Arizona Wildcats at Arizona State Sun Devils: Preview and Prediction

Kurt Boyer

You preview the game to predict it. You don’t preview the game just to preview it. Hello! You preview the game to predict it!¬†

Earlier this week, a pair of announcers agreed that “You play to win the game” is an all-time-great football quote. I’ve never gotten the deeper meaning of what Herman Edwards was yelling, since his rant was the basic “pride” speech heard from NHL team captains whenever their clubs are losing a series 3-1. Herm’s pep talks helped temporarily turn things around for the Jets, but it was only 7 games into 2002-03 when he supposedly saved New York from giving up. NFL players start going through the motions at 3 wins and 9 losses but rarely at 2-5.

Then again, nobody else has ever “gotten” my favorite pigskin quote, Mack Brown’s shell-shocked remark to ESPN: The Magazine¬†after observing a rash of upset wins by G5 and FCS programs circa 2008, “Football’s tough anymore.” It becomes amusing once you realize Brown coached Texas in an era when “Texas 55, Rice 3” marked the coming of autumn like leaves turning Longhorn-white. It hadn’t felt so “tough” then. Suddenly, he knew staying in the NCAA coaching ranks would mean 300+ days per year of intense preparation, or else possibly losing to Rice.

Arizona didn’t prepare well-enough for Hawaii in Week Zero, when a belated surge from the offense couldn’t make-up a big deficit on the Rainbow Warriors. Texas Tech didn’t expect to only score 14 points vs Arizona 3 weeks later…or for the Wildcats to rush for around 300 yards and prevail by 2 touchdowns.

Football’s tough anymore. An ex-NFL coach’s “any given weekend” mentality might be an antidote to letting-down against FBS sleepers and underdogs.

So maybe I should give Edwards the benefit of the doubt headed into this year’s Duel in the Desert at Sun Devil Stadium. Maybe there’s some deeper voodoo within the Arizona State head coach’s slogans and catch-phrases.

But if so, Las Vegas could’ve been fooled – until last Saturday.

Who: Arizona Wildcats at Arizona State Sun Devils

When: Saturday, November 30th, 10 PM EST

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Lines: AZ (+14) at ASU (-14) / O/U Total: (59.5)

Handicapping the Sun Devils and Wildcats on Saturday Night

ASU has disappointed gamblers if not hometown fans in 2019, going 4-7 against the point spread and only qualifying for a bowl berth with a win last week. How the Sun Devils got to the 6-victory mark was epic, though.

It’s been feast or famine for the Sun Devils under Edwards. Last weekend, 6-5 Arizona State feasted on visiting Oregon 31-28 and may have spoiled the Ducks’ hopes to play in January. QB Jayden Daniels out-played Justin Herbert, a signal-caller who’s been hyped to death by the media, and Eno Benjamin took an obscene number of touches for tough yards up the middle to grind the clock.

It was a different story in the previous contest, when the ASU secondary was abused by unheralded Jake Luton of Oregon State in a 35-34 upset loss.

Saturday’s visiting Arizona Wildcats have looked banal in comparison. Arizona recovered from the loss to UH to produce a hot start, but slumped at the worst possible time to lose 6 straight against the brunt of a Power-5 schedule.

However, a growing 2-TD spread on the Sun Devils for the Duel in the Desert may reflect a betting public possessed with last week’s ASU-Oregon upset…and forgetting Arizona State’s overall inconsistency.

Only a few bounces of the ball may separate these programs from sharing like-records after 11 scrums. The Wildcats lost the Hawaii game by a yard or 2 on the final snap, and the Sun Devils were lucky Washington State ran out of fuel for the Air Raid in the 4th quarter of ASU’s 38-34 win in October.

Arizona will relish the opportunity to play a beatable opponent after the last few weeks of wall-punching. The last 2 comparable teams which have played the Tucson school have gotten away with wins, but it wasn’t especially easy. A depressing 56-38 home loss to Oregon State represents (hopefully) a bottoming-out point for the Wildcats, who weren’t especially poor on offense or special teams but allowed the Beavers an impeccable stat-line in the Red Zone and in TDs-per-play. The defense was better in a previous loss to Stanford and in subsequent fighting losses to Top 25 stalwarts Oregon and Utah.

The Oregon State debacle was also the 1st of 3 games in a row in which alternate Arizona QB Grant Gunnell passed for more yards than Khalil Tate, a player who famously nixed the hiring of Navy skipper Ken Niumatalolo in Old Pueblo. Utah dared Wildcat passers to fire-away last week, and while each QB was careful-enough with the ball, neither was able to flourish in the downfield passing attack without a Benjamin (or a nickel’s worth) in the ground game.

Prediction and Best Wagers

I’m liking an Arizona ATS bet against-the-public at (+14). 2 full TDs + kick-conversions is never a bad number when you can grab it. There will be a few in-state rivalry games on Friday and Saturday which are less lopsided and more emotional than expected, and the Duel in the Desert may be 1 of them. ASU’s defense can’t commit 8 or 9 men in the box with its own backfield whiffing on assignments and playing-down to ordinary Pac-12 competition.

However, the Under (59.5) is a higher-% prediction. If Arizona makes a last stand in front of traveling boosters, the Wildcat defense will loom larger than the offense – an offense that will have to peck-away with short throws while run-blocking with a patch-work offensive line. It’s hard to see the Wildcats scoring 3-4 times, but there’s no guarantee a high-risk, high-reward ASU unit will score a bundle.

Take the Under – or the Wildcats and (+14) – for Saturday night.

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