Wildcats fans finally have some good news: this disaster of a season is almost over after nine losses, two wins against smaller schools, and a -184 point differential. All that’s left on the schedule is the Duel in the Desert.
Arizona has the better record in the series, standing at 47-37-1 all time. However, Arizona State has more to play for, as they’re only a win away from bowl eligibility. They also appear to be the better team, although that bar isn’t set very high.
Arizona still has a shot in this game. While the Sun Devils have performed better across the board offensively, the defenses are both pretty abysmal, with Arizona State actually giving up almost 50 more yards per game (514.4 to Arizona’s 467.3, with both teams allowing just over 38 points per game). The real problem for the Wildcats is that their offense is built on the run game, and the Sun Devils are 29th in the nation in run defense. If Arizona can keep their ground game going, then they’ll wear down Arizona State and open up room to pass against the worst passing defense in all of FBS.
If not, the pressure will be on the Wildcat quarterbacks to get something done. Brandon Dawkins leads the team both in passing and rushing yards, but he hasn’t played a complete game since missing the game against USC with a concussion. Dawkins will likely split time with Anu Solomon once again, although it’s not clear who the starter will be just yet. While it may not change the passing results, Dawkins’ legs can open space downfield by forcing the defense to respect his running ability (as stated above).
The Wildcats defense should have one goal in this game: contain and shut down Arizona State QB Manny Wilkins. He’s only averaging 1.6 yards per carry, but he’s more than capable of creating with his feet. The Sun Devils also rely on the passing game more than Arizona does, so shutting down the pass and getting turnovers from Wilkins is the best bet for stopping this offense. They’ll also have to find a way to cover larger than life WR N’Keal Harry, who weighs in at 6’4″ and 220 pounds is from nearby Chandler, Arizona.
In the end, this game really doesn’t mean much for Arizona in the standings. A win would be a nice boost heading into next year, especially against a rival, but this year was a disappointment no matter how they perform this week.