ASU Preview

It is rivalry week and all across the state of Arizona fans of ASU and UA are jawing at each other. The competition is very intense on both of the schools' websites. In a mutual exchange of information, Cat Tracks and Devils Digest provided each other with breakdowns of the respective teams. Here is a Devils Digest look at ASU.

Quarterback: The success of sophomore Andrew Walter, in a conference dominated by senior signal callers, is nothing short of remarkable. Especially considering the fact that he didn't start until the fifth game of the season. This year he has already set ASU records for single-game passing yards (536), and season passing yards (3,289). His NFL-type arm fits Dirk Koetter's offense like a glove. However, the lack of a solid running game and an inexperienced offensive line make his job at times extremely difficult. The Sun Devils are near last in the conference in sacks given up (42). Thus, a balanced offense and ample pass protection are vital for Walter to execute the vertical game.

Running Back: It will be quite peculiar for Wildcat fans to see the name Canidate on a Sun Devil jersey. Cornell, the younger brother of standout Arizona running back Trung, is back in the lineup this week for ASU. The redshirt freshman leads ASU in rushing with 493 yards, and has seven rushing scores (eight total) to his credit. As with any first year player, he has given some solid performances along with some sub par displays. If Canidate falters, fellow classman Hakim Hill is likely to spell him. Hill has only 312 yards, but he has scored quite often with eight total touchdowns (five rushing). Junior Mike Williams will probably see some spot duty throughout the contest.

Wide Receiver: At the beginning of the season, Sun Devil fans wondered which wide receiver would balance the passing attack and take pressure off last season's first team All-Pac 10 wide out Shaun McDonald. While that question may have not been decisively answered, just like his offensive cohort Andrew Walter, the junior has been shattering records left and right. McDonald, who is related to Mike Bibby, already holds the school record for single-season receiving yards (1,280) and catches (75). His 13 touchdowns lead the team, and are only one shy of the school record. Aside from McDonald, several receivers have stepped up at times to provide another passing threat. Sophomore Daryl Lightfoot is second on the team in receiving yards with 489, while scoring twice. True freshman Derek Hagan, and junior Skyler Fulton have also showed flashes of brilliance in recent games and provide relief to the often double-teamed McDonald.

Tight End: While senior Mike Pinkard's numbers are very respectable (408 yards and five touchdowns), one can only wonder how much more those numbers could have grown if he had displayed a shred of consistency. It's hard to trust him at times to make a crucial play, but just when you give up on him he often surprises you with circus-like catches. Pinkard is virtually the only tight end involved in the passing game. For blocking purposes, junior Frank Maddox and redshirt freshman Lee Burghgraef will be inserted into the lineup.

Offensive Line: Is the glass half full or half empty? Undoubtley, this unit is part of the success enjoyed by the passing game. On the other hand, the large number of sacks given up, along with a stagnant ground game, hardly bodes well for the Sun Devil hogs. On paper, Arizona isn't successful in sacking opposing quarterbacks, and is last in the conference in stuffing the run. Will that translate into a solid performance for the ASU front five, or is it another stat that should be thrown out of the window before a rivalry game? We'll all be smarter come Friday afternoon.

Defensive End: A year ago Terrell Suggs predicted that he would get 20 sacks. That seemingly unreachable feat was accomplished…a year later. The junior is up for three national defensive awards, including the Lombardi Trophy. Naturally, he has been the focal point of every ASU opponent's game plan. Occasionally, those schemes have effectively neutralized him, and the Wildcats' ability to duplicate that success will go a long way in letting their passing game execute as planned. Fellow ends - sophomore Jimmy Verdon and true freshman Nick Johnson have four sacks each, and are marginally adequate in capitalizing on the extra attention Suggs' receives from opposing offenses. Overall, the Sun Devils are ranked second in the conference in sacking rival quarterbacks, and are probably looking forward to play an Arizona team, which (as mentioned) gives up the most sacks in the Pac-10.

Defensive Tackle: This position did an admirable job in halting rushing attacks early in the year, but as of late seems relatively porous. JC transfer Shane Jones has shaken off a rusty start to the season, and has been a pleasant surprise for the last few weeks. He ranks ninth in team tackles (41). Fellow tackle Brian Montesanto plays solid, but usually isn't a difference maker like Suggs or Jones.

Linebacker: All year it has been a trio of senior linebackers fighting over two starting spots (Defensively ASU plays the 4-2-5 scheme). The player who stands head and shoulders above the rest is Mason Unck. He's second on ASU's tackle list with 91, including 11.5 tackles for loss. Unck (along with Suggs) is tied for second in the Pac-10 in fumbles forced (5). The often-maligned Solomon Bates is seventh on the team with 44 tackles. In his defense, his season has been marred with injuries that have affected his consistency. The last player in this group is Josh Amobi who has 33 tackles, and is tied for the Pac-10 lead with four recovered fumbles. True freshman Jamar Williams has also the same number of tackles, and has had a fine inaugural year as a Sun Devil.

Safety: Arguably, the strongest unit on defense. Sophomore Jason Shivers, last year's leading tackler, is once again leading that category with 104. ASU will miss the services of sophomore Riccardo Stewart (third in team tackles) who underwent season ending shoulder surgery. Another first year player that stepped up to the plate is Matt Fawley, who has 32 tackles in only six games. Senior Al Williams has 42 tackles, and is the emotional leader of this unit. Players such as redshirt freshman Joey Smith and JC transfer Brett Hudson (who splits time at cornerback) stand to see extensive duty in Tucson on Friday.

Cornerback: No position on the ASU squad has been more decimated by injuries like this one. Luckily, returning starter R.J. Oliver is having a career year. The sophomore leads the conference in passes defended (17 pass breakups, four interceptions), and has done quite well this season against the plethora of skillful Pac-10 receivers. His moment of truth will be defending Arizona's Bobby Wade, who had a field day in Tempe last year. As mentioned, Hudson does play in this position as well and is tied with Oliver for the lead in team interceptions. The junior often rotates with former Junior College teammate Josh Golden. True freshman Mike Davis Jr. has played sporadically throughout the season and provides, along with Hudson, a physical presence in this position.

Special Teams: This unit features a mixed bag of goods. Senior kicker Mike Barth has converted only 67.9% of his field goals (19-28). However when you factor in his perfect record (42-42) in PAT's, he's six in Pac-10 scoring. Fellow classman Greg Pieratt does a commendable job with kickoffs – booting many of them for no return. Junior punter Tim Parker is tops in the conference with 42.9 yards a punt. Hakim Hill is third in the conference in kickoff returns with 21.9 yards, and as a team the Sun Devils are fourth in kickoff coverage. This unit has had its share of blocked punts and muffed returns, and their ability to perform in such an emotionally charged game could determine the outcome of the duel in the desert.

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