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November 20, 2012

First look: Arizona

Arizona State remembers the end of the 2011 Territorial Cup all too much.

The Sun Devils battled back from an early two touchdown deficit to build a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter only to cough it up and eventually come up short on a last chance throw from Brock Osweiler to Mike Willie as time expired.

The ensuing scene of Arizona players planting their flag on ASU's midfield logo has played in the minds of the Sun Devils throughout the year as motivation for when the rivalry is renewed in Tucson on Friday.

"We came out there and beat ourselves," ASU senior safety Keelan Johnson said. "We didn't execute a lot of things and that's one of the things we're going to focus on this week. When they were down here they stomped on the Pitchfork. That's one of the things I'll remember and I'll use it to my advantage when I play."

ASU might need all the help it can get, mentally and physically. For the entirety of the 2012 season, the Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) have been a dominant team at home.

The only loss the team suffered in Tucson came against Oregon State by three points in a game UA probably should've won easily.

"It's a hostile environment," ASU junior wide receiver Kevin Ozier said. "The fans are screaming at you when you take the field. You have to really focus in on the game at-hand and not let that stuff get to you."

While ASU and UA's offenses both run at a high-tempo, they distribute the ball quite differently. The Sun Devils utilize three running backs in their system to go along with a cast of different wide outs who get the ball evenly.

The Wildcats, on their other hand, don't share the wealth as much. Their top two wide receivers, sophomore Austin Hill and senior Dan Buckner, boast a combined 126 catches this season while the next closest pass catcher has just 32.

In the ground game the discrepancy is even more striking. UA sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey has rushed a whopping 250 times this season for 1,585 yards, which leads the nation.

For perspective, ASU's leading rusher, senior Cameron Marshall, has only rushed 118 times.

"I think he is one of the best running backs we've played and we have played some pretty good backs," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "He is as good as there is. He is, no question, the guy you have to stop and it is a tall order to do that. Not many people have even come close."

Benefiting from opposing teams trying to lockdown Carey, UA senior quarterback Matt Scott has turned in a very impressive season to date as well. He leads the Pac-12 in yards per game with 300.8 and also has rushed for 443 yards.

Last week against Utah, however, Scott was ill and struggled in the game, completing just 12-of-27 passes for 160 yards.

"I thought Matt was good, he wasn't his sharpest though," UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He missed some throws that he's made all year. He was really sharp in the run game. He ran until he threw up. Conditioning is a big deal for him but he's in good shape."

While the Wildcats' offense stacks up favorably against any in the conference, the defense hasn't delivered anywhere near the same type of success. UA ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, 11th in total defense, 11th in rushing defense and last in pass defense.

In Pac-12 play, the Wildcats have given up 105 points more than ASU.

Individually, UA junior linebacker Jake Fischer ranks second in the conference with 98 tackles this season. Junior cornerback Shaq Richardson is fifth in passes defended with 13. He had two breakups against Utah to go along with nine tackles.

"I thought Shaq played more aggressively Saturday overall, both in the run and pass game," Rodriguez said. "That is what we needed. Many times he wasn't as aggressive as he could have been on the perimeter. I thought in last game he was a bit more aggressive in the corner position."

Injury-wise, sophomore cornerback Jonathan McKnight has been hobbled recently but still is expected to play Friday. He leads the team with three interceptions this year.

"He is banged up a little bit, so are a lot of guys," Rodriguez said. "He's been doing that all year. I don't know if he's been 100 percent in a week all season. The offseason is going to be huge."


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