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Arizona State vs. Arizona: NCAAF Week 15 Betting Picks and Game Predictions

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: NCAAF Week 15 Betting Picks and Game Predictions
Quarterback Jayden Daniels #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

Some bettors may be inclined to bet on the underdog because it is a rivalry game. There’s this overused saying that “anything can happen in a rivalry game.” So why not bet on the underdog in a game that anything can happen?

The series history between Arizona and Arizona State disproves this saying because four of their last five meetings resulted in a deficit of 10 points or more for the loser. So for today’s College Football betting pick, we want to forget that this is a rivalry game. Both teams are going to want to win. The team that will cover the spread posted by the best sportsbooks will be the team that matches up better with the other.

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Arizona Wildcats

Friday, December 11, 2020 – 07:00 PM EST at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona

Graham Gunnell’s Injury 

The injury to Arizona quarterback Graham Gunnell has been meaningful because Arizona went from scoring 27 or 30 points per game with Gunnell to scoring 10 or 13 points without him. Arizona’s current average of 11.5 points per game without Gunnell would place it at 125th in scoring offense, averaging three points per game fewer than Vanderbilt. Gunnell was completing 68.4 percent of his passes while averaging 7.2 YPA and throwing six touchdowns to one interception Gunnell is listed as ‘doubtful’ for Friday’s game. 

Will Plummer

Current Arizona starting quarterback Will Plummer was a three-star recruit. Now the freshman is seeing his first game-time action earlier than intended. A statistical glance at Plummer reveals obvious signs of struggling. He’s barely completing half of his passes and he’s thrown zero touchdowns to three interceptions.

Offensive Line Woes

To be fair, his offensive line is making life difficult for him. After he took five sacks against Colorado and three against UCLA, Arizona ranks 120th in rate of sacks allowed. Of course, Arizona’s offensive line did not suddenly become worse after Gunnell was injured. So Plummer cannot dodge the blame for the Wildcats’ regression in scoring. But defenses do realize now that they can kill the Wildcats’ chances of scoring by dialing up sufficient pressure. Arizona State, which owns the nation’s 13th-highest sack rate, can bring plenty of pressure.

Arizona’s Run Game

The worst thing that can happen for the Wildcat pass protection endeavor is a third-and-long situation. When it is third-and-long, then the opposing defense knows to expect a pass. So the pass rush becomes prepared to tee up. In order to prevent the Sun Devil pass rush from preparing to tee up, the Wildcats will want to create third-and-manageable situations where it becomes reasonable that they may either pass or run.

Plummer is not a reliable passer given his inaccuracy and inefficiency throwing the ball. So Arizona will want to rely on its run game in order to create these propitious third-down situations. It’s still not clear that Plummer will perform well in these more propitious situations. After all, his feature running back Gary Brightwell has been a rare, positive source of offense with his 4.9 YPC. 

In its last game, Arizona led 13-0 and so was able to mix up the play-calling. And still, Plummer performed poorly, struggled to convert third-down opportunities at a decent rate, and contributed to the team losing 24-13. For argument’s sake, let’s imagine for a bit that Arizona’s running game will somehow help Plummer be effective enough to prolong drives. Now, the key here is for the Wildcats to consistently create third-and-manageable situations because an offense sustains a drive-by consistently achieving first downs.

In terms of opposing YPC, the Arizona State defense is ranked middle-of-the-road. But the Sun Devil run defense ranks as poorly as it does in this category because it is vulnerable to allowing the occasional big play. Last week, for example, the Sun Devils gave up only 2.86 YPC if you overlook the one 64-yard run that they allowed. So the most that we can say for the Wildcats is that they can produce a big running play, which will help them score a field goal or a touchdown. But they won’t consistently prolong drives because they won’t consistently run well enough to create third-and-manageable situations, which their inept quarterback won’t take advantage of, anyways.

Quarterback Will Plummer #15 of the Arizona Wildcats. Ralph Freso/Getty Images/AFP

Arizona State Rush Offense vs. Arizona Defense 

While Arizona brings a decent ground game, Arizona State brings a massively successful one. Rachaad White and DeaMonte Trayanum just about split carries for the Sun Devils. White is averaging 7.1 YPC and Trayanum is averaging 6.8 YPC. Both bring a different kind of skill set to help keep the defense off-balanced. White has nice speed, is elusive in the backfield, and shows positive body control that helps him maintain balance through contact Trayanum, though, is big, strong, and powerful. At 230 pounds, he will wear down defenders as they struggle to bring him down.

Both running backs will thrive against a Wildcat run defense that has been absurdly porous. Currently, Arizona ranks 125th nationally in allowing 6.1 YPC and 129th in allowing 273.5 rushing yards per game. Given the state of Arizona's run defense, Arizona State is the last team that the Wildcats want to face.

Jayden Daniels vs. Arizona’s Beleaguered Secondary 

Add in ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels to the mix, who is a dual-threat quarterback. He completed 60 percent of his passes last week against UCLA, which is just below his career average. Daniels will have an easy time passing against a Wildcat secondary that has lost six defensive backs who have either opted-out or departed from the program. Moreover, he is averaging 5.1 YPC. Daniels is well-trained in the RPO game where he’ll either hand the ball off or run the ball depending on which decision seems more likely to yield more yards.

Jayden Daniels #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP

The Verdict

Behind an inept quarterback and with defensive backs among other unmentioned players apparently lacking enough faith in the team to stay, Arizona inspires negligible optimism. The Wildcat run defense is a huge source of pessimism especially against a Sun Devil offense that contains multiple dangerous pieces in its ground game. By gashing the Wildcats in order to score a lot of points, the Sun Devils will force Arizona to abandon the only decent thing about it, which is its running game. But of course, a good running game isn’t enough to support Will Plummer, anyways.

For the above reasons, expect a Sun Devil blowout with your Best NCAAF Pick. Arizona State won’t let up against hated Arizona.

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