Arizona Preview

Heading into the annual Territorial Cup game this Saturday, roles have been reversed between the two in-state rivals. After knocking Arizona out of bowl contention over the last three seasons, Arizona State enters this weekend's contest with a post-season appearance on the line. Arizona, on the other hand, has already secured its first bowl berth since 1998.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

2008 Record: 6-5, 4-4 Pac-10
Head Coach: Mike Stoops

Last Week: A bye week followed Arizona's 17-19 loss to Oregon State at home.
OFFENSE
*Projected Starters
WR Mike Thomas, SR
TE Rob Gronkowski, SO
LT Eben Britton, JR
LG Mike Diaz, JR
C Colin Baxter, SO
RG Joe Longacre, SR
RT James Tretheway, SR
QB Willie Tuitama, SR
RB Nic Grigsby, SO
HB Chris Gronkowski, FR
WR Terrell Turner, JR

Quarterback Willie Tuitama set out to lead Arizona to its first bowl game in 10 seasons, which he's already accomplished with six wins this season. Now the senior can close the books on his final regular season performance with his first-ever win over rival Arizona State. Tuitama has etched his name in school record books by becoming Arizona's career leader in passing yards (8,602) and passing touchdowns (63). In 2008, he's completed 210 of his 327 attempts, which Tuitama has turned into 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. True freshman Matt Scott is his back-up.

Senior receiver Mike Thomas has built up quite a career in Tucson. The 5'8" receiver, who has caught a pass in 35 consecutive games, has become the school's all-time receptions leader with 246. Thomas has turned 62 grabs into 730 yards and four scores this season.

In addition to Thomas, Tuitama has a handful of other solid pass-catchers to toss the ball to. Brothers Rob and Chris Gronkowski are a reliable tandem, combining for 11 touchdowns on 43 receptions. Rob, a sophomore tight end, is among the nation's best at his position and typically provides a very favorable matchup for the ‘Cats on most coverages thrown at him. Delashaun Dean is the team's second-leading receiver with 40 catches. Junior Terrell Turner averages just over 41 receiving yards per game, giving Arizona five receivers with double-digit receiving averages.

The 1-2 punch of runners Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin have provided more balance to the offense this year. Grigsby has compiled 952 yards and 11 touchdowns on 172 carries in 2008. The sophomore averages 86.5 yards per contest while Antolin is averaging just over 51 yards. Antolin, an elusive 5'8" freshman, has also added 10 scores on the ground.

DEFENSE
*Projected Starters

DE Brooks Reed, SO
DT Earl Mitchell, JR
NT Donald Horton, JR
DE Ricky Elmore, SO
SLB Adrian McCovy, SR
MLB Ronnie Palmer, SR
WLB Xavier Kelley, JR
SS Cam Nelson, JR
FS Nate Ness, SR
CB Devin Ross, JR
CB Marquis Hundley, SR

Earl Mitchell, a bruiser who made the switch from fullback, and Donald Horton will start along the interior of the defensive line. Both have four tackles for loss each. Sophomore Kaniela Tuipulotu has eight starts under his belt this season at nose tackle and figures to share snaps with Horton. Sophomore ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed have a combined 51 stops and nine sacks between them. Sophomore reserve D'Aundre Reed notched 22 tackles and one sack in 11 games played, including three starts.

Middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer leads the Arizona defense with 70 total tackles in 2008. Palmer has compiled 39 career starts, most of any current player on defense. Adrian McCovy and Xavier Kelley flank Palmer on the outside. McCovy has accrued 35 tackles while Kelley has added 32 stops, including a pair of sacks. Junior college transfer Sterling Lewis was a five-game starter at weakside linebacker. Lewis is third in tackles with 58 stops.

ASU faces another competent secondary this week as the Wildcats field the Pac-10's third-best pass defense, allowing an average of 173.9 yards per game. Safeties Nate Ness and Cam Nelson have a combined 122 tackles as starters in all 11 games this year. Ness has added two interceptions as well. Corey Hall is another solid option with 29 stops and four pass break-ups this season. Sophomore cornerback Devin Ross ranks 8th in the country in passes defended with 15. Ross, who also has three interceptions, is typically matched up against the opponent's top receiver. Senior Marquis Hundley has made all 11 starts opposite Ross this year and has a pair of interceptions. Reserve Trevin Wade, a redshirt freshman, leads the team in interceptions with four.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Keenyn Crier, SO
PK Jason Bondzio, SR

PR Mike Thomas, SR
KOR Mike Thomas, SR

Sophomore punter Keenyn Crier averages 44 yards per punt. 13 of his 42 punts have been placed inside the 20-yard line while Crier's strong leg has booted 13 punts of 50 yards or more. Placekicker Jason Bondzio has connected on 12 of 14 attempts in 2008. Bondzio's longest field goal was a 49-yard make in the win over Washington. His only misses have been from 45 and 48 yards out.

Arizona tops the conference in punt return average with a 17.3-yard clip per return. Mike Thomas leads the team with 325 yards on 26 punt returns. Thomas' longest return went for a 48-yard touchdown. The senior receiver is a top contributor returning kicks as well. Thomas, along with running back Keola Antolin, have given the ‘Cats a formidable return team. Both have at least one return of 40+ yards. Antolin leads the way with an average of 23.5 yards per kickoff return.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA STATE

1. Find Some Offense: Preferably a balanced one at that as ASU searches for a ball control offense that can eat up some clock. Too many quick three-and-outs are a recipe for disaster as the Wildcats are first in the conference in time of possession. In order to limit that offense, ASU can't rely solely on its defense for a full four quarters.

2. Turnovers: With a decidedly more productive offense for Arizona, ASU has to find a way to win the turnover battle. The defense has stepped up in recent weeks, including four takeaways for touchdowns last week against UCLA, but it's not realistic to expect a repeat performance again.

3. First and Second Down Defense: ASU cannot allow the Wildcats to rip off chunks of yards on first and second downs and expect to win. Unlike last year, Arizona has found a more balanced attack with an improved ground game. The Sun Devils must also defend the bubble screen better.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR ARIZONA

1. Pressure Carpenter: If Arizona can get decent pressure from their front four, the rest can drop back into coverage and really force ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter to make reads under duress. Arizona State's offensive line has given up 31 sacks this season while Arizona's defense has produced 19 sacks, 8th best in the Pac-10. Given this week's opportunity, the Cats should be aiming for improvement in the pass rush.

2. Red Zone Efficiency: UofA tops the conference in red zone offense by scoring 49 times in 52 chances this season. 40 of those scores have been touchdowns. If Arizona can continue to score at clip like that against ASU, it's going to be tough for the Sun Devil offense to keep up.

3. Spread the Field: The ASU defense has often been a step slow, particularly at linebacker, when teams stretch plays away from the middle of the field. Bubble screens, a staple in the Arizona offense, can work well. Heading into the annual Territorial Cup game this Saturday, roles have been reversed between the two in-state rivals. After knocking Arizona out of bowl contention over the last three seasons, Arizona State enters this weekend's contest with a post-season appearance on the line. Arizona, on the other hand, has already secured its first bowl berth since 1998.

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