Arizona Wildcats key to victory: Control run game, more important than passby Javier Morales on Nov. 30, 2010, under Sports
Undoubtedly, somebody on ESPN before Thursday’s kickoff will point out that ASU’s pass defense ranks a meager 98th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
What does that really mean as the Sun Devils prepare for Arizona’s vaunted No. 9 passing offense? Nick Foles, who passed for 448 yards against Oregon last Friday, should pick his yard total now, right?
But didn’t USC, which has a worse passing defense of No. 112, beat Arizona in Tucson almost three weeks ago? And look at Auburn, which is No. 1 in the BCS standings, but has a pass defense that is No. 106 — worse than ASU’s, if you believe the numbers. What’s more is didn’t Oregon toast Arizona despite Foles’ career game?
No, what matters most in Arizona’s quest to regain its mojo and stop a three-game losing streak is to return to what it did best the first seven games — control the run. Nothing else matters. Foles could pass for 500 yards, but if ASU running back Cameron Marshall, who had 147 rushing yards last week against UCLA, plays well again, the Sun Devils have a legitimate chance to win.
In the UA’s three-game losing streak, the Wildcats’ run defense has allowed 217 rushing yards to Stanford, 205 against USC and 389 against Oregon. That’s 811 rushing yards in the last three games after the Wildcats allowed 707 to their first eight opponents.
The Cardinal, Trojans and Ducks also happen to all have team rushing numbers ranked in the top 30 nationally. ASU’s rushing offense, averaging 140.8 yards per game, is ranked No. 79, slightly better than Arizona’s unimpressive No. 84 ranking. Most Wildcat fans know how much the UA’s running game has struggled all season, mostly because of the injury bug (again) to Nic Grigsby.
The best way for Arizona’s defense to put pressure on ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler, starting in place of injured Steven Threet, is to force him to pass, pass and pass. If the Sun Devils charge to an early two-score lead — similar to what Stanford and USC did — they will attempt to control the line of scrimmage with the run.
It has become obvious that Arizona’s front seven is more effective keying on the quarterback, limiting big plays via the pass, than defending the run in key stretches. The Wildcats have been killed in the last three games allowing 10- to 20-yard runs on third down. The reason why the opponents have run so much — and so effectively — is that Arizona had to mostly play catch-up in the second half.
Yes, it’s true that Arizona led 19-14 at halftime against Oregon and was still buried 48-29 in Eugene. But the highly potent Oregon offense is in a category by itself. One slip by the opposition — in Arizona’s case an 85-yard touchdown run allowed to Josh Huff — and the Ducks can suck the life out of their opponent.
ASU’s rushing defense (No. 17, allowing 119.2 yards a game) ranks better than Arizona (No. 43, 138). That should be the stat that concerns Arizona coach Mike Stoops and his staff the most. Although Foles has shown he can handle the workload, it is not healthy to put pressure on him with 40-plus passes in a game.
In the three-game losing streak, the Wildcat running game has averaged 91.7 yards a game, including only 51 yards against USC and 58 against Oregon. In the eight previous games, Grisgby, Keola Antolin and Co. averaged 152.8 yards on the ground.
It’s my contention that Antolin will be as valuable (maybe even more so) than Juron Criner in this game.
The outcome will come down to which offensive line controls the line of scrimmage the best. Which defensive front will make the biggest plays? Force turnovers? Stop the run the best?
If I’m Stoops, I crowd the box defensively with my front seven to control the run and put pressure on Osweiler. I would hope the secondary, in the 12th game of the season, can rise to the occasion. If a backup quarterback (most of this season) beats you, then you were not meant to win the game in the first place.