November 28, 2007

Ask the Expert Q&A: Arizona Wildcats

Frequently throughout the 2007 season, we have run a story previewing Arizona State's next upcoming opponent from the view of a beat writer covering that team. This week, Josh Gershon from was kind enough to take time out to give Arizona State fans insight into their next opponent, the University of Arizona Wildcats.

What is UA's injury situation?

Arizona is entering the Arizona State game pretty much injury-free. The UA has actually gone through this season with less injuries than any year I can ever remember.

Cornerback Devin Ross has been somewhat banged up during the second half of the season and hasn't returned kicks lately, so his status is unknown, but wide receiver Mike Thomas has done a good job replacing him.

Really, every major contributor should be good to go.

The UA offense seems to be coming together of late. What has led to the improvement?

I think you'll see the offense continuously improve as the players get used to the spread. When offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes was hired, many said that it would take a few years to successfully implement his system.

A good percentage of the contributors on offense are underclassmen - there's only one senior starter - so it's actually surprising that the unit has done as well as it has, especially when you consider how bad the team was offensively for three seasons.

Again, it's a young group so there's inconsistency from game to game and sometimes quarter to quarter. This is a team that will score 21 points in a quarter and then not get on the board again for a quarter or two.

So there's inconsistency, but fans have seen the building blocks of what should be a pretty formidable offense in the future.

Does the tangible opportunity to earn a Bowl appearance with a win change anything for UA and what has the mood been around the program this week?

The talk surrounding the program is how the coaches are taking a more relaxed, let the players play mentality, which is the opposite of how things were a year ago. Last season before this game there was a lot of pressure on everyone to turn it up because of what was on the line. That method clearly didn't work out for Arizona.

This year the coaches have been more relaxed, so we'll see if that will help the Wildcats come out a little looser than last year.

I think the bowl game definitely adds to the players' motivation, but this is a defense that is senior-oriented and if you can't get up for your last game as a college football player in your rival's stadium then there's a serious problem.

How has the defense played relative to expectations throughout the year and especially of late?

The defense has definitely been disappointing, and the team would probably be in contention for the Pac-10 title had it met expectations. That said, it has been better over the second half of the season, with the exception of some quarters here or there.

You know what you're going to get with guys like Antoine Cason and Spencer Larsen, who are as good at their positions as anyone in the Pac-10. Many of the other players have been inconsistent, with bright and low spots being found at every position.

You can be sure that the UA will do what it can to exploit ASU's vulnerable offensive line, and how the team does there will be important for a good game defensively. The defensive ends haven't had too good of a year, so how the UA attacks the line will be interesting to watch.

What are UA's keys to a victory?

As is said above, the number one key has to be getting to Rudy Carpenter. Many teams have done it this season and the ASU offense has found success regardless, so it goes without saying that the Sun Devils could be very good offensively if the line were to hold up.

Keys to any game are turnovers and penalties, so this won't be any different. But to me, the biggest key is probably just getting out to a good start and gaining confidence early.

For the most part, Arizona has won the games when it's started out well and lost the ones when it hasn't. I think we'll know early what to expect the rest of the way.

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