Arizona State preparing for ‘bowl game atmosphere’ against Arizona
With the sun beating down on Sun Devil Stadium, fans hooting and hollering and rumors swirling about then-head coach Todd Graham’s firing, Arizona State outlasted Arizona in the 2017 Territorial Cup.
One of the coaches still on staff from last year, offensive coordinator and former wide receivers coach Rob Likens, praised the raucous setting.
“It was like a bowl game atmosphere to me,” Likens said. “I’m looking forward to that again.
“It was exciting last year; it was an awful lot of fun.”
Fast forward one year and this rivalry is just as notable. Featuring two first-year head coaches — Kevin Sumlin at Arizona and Herm Edwards at Arizona State — both teams have a lot on the line.
ASU has already clinched bowl eligibility, sitting at 6-5, but the Sun Devils could bolster their bowl seeding with a win Saturday. Arizona, on the other hand, needs a win versus Arizona State to become bowl eligible.
This year’s game will be played in Tucson, which could benefit the Wildcats.
“They’re a really, really good home team,” Likens said. “They are noticeably a different team on film when you watch their home games.”
The Wildcats are 4-2 at Arizona Stadium this season, and in those games, Arizona’s opponents are averaging under 25 points per contest.
Arizona’s most noteworthy performance came in its 44-15 stomping of Oregon on Oct. 27.
“What I instructed our kids and our staff is that I don’t even want to watch any of their away game film,” Likens said. “That’s not who you’re playing.
“You’re playing the team that absolutely stuffed Oregon and just shut them down. It’s gonna be a huge challenge.”
To go along with Arizona’s success at home, the Sun Devils have been subpar on the road. In the Sun Devils’ five games away from Sun Devil Stadium, they are 1-4, and their lone win came against a middling USC team.
As bad as the defense has been at times, Edwards isn’t looking into the proverbial rear-view mirror.
“What happened last week is what happened,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t matter. This is a whole new slate: Arizona State versus Arizona.”
Saturday’s Territorial Cup game is just as it was last year: a day game.
If trends from earlier this season are worth anything, it could help the Sun Devils. In four day games this year, the Sun Devils are 3-1 with the lone loss coming on the road to Colorado.
Even though he doesn’t understand why, Likens said he has noticed this tendency.
“It’s weird because I feel more energy in night games from our players and I feel more bounce,” Likens said. “But it does seem like we have played better in the day games.
“Now you might have to ask the players that, what their mindset is.”