Arizona Sports’ keys to the Territorial Cup battle between ASU and Arizona

Nov 22, 2018, 5:01 PM | Updated: Nov 23, 2018, 9:29 pm
ASU WR N'Keal Harry, left, and Arizona LB Colin Schooler, right. (AP photos)...
ASU WR N'Keal Harry, left, and Arizona LB Colin Schooler, right. (AP photos)
(AP photos)

The big game is almost here.

The Territorial Cup between the University of Arizona and Arizona State is on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Before the action gets underway in Tucson on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, our hosts and staff take a crack at predicting the final outcome.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo

Normally with a game like this, I’d give it to the team that needs it more — and I suppose that’s Arizona. A win makes them bowl eligible whereas the Sun Devils are already there. But I think Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, playing in their last rivalry game, will both have big days. Eno Benjamin has the chance to run wild on the Wildcat defense. That and a whole game of Merlin Robertson as opposed to just a half like we saw vs. Oregon and I predict:

Prediction: ASU 34, Arizona 20

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf

As a fan, I love this game, but I would never put any stock in a prediction on this game.

There’s no clear leader between either team looking at the matchup statistically. One of the few stats I noticed with a wide gap is fourth-down conversions, where ASU is tops in the conference and UofA is near the bottom. There’s no way I’m using that stat to make an educated prediction.

With most of the stats even, the game will probably be a close game. Close games on the road have been a disaster for ASU. The smart money is on UofA. Since I’m not smart, I’m picking the Devils.

When I watch UofA, I’m totally unimpressed by their run defense. I think Eno Benjamin is the best COLLEGE football player on the field. I stress college because it’s a different game than the NFL (obviously, Harry is the best pro). I think Benjamin will have the game of his life. This is a bad prediction because I’m picking a winner in a team sport based on one guy (and his o-line). I just believe that strongly in Eno.

Prediction: ASU wins

Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski and reporter

Winning the ground game will be huge if the Sun Devils plan on leaving Tucson with a win Saturday. A year ago, that would’ve meant containing Khalil Tate, but the Wildcats have actually contained Tate themselves better than anyone else could have hoped to for most of this season. After exploding for 1,411 yards on the ground and becoming one of the most feared runners in college football in 2017, he has just 178 yards — on 88 fewer carries — in 2018.

To put that in perspective, Tate averaged 129 rushing yards per game a year ago.

ASU still has to be careful not to let him get loose, but UofA just doesn’t use him that way nearly as much under Kevin Sumlin. Thing is, the Wildcats have a legitimate running back doing damage now. J.J. Taylor has amassed 1,290 yards on the ground, good for sixth in the country. He’s going to be an issue. But the Devils have the nation’s No. 3 rusher in Eno Benjamin, who is up to 1,444 yards and 12 scores this season. Since Sept. 8, ASU is 4-0 when he runs for over 150 yards, and 0-5 when he goes under. So yeah, the running game could make all the difference this weekend.

Prediction: ASU 31, Arizona 27

Kevin Zimmerman, editor and reporter

Maybe at the end of the year, we’ll find out just what injury has hampered the explosive quarterback from getting going as a rushing threat. He entered the year on the Heisman watchlists because of his legs more than his arm.

He’s put together two of his best passing games over the last two weeks, completing 35 of 52 passes for nine touchdowns and two picks. If he somehow gets out of the (injury-induced?) shell he’s been in all season, this game takes a surprising turn in the Wildcats’ favor.

Problem is, Arizona State has Manny Wilkins, Eno Benjamin and N’Keal Harry — all the firepower necessary to keep up with a hampered Tate-led offense. It also has a physical defense that’s proven its ability to keep it in games. Arizona’s defense just gave up 69 points, and the offense is a more mistake-prone team at the end of the day.

All that said, Arizona is probably going to win, huh?

Prediction: Arizona 31, ASU, 24. Because you never really know in this game, do you?

Kellan Olson, editor and reporter

Oh, this is a tough one. I have no idea how you can predict the Wildcats to win a game with the lack of consistency they have shown throughout this season.

But, Khalil Tate is rolling the past two weeks and this game tends to defy season-long trends.

With that in mind, I’m going to make the logical pick. I’ve got the Sun Devils because I think you can trust the production of Eno Benjamin and Manny Wilkins ending his career on a high note.

Prediction: ASU 38, Arizona 27

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Arizona Sports’ keys to the Territorial Cup battle between ASU and Arizona