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TERRITORIAL Comparison, Week #3: ASU vs UA Football
Shane Dale
By Shane Dale, DieHardDevil.com
September 18, 2013 12:32 PM

It can be tricky, to say the least, to compare one team’s non-conference performance to another’s – especially when one squad has faced a series of weak opponents, while the other is coming off a game against a ranked team.

Nonetheless, that’s what we’ll attempt to do here. With Pac-12 play on the horizon – and with 10 weeks to go before the 2013 Duel in the Desert – here’s a look at how the Sun Devils and Wildcats match up in five categories.

The Sun Devils sit at 2-0 after defeating Wisconsin 32-30

The Sun Devils sit at 2-0 after defeating Wisconsin 32-30

 

Offense:

ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for over 300 yards against Wisconsin – the first time that has been done to the Badgers in over three seasons – and he 

ASU appears to be deeper than the Wildcats at the receiver position for the first time in years

could have eclipsed 400 yards if not for several dropped passes.

The Sun Devil running game has been good enough – Marion Grice is the first Sun Devil to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Mike Williams did so against UA in 2002 – but has averaged just 3.2 per carry in its first two games.

New UA starting quarterback B.J. Denker has wheels – 224 rushing yards and five touchdowns already this season – but his arm has been the question mark. Denker had his best passing game of the year against UTSA, completing 14 of 21 passes for 158 yards, and he has yet to throw an interception this season.

Last year’s NCAA leading rusher, Ka’Deem Carey, was suspended for UA’s season opener against NAU, but has 299 rushing yards (7.0 yards per carry) and four TDs in his two games since his return, and senior Daniel Jenkins isn’t far behind with 239 rushing yards (6.8 yards per carry).

Advantage: ASU. The Sun Devils are easily the better-rounded offensive team, and with sophomore standout Jaelen Strong and standout tight end Chris Coyle, ASU appears to be deeper than the Wildcats at the receiver position for the first time in years.

 

Defense:

The Sun Devils were effective in pressuring Wisconsin’s quarterback for most of the night. Senior safety Osahon Irabor leads the team with 10 tackles, three tackles for a loss, and a sack. The Devils have 10 tackles for a loss on the season.

But ASU looked shaky, especially in the second half, against a Wisconsin team that gained 441 yards of total offense, including 231 on the ground.

In 2012, UA was in the bottom 10 among FBS teams in most defensive statistical categories. But so far in 2013, the Wildcats have recorded six interceptions – three by the season’s first Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, Tra’Mayne Bondurant – to go with six sacks and 23 tackles for a loss. The only negative: they gave up nearly 400 yards of offense to UTSA on Saturday.

Inferior competition or not, the Wildcats returned a lot of starters from last season just as ASU did, and they look dramatically improved.

Advantage: Even. Yes, the Sun Devils figured to come in to the season as the superior defensive squad, and they probably are. But that hasn’t been indicated on the field just yet. ASU has a chance to take the lead in this category with a strong showing at Stanford.

The Cats have started their season strong at 3-0, but have yet to face real competition

The Cats have started their season strong at 3-0, but have yet to face real competition

 

Special Teams:

New ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez made up for a 2-for-4 field-goal kicking debut against Sacramento State by going 2-for-2 against Wisconsin. The Devils also blocked a Hornet field goal attempt.

But on the down side, sophomore Dom Vizzare made a major gaffe against the Badgers by attempting to field a punt that was a bad snap, rather than kicking it out of the end zone, resulting in a Wisconsin touchdown rather than a safety. The Devils also allowed the Badgers to pick up a first down on a fake punt in the second half.

UA’s special teams were a mess in the NAU opener, but there has been steady improvement since then. Kicker Jake Smith was named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week after going 3-for-4 on field goal attempts at UNLV, and new punt returner Johnny Jackson has done a stellar job since replacing freshman Nate Phillips, who muffed a pair of punts against the Lumberjacks.

Advantage: UA. The botched punt that led to a Wisconsin TD was inexcusable. The Wildcats’ special-teams play has taken a step forward since the beginning of the season, while ASU’s unquestionably took a step back on Saturday.

..the decision to go for a two-point conversion late in the third quarter was a gamble that didn’t pay off, and it nearly cost the Devils the game.

 

Coaching:

In his postgame press conference, ASU coach Todd Graham admitted that his staff could have called a better defensive game. Also, the decision to go for a two-point conversion late in the third quarter was a gamble that didn’t pay off, and it nearly cost the Devils the game.

In Tucson, Rich Rodriguez’s game plan has been simple: run the ball. To date, 73% of the Wildcats’ offensive plays have been on the ground. With a trio of outstanding rushers (including the quarterback), it’s hardly been a difficult decision.

Advantage: N/A. It’s unfair to make a judgment in this category yet. Rodriguez’s Wildcats have yet to be tested, and as such, the coach hasn’t been forced to make any exceptionally tough decisions.

 

Fans:

While there were a few thousand empty seats at Sun Devil Stadium for the Wisconsin game, the 66,000-plus fans who showed up were loud throughout the game.

In Tucson, just 41,000 fans showed up to see the Wildcats beat UTSA – leaving almost 16,000 seats unoccupied – and a good chunk of the ZonaZoo student section left before the second half began.

Advantage: ASU. The scene in front of the Sun Devil student section immediately following ASU’s win over Wisconsin – with ASU players leading the section in an impromptu dance – was a sight to behold. As for UA… Here’s hoping the ZonaZoo will stick around for at least three quarters once Pac-12 play begins.

 

ASU Fans were at their loudest since Missouri came to Tempe in 2011

ASU Fans were at their loudest since Missouri came to Tempe in 2011

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