Chris Jenkins

Three Tines to Victory: Territorial Cup

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It’s Territorial Cup week! The Sun Devils take on the Arizona Wildcats Friday evening in Tucson in the final regular season game of the year. The Wildcats enter the game in the midst of one of their worst seasons ever, with a record of 2-9, and winless in the conference. The S&P+ ratings have them ranked 109th, compared to the Sun Devils at 80th, giving ASU a 61% chance of winning, and a projected margin of victory of 5 points. This is actually the first game the Sun Devils are favored to win since September.

So with that, here are this week’s Three Tines to Victory:

FIRST TINE TO VICTORY: MAKE THE WILDCATS ONE DIMENSIONAL

This is pretty much a given against a Rich Rodriguez offense. Although UofA has had some good passers under Coach Rodriguez, the offense’s bread and butter has always been the zone read, and they use the run to set up the pass. They want to stay on schedule, and use the threat of the run to open up passing opportunities using play-action and RPOs (run/pass options). Their scheme has a hard time being successful if they are put into a lot of passing-down situations. This is especially true this year, as the Wildcats’ passing offense is rated 97th in S&P+, and their passing down success rate of 27% ranks 105th.

The key then, for ASU, is to be able to contain the Arizona run game on first down. This is a manageable task – Arizona’s run game is unusually inefficient this year, with a success rate of only 40%, which ranks 100th. Conveniently, this is an area where the Sun Devil defense excels, with a defensive rushing success rate that ranks 32nd. Additionally, Arizona’s run game has a stuff rate (percentage of run plays that get zero or negative yards) ranked 108th, while the ASU defense’s stuff rate ranks 8th. What this means is that the Wildcats will likely face a lot of second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and that their passing game will likely struggle to be successful in these situations.defensewsuvasu2016-136

SECOND TINE TO VICTORY: DON’T GIVE UP LONG TOUCHDOWNS

It is inevitable that the Sun Devil defense will give up some big plays on Friday – it’s just what they do. In fact, they do it in both the passing game and run game – the defense ranks in the 120s in both defensive passing IsoPPP (isolated points per play, a measure of explosiveness) and defensive rushing IsoPPP. Moreover, despite being inefficient, the UofA rush offense is still explosive, ranking 11th in rushing IsoPPP. What will be important, then, is to keep the big plays from resulting in touchdowns.  Because the Arizona offense is so inefficient, the ASU defense will still likely get stops, even on drives in which they give up big plays, as long as the big plays aren’t touchdowns.

offensivelineuclavasu2016-2THIRD TINE TO VICTORY: OFFENSIVE LINE

This has been a common Tine to Victory lately, and for good reason – the Sun Devil offensive line has played poorly during the 5-game losing streak. Some of the poor play has been due to injury. Sam Jones and Stephon McCray have both missed games due to injury over the last month, and A.J. McCollum missed a game due to an undisclosed reason. However, for the first time in a while, ASU should have its starting offensive line intact this week, as both McCray and Jones are expected to return from their injuries. A weak Wildcat defense should help the ASU line get right, especially in the run game – they give up 5.1 yards/carry. In this sense, the UofA defense is similar to the Texas Tech and Cal defenses that the ASU offense had success against early in the year. If the line can open up some holes for Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, Manny Wilkins is much more likely to play well, as he struggles as a pocket passer.

The Wildcats are a bad enough team that I don’t see a scenario in which they defeat the Sun Devils handily. However, if ASU struggles in any of the areas discussed above, and especially if they give up multiple long touchdowns, they could end up in a dog fight that results in a loss. If they can take care of all three Tines to Victory, though, they should be able to return from Tucson with a convincing win and bowl eligibility.

For more preview information on Friday’s game between ASU and UofA, be sure to check out Gary Doran’s Advanced Stats 12-Pac

About Chris Jenkins

Chris Jenkins

Chris is a long time Sun Devil fan who has had season tickets for 20+ years. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2004 with a degree in economics, and later returned to get his master’s degree in accounting, the field in which he currently works. His football passion is analysis of schemes and stats, and his football experience includes being the backup quarterback of his high school football team, and a moderately successful 1-year stint as the offensive coordinator of his little brother’s Pop Warner team. He currently resides in Goodyear, AZ with his wife and 4 children.

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