Arizona-Arizona State: Five Sun Devils to watchby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 18, 2011, under Arizona football
It only takes one play to be a rivalry hero for a lifetime.
Some in the Arizona-ASU duels have been stars who only added to their legend — Chuck Cecil, John Jefferson, Max Zendejas, Byron Evans.
Others had shining moments impossible to forget: James Debow’s goal-line stuff of ASU running back Channing Williams in 1986, Kevin Galbreath’s 51-yard touchdown run for a 7-6 ASU win in 1992, Brian Holland’s 92-yard touchdown reception in 1982.
Who is it going to be this season?
Here’s a look at five Arizona State players who can make a difference Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict
He hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype of being the national defensive player of the year, but his aggressiveness and willingness to apparently freelance at times always makes him an X-factor.
The volatile Burfict has 56 tackles — second-most on the team — with seven tackles for loss, including five sacks (most of which came early in the season) from his middle linebacker spot.
“He’s at the perfect position for what he does,” said Arizona quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo.
“You gotta account for him in your game plans. He’s not just a guy you say, ‘OK, you go block the Mike’ and then we go on. We have to say, ‘Do we have a good angle on him? Do we have the right guy blocking him?’ Things like that. …
“He’s very instinctive and he’s a smart player. I think his attitude on the field is about as good a fit for a Mike linebacker as you can get.”
Quarterback Brock Osweiler
The junior has been very good in his first season as the full-time starter. His passing efficiency ranking of 144.11 is good for 31st in the country, one spot below Arizona’s Nick Foles (144.27 rating).
Osweiler’s third-down scrambles were particularly vexing to Arizona last season, when the Wildcats dropped several potential interceptions.
“I see he is more confident in his throws,” UA cornerback Trevin Wade said of the difference in Osweiler this season. “He actually believes in his throws and he has just taken over as a quarterback.”
Osweiler won’t need to take off as much this season because Arizona is among the worst teams nationally in generating pass rush, with only eight sacks in 10 games.
Running back Cameron Marshall
His older sister Dahlys is a hurdler/sprinter for the Wildcats — and UA interim head football coach Tim Kish said the Cats tried to recruit him to Arizona — but he ended up being a workhorse in the ASU backfield.
The junior isn’t the scat-back type that has tortured Arizona in the past two weeks — Utah’s John White IV and Colorado’s Rodney Stewart — but he’s tough and fast enough in the open field.
Marshall has 180 carries for 837 yards and a conference-best 14 touchdowns.
Considering Arizona has allowed eight running backs to gain at least 99 yards this season, look for Marshall to be a key factor in ASU’s spread offense.
Receiver Gerell Robinson
Robinson, who was once committed to Arizona, had largely been disappointing through his first three seasons, although he always had ample physical skills.
Robinson, at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, is playing the best football of his career.
This has finally been the breakthrough season many had expected, and he has had 100 yards in receptions in four of the past five games, including 158 on eight catches last week at Washington State.
Robinson has 50 receptions for 901 yards and five scores this season.
Receiver/returner Jamal Miles
Arizona has had all manner of failures on special teams … and here comes one of the most dangerous returners in the country.
The speedy junior had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Washington State last week, the third kick return for a score in his score. He also has scored on a punt return this season.
If Arizona is kicking the ball to him, it’s a mistake.
On offense, Miles can line up all over the formation, and he’s adept at turning quick lateral passes into big gains.
“I’ve said all along: He’s a weapon,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said earlier this season. “He’s fast. He’s quick. He’s explosive. You name it, he’s got it.”