October was not as kind to ASU, who in wins over Oregon State, Utah, Colorado, and a loss to Oregon surrendered 416 yards per contest. However, at 6-2, there was no reason for the Sun Devil faithful to panic, as their team appeared to be headed for a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 championship.
Things have gotten much more uncomfortable however in November, as in losses to UCLA and Washington State, Arizona State has given up an astounding 503 yards per game, including 590 to the Cougars, and finds itself in the a dead heat with UCLA and only one game ahead of a resurgent Utah squad. For the season, the Sun Devils own the Pac-12's seventh best defense, surrendering 405.6 yards per games to its opponents.
It definitely does not get any easier for the Sun Devils against Arizona, which averages 459 yards of offense, good for third in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation. The ASU defense is not short of talented players however, and the Territorial Cup trophy may be enough to turn the unit around with two games remaining on the schedule and a Pac-12 north title still within reach.
Along the defensive line, sophomore Davon Coleman has had a nice first season after transferring to ASU from Fort Scott Community College. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound sophomore has picked up 2.5 sacks, tied for second best on the team, as well as 34 tackles as a part of a front seven that allows its opponents 143.5 yards on the ground, good for fifth in the Pac-12.
Senior Jamaar Jarrett is more of a well-known commodity after picking up Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2010 with 4.5 sacks. As a senior, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end has just two sacks, but he has racked up 30 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, as well.
In the interior, the Sun Devils have a pair of productive defensive tackles, led by 6-foot, 286-pound senior Bo Moos. Regarded as a good athlete for his position, Moos has recorded a pair of quarterback sacks this season to go along with 27 tackles, six of those coming for loss.
After sitting out the 2010 season, sophomore Will Sutton has returned and has made a big impact in the middle of the defense for ASU. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle is a former teammate of Matt Scott's at Centennial Corona High School, and is tied for second on the team with 2.5 sacks. He has 28 tackles to go along with the sacks, with 5.5 of those in the opponent's backfield.
At linebacker, Arizona State has one of the Pac-12's most imposing and talented defenders in middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. When he's able to fight through constant double teams from opposing offensive lines, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound junior, another one of Scott's former teammates, has racked up 56 tackles, good for second on the team.
Burfict, perhaps better known for his on field antics, also has a team best five sacks to go along with seven tackles for loss and an interception. He's the type of player that will take over a game if given the chance, and he'll have to be someone Arizona keys off of every down of the game on Saturday.
With all eyes on Burfict, 6-foot-1, 228-pound senior Colin Parker has taken advantage of the opportunity and currently leads the Sun Devils with 58 tackles. The senior is amongst three players tied with 2.5 sacks, and he's been effective at taking the ball from the opponent, with three forced fumbles on the season.
The strongside linebacker spot uses a pair of players in seniors Shelly Lyons and Oliver Aaron, and both are having good seasons in their final year with the program. Lyons, at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, will get the start and has been a bit more of a playmaker this season with 40 tackles and four interceptions. However, Aaron has done well also when it's his time, recording 37 tackles and a pair of sacks. Together, the four form one of the Pac-12's most effective linebacker units, and each brings a unique skill set that gels together well with the other four.
In the secondary, free safety Clint Floyd has been the standout for ASU this season. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound senior is third on the team with 52 tackles, and is also tied for the most interceptions for ASU with three. He's done well in his first full season as a starter, but also gives up a bit of his time to backup Keelan Johnson, a talented player in his own right.
Johnson, a 6-foot, 201-pound junior will likely not start, but he's made the most of his opportunities when he's been given them. Appearing in all of the team's 10 games, he's recorded 35 tackles, a sack, and a pair of interceptions; meaning that ASU does not lose very much when he comes into the game for Floyd.
At strong safety, Eddie Elder is a name all Arizona fans should be familiar with. A commitment for the class of 2009, Elder was unable to qualify academically for UA and elected to attend Arizona State instead. However, that did not go over well with the safety, who was less than pleased with the school's decision.
The 5-foot-10, 186-pound senior has had a nice season at strong safety for the Sun Devils, as his 51 tackles are forth best on the team. To go with that, Elder has added an interception, four pass break ups, and five passes defended, and will likely be very fired up to take on the Wildcats and will be looking to do whatever he can to effect the outcome of the game.
Although just two appear at a time, ASU has a trio of corners that have had solid seasons thus far. Alden Darby, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore is sixth on the team with 39 tackles and is tied with Floyd for the lead in interceptions with three.
Osahon Irabor, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore has 35 tackles and an interception of his own, and he has broken up six passes and defended another seven in his first full season as the starter at corner.
Junior Deveron Carr has yet to record an interception this year, but the 5-foot-11, 193-pound junior does have a team leading nine pass break ups and nine passes broken up to go with 34 tackles.
The secondary will be looking to bounce back after giving up nearly 500 yards passing to Washington State freshman quarterback Conner Halliday, and enter the game against the UA passing attack with an average of 262.1 yards given up through the air, which is good for eighth in the Pac-12.
Keys to the game:
1. Nick Foles: As alluded to, the ASU defense was absolutely torched through the air by Washington State, meaning that Arizona is likely to be even more reliant upon its senior quarterback to go into Sun Devil Stadium and secure a win.
2. Locate Burfict: The Arizona State linebacker is as good as they come at the position in the country, and if Arizona fails to account for him in the running game and in pass protection, he'll make things nearly impossible for an already struggling offense.
3. Keep Foles upright: The offensive line's performance against Colorado is one of its worst of the season, as UA's quarterback rarely had time to set his feet and make throws down field. There is a great opportunity for Foles and the passing game to have a big game through the air, but whether or not he has the chance is entirely up to the performance of the big guys up front.
4. Protect the football: With how poor the Arizona defense has been playing in the team's last few games, the offense needs to hold onto the ball as long as possible and sustain scoring drives to stay competitive in the game. By turning over the ball, UA fails to accomplish either of those objectives, and likely puts the defense in a position where it will not be successful.
5. Establish a rhythm: In its past few games, Arizona has struggled mightily at getting comfortable in its offensive game plan and has failed to execute it effectively as a result. The Arizona State defense has regressed as the season has gone on, and something has to give out in this game. If Arizona wants to win, it needs to put together a few successful drives and put points on the board in an attempt to keep the Sun Devils on their heels defensively.