EDGE: Home crowd gives Wildcats slight advantage over ASU

Quarterback

In place of redshirt junior Steven Threet, sophomore Brock Osweiler gave ASU coach Dennis Erickson the best quarterback performance he has seen at ASU.

While it is unrealistic to expect Osweiler to match the 380 yards and four touchdowns he posted against UCLA, if he keeps his mistakes low, stays nearly as accurate and shows the ability to run and scramble, the Sun Devils make a significant improvement at the position, which wasn’t exactly terrible with Threet operating it.

Statistically, UA junior Nick Foles has improved slightly from 2009 in what was supposed to be a huge season for the Michigan State transfer. Foles is the 27th ranked passer in the country.

Edge: UA

Running Back

ASU sophomore Cameron Marshall continues to impress with his combination of quick feet, strength and speed in the open field. As he improves his skills in the passing game as a blocker and a receiver, he has a chance to be a top Pac-10 running back.

Freshman Deantre Lewis isn’t bad either, accumulating 130 all-purpose yards against UCLA and leading Sun Devil receivers with six catches for 105 yards.

The Wildcats deploy two running backs, a shifty breakaway threat in junior Keola Antolin and senior Nic Grigsby.

ASU runners have a higher yards per carry average coming into the contest, though both units are strengths.

EDGE: EVEN

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Redshirt junior Aaron Plufgrad made his biggest impact in an ASU uniform with two touchdown grabs last week. It will be interesting to see if the dynamic between receiver and quarterback changes with Osweiler at the helm.

It’s possible that ASU will attack downfield more frequently, which will benefit many Sun Devil wide-outs.

UA Junior Juron Criner is one of the best receivers in college football and will pose a huge threat to the ASU defense, which has had difficulties with players of his stature and ability over the last two seasons.

The Wildcats also like to run a lot of bubble screens for their big athletes outside.

EDGE: UA

Offensive Line

ASU redshirt junior Dan Knapp replaced redshirt junior Aderious Simmons at right tackle, though both are likely to be a part of the mix next season. All five Sun Devil starters should return next year along with many reserves as well.

For the first time in a long time the ASU offensive line is a strength, and like almost every unit on the team, it’s likely to get even better next season.

UA senior center Colin Baxter is considered one of the better anchors in the country, though he has been hampered by a bad knee of late. Tackle and graduate student Adam Grant is solid as well.

Both units are good, but neither is great.

Edge: EVEN

Defensive Line

ASU freshman defensive end Junior Onyeali added another sack last week and perhaps sparked the defense’s first half turnaround with his personal foul penalty in which he attempted to stick up for sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

The Sun Devils front had a bit of a down week against UCLA all around, but as they showed against Stanford, Oregon and even Wisconsin, they have the ability to help shutdown the best offenses in college football.

The Wildcats line is clearly the strength of their defense, as seniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore form the best defensive end duo in the conference. Freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington poses problems inside.

Edge: UA

Linebackers

ASU juniors Oliver Aaron and Brandon Magee led the way against UCLA.

While ASU is going to miss Gerald Munns next year as he plays his final game in maroon and gold, the Sun Devils return five good players at the position, none who have more than two years starting experience and all are likely to improve.

After getting hit by a UCLA lineman seconds after the whistle, not retaliating and even keeping a teammate from getting an emotional outburst penalty last week, it appears that Burfict is slowly learning how to stay composed, even though he did earn a penalty by barking at an official seconds after the incident.

Can he stay under control in Tucson where most in attendance will be trying to bait him?

Junior Paul Vassallo leads the team in tackles but the Wildcats linebacking crew is not nearly as good as the Sun Devils, having neither the speed nor tenacity of ASU’s unit.

EDGE: ASU

Secondary

ASU junior safety Eddie Elder led the team in tackles last week and seems to have an extra gear on game day, and junior Omar Bolden continues to have an outstanding second half of the season as he added seven tackles and a pass break-up.

While losing senior safety Max Tabach and senior cornerback LeQuan Lewis will hurt, the Sun Devils oldest unit is still a relatively young one that has shown signs of improvement.

The Wildcats have nine interceptions on the season and are 36th in pass defense, though much of that is attributable to the pressure it generates from the defensive line.

UA junior cornerback Trevin Wade is the best player on the back-end.

EDGE: EVEN

Special Teams

With sophomore Jamal Miles’ 99-yard kickoff return, ASU has three kickoff returns for touchdowns on the season.

It would be nice to see redshirt seniors, kicker Thomas Weber and punter Trevor Hankins, end their ASU careers at the top of their games in the Territorial Cup.

ASU has advantages in the return and punt game, while the Wildcats have junior kicker Alex Zendejas, who has had consecutive solid seasons for UA.

EDGE: ASU

Overall EDGE: UA

These teams are relatively even with UA home crowd giving the Wildcats the edge, despite the teams seemingly headed in opposite directions.

Reach the reporter at nick.ruland@asu.edu