ASU has on-paper advantage, but anything is possible in Territorial Cup
“It doesn’t matter what your record is in this game, it really doesn’t,” Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards said about the Territorial Cup.
It’s that time again. Arizona State will host Arizona on Saturday night in the 93rd meeting between these rivals.
The Sun Devils are 6-5 after clinching a bowl game and knocking off No. 6 Oregon last week in Tempe.
Arizona will not play a postseason game as it fell to 4-7 last week at the hands of Utah.
This game’s stakes are bragging rights and a chance for seniors to get the last laugh against their hated rivals. For ASU, this game would increase its bowl game positioning and further build momentum as it finally got a win over the Ducks after four straight losses.
Even though the Sun Devils have a had a better season, Edwards is right, record doesn’t matter.
It didn’t in 2016 when 2-9 Arizona blew out 5-6 ASU to knock the Devils out of bowl contention. It didn’t matter in 1992 when 5-5 ASU defeated No. 16 Arizona.
What: Arizona (4-7, 2-6) at Arizona State (6-5, 3-5)
When: Saturday, at 8 p.m.
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
How can Arizona move the ball against ASU?
Arizona’s defense has not allowed fewer than 30 points in a game since Sept. 28. The Wildcats will need to score often in Tempe for a shot at the upset.
However, Arizona runs the ball more than it throws.
This is a mismatch for the Wildcats.
ASU’s rush defense is among the best in the FBS. It allows just 113 yards per game on the ground (21st in the nation) and 3.3 yards per carry (tied for 15th).
What the Wildcats can do is show ASU different looks in the passing game with two quarterbacks, Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell.
Tate played well against ASU last year and could help the rush attack with the threat of quarterback sweeps and draws.
Gunnell is a pocket passer, and ASU has struggled to apply pressure in the pocket in a lot of its games.
But Oregon and Utah both shut down Arizona’s running game over the past two weeks and its offense halted because of it. The Wildcats scored 13 points against them combined.
ASU’s defense has had issues, but getting killed on the ground is not one of them.
The Sun Devils allow a lot of yards through the air, so Arizona could have a chance to move the ball with combinations of play-action passes, screens and deep shots down field.
Oregon State and Oregon had success with screens and play action.
ASU should dominate on offense
In short, Arizona’s defense is a disaster.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates was fired earlier this year. Two other defensive coaches were also removed during the season.
Arizona allows the most points per game in the Pac-12 at 36.8.
Opponents are dominating both on the ground and through the air. The Wildcats cannot stop anyone in the red zone (opponents score 90% of the time) and they have the worst third-down defense in the conference.
The biggest strength on this side of the ball for Arizona is that it has forced 11 interceptions.
However, ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels has been very responsible with the ball.
He has just two picks this season and none since Oct. 19.
The Sun Devils are coming off of their best offensive performance of the season.
Against the excellent Ducks’ defense, Daniels threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns to earn Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors for offense.
“[Daniels] was almost perfect,” Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Halfback Eno Benjamin put up 168 all-purpose yards and receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby were electric down the field.
ASU’s biggest offensive weakness this season has been the offensive line’s inconsistency, although it played well against Oregon.
Arizona could get aggressive and put a lot of defenders in the box. If it loads up on the line and blitzes constantly, the Wildcats could be limiting Benjamin’s impact while also adding pressure to Daniels.
This could leave the secondary in a tough spot, though, and testing Daniels after what he did last week seems unwise. It is his first Territorial Cup game which could add pressure, but this strategy could result in a lot of big plays to Aiyuk, Darby and Kyle Williams.
Arizona could also drop a lot of players back in coverage to avoid the big play. In this case, ASU could rely more on the rush attack and control the clock.
Either way, Arizona’s defense could have another tough day.
Despite winning such a huge game against Oregon, ASU was penalized nine times. Flags have been a major issue for both teams this year, but especially the Sun Devils over the past five weeks.
“There will be chippiness, that’s part of it,” Edwards said. “We have to control our emotions.”
ASU’s discipline will be tested.
There were a lot of penalties in this matchup in 2018, and if ASU beats itself up with flags, then that could be a factor in how Arizona could keep it close.
On paper, ASU looks like it should blow out Arizona. Based on how the two teams have performed recently, ASU looks like it should blow out Arizona.
But despite the high the Devils are on now, they have been upset this year. They lost to a currently 4-7 UCLA team that was beaten by Arizona.
If the Wildcats protect up front, then they have a shot. With time, Gunnell could be dangerous and with maneuver room, Tate could be explosive.
Arizona is an offense that can score in bunches. It scored over 30 points five times this year.
These games are usually unpredictable and very close. Six of the last 10 were decided by one score.
There are paths for either team to win, there are just more paths for the Sun Devils.