.5-yard average on 15 returns, while DaVonte’ Neal averages 14.6 yards on nine punt returns. Neal’s average is greatly boosted by his one touchdown return, as it totaled 81 of his 131 punt return yards for the year.

Final Analysis

As painful as it is to say after writing a lengthy preview for a subscription website but in this Territorial Cup game, as many know, analyses, predictions, logic, trends and likelihoods can typically be thrown out the window in this gritty, vile, unpredictable rivalry.

For Sun Devil fans and Wildcat supporters this game never lacks fire; the viciousness between the contingents in Tempe and Tucson is something many of us have memories that kick up visceral reactions and feed the fury the two schools feel toward one another.

However, on a national scale this season’s game takes on a completely new meaning as legions of neutral college football fans likely will tune in to see the 12th and 13th-ranked teams in the country, making this the first showdown in this series since 1986 to feature both teams ranked within the nation’s top-25.

In this game, every aspect of the game is magnified – special teams, turnovers, penalties – any and all miscues can launch from minor to massive in a heartbeat in this game.

Through the 100-plus years of the rivalry, equal quantities of players have been considered gods as goats; names from the past decade alone such as James Brooks, Alex Zendejas, Kyle Williams, and Terry Richardson have made fans either euphorically scream or have a near-vomit experience.

Moving back to an analytical scale, though this game is much more often than not played to a very even level of competition, this season is very rare in the actual closeness between the two teams – including but not limited to national rankings.

With both teams standing at 9-2 with a chance at a Pac-12 south title (if UCLA loses to Stanford), merely two weeks ago ASU had just as much momentum as any team in the nation as it was ranked sixth in the College Football Playoff rankings. However, after a loss to Oregon State and a necessary comeback win against Washington State, the Devils aren’t perched in the lofty position they were at that point.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, have steadily continued to win games – some in impressive fashion, some not so much.

In the end, the quarterback play on both sides – and how the defenses attack the opposing quarterback – will go a great distance in determining the outcome. Arizona’s quarterback situation is an unknown at this point, and even when the verdict is rendered there will be continued uncertainty whether it is a potential lingering injury for Solomon or the massive inexperience of Scroggins.

ASU, on the other hand, has Taylor Kelly at full physical health, but mentally he continues to appear shaken as he simply is nowhere near the level of play at which he performed in 2013 when he earned Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors.

Friday will be tense, it will be dramatic, and it will raise the heart rate and stress levels of those wearing maroon and gold as well as those clad in red and blue.

Bragging rights, state supremacy, bowl game quality and a possible division championship hang in the balance Friday.

The Territorial Cup typically is a wild, maniacal ride and Friday could very well embody that disposition more so than any other installment in a long, long time.

Familiar Faces

• ASU head coach Todd Graham coached under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2001-02

• Arizona assistant coach Charlie Ragle was a graduate assistant coach at ASU under Dirk Koetter

• Arizona assistant strength and conditioning coach Vince Amey played at ASU from 1994-97

• Arizona S Jamar Allah was verbally committed to ASU before signing with Arizona

• Arizona S Anthony Lopez was a teammate of ASU TE Kody Kohl at Gilbert (Ariz.) Mesquite High School

• Arizona CB Kwesi Mashack was a teammate of ASU QB Coltin Gearhart at Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta High School

• Arizona QB Anu Solomon was a teammate of ASU CB Armand Perry at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas

• Arizona FS David Price was a teammate of ASU LB Salamo Fiso at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School

• Arizona QB Connor Brewer, LS Chase Gorham, LB Cody Ippolito CB Brendan Murphy, WR Davonte Neal, OL Carter Wood and TE Trevor Wood attended Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School, as did ASU WR/CB Tyler Whiley

• Arizona QB Brandon Dawkins attended Westlake (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU LB Carlos Mendoza

• Arizona K Casey Skowron attended Phoenix’s Brophy Prep, as did ASU WR Frederick Gammage and K Alex Garoutte

• Arizona LS Nick Reinhardt, TE Blair Tushaus and DL Parker Zellers attended Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Prep, as did ASU TE Grant Martinez and S Jordan Schlueter


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