Arizona Football

Arizona Wildcats at Arizona State: Who will handle the pressure?


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The Arizona Wildcats are a confident bunch, especially after upsetting No. 5 Oregon last week, but how will that impact tonight’s game at Pac-12 South champion Arizona State?

That’s one of the many pressure-filled subplots: Will Arizona back up their play against the Ducks with another solid performance at sold out Sun Devil Stadium or will the Wildcats sink to the depths of their loss to Washington State the week before?

Rich Rodriguez will attempt to end a personal five-game losing streak against traditional rivals tonight

Rich Rodriguez will attempt to end a personal five-game losing streak against traditional rivals tonight

Will ASU handle the pressure of playing for the homefield advantage in the Pac-12 title game a week later against Pac-12 North champion Stanford? The Sun Devils must guard against allowing the euphoria of winning the Pac-12 South a week prior at UCLA to lessen their resolve in this game. Can they push forward with their mission of winning the South already accomplished?

How will Rich Rodriguez handle the pressure of losing to his traditional rival five consecutive times? He lost his last game as West Virginia’s coach against Pitt in 2007. He lost three consecutive games to Ohio State as Michigan’s coach from 2008-10. He lost his first game against ASU 41-34 last year at Arizona Stadium as the Sun Devils rallied for 24 fourth-quarter points.

Rodriguez will also try to avoid becoming the first Arizona coach to lose his first two games against ASU since Larry Smith in 1980 and 1981. Smith responded, however, by becoming the Godfather of the “The Streak”, nine consecutive games without a loss (five with him as head coach) against ASU from 1982-1990.


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Will ASU coach Todd Graham and his staff be more inclined to rest starting running back Marion Grice (lower leg injury) with a spot already assured in the Pac-12 title game? If so, how will backups D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis fare against an improved Arizona defense? Foster, more of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, has only eight carries in the last three games.

A question related to that of Grice: With Graham knowing a Pac-12 title is ASU’s ultimate goal, how will he handle the pressure of utilizing his personnel appropriately in this game? Yes, it is a heated intrastate rivalry, but can he afford to play injured players knowing that can adversely affect ASU’s outcome a week later against the Cardinal?

ASU's Taylor Kelly may be the most complete quarterback Arizona has faced this season

ASU’s Taylor Kelly may be the most complete quarterback Arizona has faced this season

Arizona’s defense plays against a quarterback who is on top of his game right now — ASU’s Taylor Kelly — and the Wildcats have struggled against a quarterback who can run (UCLA’s Brett Hundley comes to mind). How will the Wildcats handle the pressure of minimizing Kelly’s impact on the game, something Pac-12 defenses have failed to accomplish? Oregon’s Marcus Mariota struggled down the stretch because of knee and concussion issues but give Arizona’s defense credit for making the first two interceptions against him this season.

How will ASU’s vaunted defensive front, with NFL-ready tackle Will Sutton, handle the pressure of holding its own against angry-runner Ka’Deem Carey, who is bent on showing his arch-rivals that he made the right move by choosing Arizona over ASU in the recruiting process. Carey is only 87 yards from 4,000 rushing yards in his career.

ASU safety Alden Darby had some fighting words for Carey this week.

“A lot of people are approaching it like, ‘Man, that’s the best running back in the country,’ ’’ Darby told The Arizona Republic.
“But we’re approaching it as, ‘We’re the top defense in the Pac. He has to come through us.’ ”


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[/ezcol_1half_end] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and


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