(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
No need to sugarcoat it: The University of Arizona is not a good football team.
Sometimes the record of a team doesn’t tell the whole story, but with UA, its 2-9 mark doesn’t lie.
It’s been a rough season for Rich Rodriguez’s group and just looking at the team makes it hard to believe that it is only two years removed from winning the Pac-12 South.
Not only do the Wildcats only have two victories, but also they have yet to win a Pac-12 game. They have essentially been blown out in every conference game. The Wildcats have only two losses that have been by less than 14 points.
Wins against Hawaii and FCS Grambling State are the only victories they have to show.
The stats are ugly all across the board. Out of 128 FBS teams, UA is 115th in points scored, averaging only 22 per game. To put that into perspective, Arizona State has eclipsed 22 points in eight of its 11 games. The Wildcats have had the poor luck of avoiding two of the worst defenses in the country, Cal and Oregon, which surely would have raised their totals, but the Pac-12 isn’t exactly a strong defensive conference to begin with.
It all starts with the lack of a reliable passing quarterback. Anu Solomon was thought to be the quarterback of the future but has fallen off ever since playing in the Pac-12 Championship game in 2015. Despite receiving moderate playing time, he has been the second option under center all season.
Sophomore Brandon Dawkins, who is the starter, has seemed to get it done more with his legs than his arm this season, which isn’t a recipe for success if you are a quarterback. It’s also a knock on their running backs that Dawkins has rushed for more yards than anyone else.
As a team, UA has thrown the same amount of touchdowns and interceptions – 12.
Dawkins and running back Samajie Grant were two players that ASU cornerback Gump Hayes named among those who could make an impact. Grant is the Wildcats’ third-leading rusher with 285 yards on the ground and has six combined touchdowns.
Solomon, Grant and Nick Wilson are just some of the players who have experienced a steep drop-off over the last two years, a big reason why the Wildcats find themselves in a free fall. The various rough patches are indictment on Rodriguez and his coaching staff just as much as anything else.
Defensively it’s more of the same struggles. They are 112th in total defense and really struggle against the run. The Wildcats have allowed a 100-yard rusher in five of their last six games. With Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage looming, the Sun Devils have a prime opportunity to continue opposing teams’ dominance against UA.
“A lot of people seem to be running all over them and knocking them over,” ASU tight end Kody Kohl said. “They seem to have some good skill and might have some good coaches but I haven’t seen too much out of them.”
Part of the struggles might be attributed to the adjustment period they are going through with new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. He inherited a defense that has lost Will Parks, Scooby Wright, Shaquille Richardson and Marquis Flowers to the NFL Draft over the past two years.
Predictably, this team doesn’t possess any defensive standouts. Nobody is in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in interceptions, sacks or tackles.
“There’s a lot of holes everywhere on the field and we can exploit that,” ASU wide receiver Tim White said. “As an offense that’s what you want to do is take advantage of weaknesses and hopefully we can exploit that early in the game.”
If there is anyone to watch out for, it is Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, a freshman free safety who leads the team with 73 tackles and has two interceptions.
The overall lack of bright spots all around makes it easy to see why this season has not gone to plan for the Wildcats.
Territorial Cup history runs deep
These two teams have been at each other’s throats since they each moved into the Pac-10 in 1978.
Both teams have had their peaks and valleys since, and even though record wise this is shaping up to be the worst UA-ASU matchup since 2003, when the Wildcats were 2-9 and the Sun Devils were 4-7, it hasn’t had much of an effect on the significance of the game.
“Any rivalry game, your energy just spikes up,” White said. “And you definitely feel it with your teammates and coaches. Everybody wants to win this game. It’s big for the fans and everything.”
Over the last 38 years, the Sun Devils trail in the series, going 17-20-1 since 1978. However, ASU has won three of the last four matchups and is 10-6 since the turn of the century. Most of UA’s wins have come during the earlier stages of the matchup.
This is only the third time in the history of the matchup in which both teams have had a losing record entering the game, which has almost always been the last regular season game for both teams.
The possibility of bowl eligibility is a new factor in the rivalry this season.
Although the game will be played in Tucson, that won’t necessarily be working against ASU. The Sun Devils have won three of the last five Territorial Cup matchups that they have been on the road for.
Amongst fans, the game has lost a lot of its luster this year due to the struggles surrounding both squads. However, to both teams, it is being treated similarly as years past.
After last Saturday’s ASU loss to Washington, Todd Graham mentioned how important a win would be on Friday, seemingly already moving on from the defeat.
For the Sun Devils, Friday night will be a matter of salvaging a bowl game, and it’s a sure bet that the Wildcats have their hopes set on dashing those dreams. For both, it’s a battle for bragging rights that will be carried into next November.