Gary Doran

Breaking Down the Arizona Wildcats


This week’s opponent break down features the Sun Devils’ in-state and Territorial Cup rival: the Arizona Wildcats. The format is the same as the last couple of weeks in that there are many offensive and defensive statistics comparing the Devils and the Wildcats in a side-by-side comparison. There is also a section on some statistical trends on the 2015 ASU football team in comparison to the Wildcats. Another feature is a comparison of the two teams by their running and passing plays-by-down, by half and within the red zone. The comparisons are from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. As always, we want to thank for their excellent compilation of statistics, along with the stats provided by the Pac-12 Conference.


Based on the raw numbers above, Arizona is better than the Devils offensively and ASU is a little better than the Wildcats defensively, but on closer inspection, things aren’t as clear-cut as they appear from a distance.

Offense During Pac-12 Play

Overall, Arizona is second in the conference in average yards per carry at 5.66, while ASU is eighth at 4.40 per carry. However, when looking at both teams from only their conference games, Arizona is third at 4.90 yards per carry and ASU fourth at 4.50 yards per carry. (Arizona had a whopping 7.74 per carry non-conference average starting conference play.)

In the overall passing statistics, Arizona has 23 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, with a 60.2-percent completion rate, while ASU has 20 touchdown passes and eight interceptions and a 59.6-percent completion rate. Again, looking solely at conference play, both teams have thrown 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, but ASU has a slightly better completion rate of 58.7-percent vs. 57.8-percent for Arizona.  As a side note, ASU has averaged a 62.1-percent completion rate over their last three games.

Defense During Pac-12 Play

When we compare the two teams by their defensive production in conference games only, we see a much wider disparity. ASU ranks first in limiting yards per carry in conference games, while Arizona is seventh. The real eye-opener is that the Wildcats only gave up two rushing touchdowns in their three non-conference games, but are last in the conference in surrendering 21 rushing touchdowns in conference games so far this year, while ASU had given up only nine.

Overall the Wildcats have picked off seven passes for the season, however, only two of those interceptions happened in conference play, putting them last in the conference in the number of passes they have intercepted. ASU is tied with Washington for fourth in the conference with eight interceptions in their seven conference games. In conference play, both teams give up large chunks of yardage, with Arizona tenth and ASU eleventh in the average yards per pass attempt they allow in conference play. Only last place Oregon State gives up more yards per pass attempt than the Wildcats or the Devils.

Offensive Trends





In the nine years of conference rankings in the table above spanning two coaching regimes for each school, ASU has been the second or third highest scoring team five out of the nine seasons, while Arizona has only managed to be the third highest in two of the nine seasons. Based on scoring per game, the 2015 season is the only one where Arizona has scored more points per game than ASU in the Graham-Rodriguez era.

Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is thought to be an offensive guru and his teams have gained more yards than the Devils over the past four seasons, however, ASU has actually scored more offensive points than the Wildcats during those four seasons. Even though there has been a lot of complaining about offensive play calling this season by ASU fans, the numbers point out that overall the Devil’s offense under Mike Norvell can score points with the best of them.

The graph above is a little off topic, but it points out that even though both teams have productive running attacks, the Wildcats tend to rely on their running game on third and fourth down quite a bit more than the Devils.  One reason may be the big difference in yards per carry on third down between the two teams (see Rush Offense below).

Defensive Trends




One of the interesting takes on the conference rankings above for the ASU defense in terms of scoring defense is the fact that the Devils have not been ranked towards the top of the conference with any of Todd Graham teams so far. In fact in the 2013 season, the Devil defense was in the bottom half of the conference in terms of an average score they allowed per game. Additionally, a trend that doesn’t look too appealing for ASU fans is the fact that each season has seen an increase in the points per game allowed by the Devil defense.

If you don’t think turnovers are that important in a winning season just look at the 2013 and 2014 seasons. In those two years, ASU had the sixth and eighth best defenses in terms of scoring defense in the conference, yet managed to win ten games in each season. In both those years, ASU had a double digit positive turnover margin.

Rankings and Records


The sad part of the Erickson tenure was that after his first season in 2007, his teams would go 14-22 for a 38.9-percent winning percentage in conference play over the next four years. It’s also interesting that Rich Rodriguez needs to beat ASU in the Territorial Cup this year to end Year Four of his tenure at .500 in conference play.

As far as AP Poll rankings, in the nine seasons above, ASU has been in the rankings at some point during the year in six different seasons and finished the season ranked in three of those years. As for Arizona, they have been ranked at some point in the season in five different years, but only finished ranked one of those years.

Rushing Offense


ASU runs the ball for the best yards per carry in the first quarter, where the Devils average 5.42 yards a carry. The Wildcats best quarter is the fourth, where they average an eye-popping 6.77 yards per carry. The Wildcats are tied for third with Stanford for the most rushing touchdowns in the red zone with 19, while ASU is tenth with eleven rushing red zone touchdowns. Arizona averaged 7.17 yards per carry in the first four games of the year, 5.09 in the next five games and 3.30 in the last two games this season.

Passing Offense


In the first 138 pass attempts, Arizona only threw one interception; while in the last 261 pass attempts there have been six interceptions. Only five of the 23 touchdown passes for Arizona came when the Wildcats were trailing in the game even though 41-percent of the passes were thrown then. ASU has also only thrown five of their 20 touchdown passes when they are trailing in their games, even though 50-percent of their passes happen then. Last week’s game against the Huskies was the first conference game in which ASU did not throw an interception. Also, half of ASU’s touchdown passes came in two games; Colorado and Oregon.

Rush Defense


The Arizona rush defense has given up more ten-plus yard gains and first downs within their own red zone than any other conference team. They are also tied with Oregon State in giving up the most red zone rushing touchdowns in the conference at twenty, while ASU has only given up nine from within their own red zone.

ASU is seventh in the conference in limiting the average yards per carry they allow at home, while Arizona is sixth. On the road games, ASU is first in the conference in limiting the average yards per carry, while Arizona is eighth. Additionally, the Devils have only surrendered one rushing touchdown in the last two games, while Arizona has given up seven rushing touchdowns in their last three games.

Pass Defense


Overall neither team’s pass defense is very good, however, in the red zone, the Wildcats have allowed 68-percent of their opponents’ passes to be completed and 18 touchdown passes. The Devils have allowed only 51-percent of red zone passes to be completed and 13 touchdown passes. The critical third down also seems to be an area where there is a difference between the two defenses, as ASU has allowed 52-percent of their opponents’ passes to be completed on third down, while the Wildcats are allowing 61-percent of opponents’ passes to be completed then.  Additionally, ASU has given up six third down touchdown passes in ten games, while Arizona has given up nine touchdown passes in eleven games.

When the Wildcats are ahead in their games, their pass defense only allows 55-percent of opponents’ passes to be completed, however, when they are tied or behind, the Wildcats are letting 73-percent of the passes be completed. That high rate will sure help ensure that they stay behind. As a point of reference, there was really no difference in the completion rate under the same scenario for the ASU pass defense.

What the Numbers Mean

To this point in the season, neither team’s pass defense has been very effective. It might hurt the Wildcats a bit more if they fall behind in the game than the Devils. It will also be interesting to see how ASU’s rush defense, which is best in the conference in conference games against the run, defends against the Wildcats run game, which is third best in the conference in conference games.

Another critical area will be in the Wildcats’ red zone.  ASU has not been overly effective in their opponents’ red zones, however, the Wildcats have been somewhat generous when opponents have entered into their own red zone. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

One other important area to watch is the turnover battle. To date, Arizona has not been very good at taking the ball away from its opponents being tied for tenth in the conference in all games, but ASU has not been much better in being only one notch above the Wildcats in takeaways. The biggest difference is that the Wildcats have only gotten five takeaways in eight conference games, while ASU has garnered eleven takeaways in seven conference games. As far as protecting the ball, ASU has lost the ball twelve times in their seven conference games, while the Wildcats have lost 13 in their eight conference games.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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