All about the Benjamin; ASU rides run game for Territorial Cup win over UA
TEMPE, Ariz. — The last seven Territorial Cup matchups between the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats were nothing but high-scoring affairs, with at least 72 total points scored since 2012, and the winners of those battles averaging a solid 47 points per game.
That scoring trend came to a screeching halt in 2019 as points were at a premium for much of the Sun Devils’ 24-14 win over the Wildcats on Saturday night.
Luckily for ASU, junior running back Eno Benjamin ignited the offense with two scores and more than a 100 yards rushing in the second half, carrying the team to its third straight Territorial Cup victory, second under Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards.
“This game kinda turned out like our season, a season of two halves,” Edwards said after the win. “We started out very well this season, we sputtered a little bit, didn’t handle success very well. This game was kinda like that except it was flipped.”
The Sun Devils, who failed to find the end zone until midway through the third quarter, had to rely heavily on special teams, defense and field position in a first half that saw the Wildcats hold the upper hand in nearly every category. Not only did Arizona compile more total yards in the first two quarters (220) than ASU (146), the Sun Devils couldn’t do much of anything on third down, converting just one of their seven tries. On the other side of the field, the Wildcats were 6-of-11.
ASU’s offense was about as cold as the 51-degree temperature at kickoff.
But while there was a clear discrepancy between the two on the statsheet, the scoreboard showed otherwise, with a 48-yard touchdown pass from Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate to wide receiver Jamarye Joiner the lone touchdown of the half, compared to two successful field goal tries from ASU’s Cristian Zendejas.
Then Mr. Benjamin showed up and showed out.
Recording just 26 yards on 10 carries in the first 30 minutes of the tilt, the junior RB took over the show in the second half, finishing the evening with 168 yards and two scores. The performance marked his fifth-best game as a Sun Devil and helped the RB reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season.
“We did a good job, we had a gameplan like Jayden [Daniels] said in the first half they dropping everyone and trying to take away the big plays,” Benjamin said. “We thought to just keep it simple, keep the ball on the ground and run it and that’s what we did. The offensive line did a really good job as far as imposing their will on them.”
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After having a balanced first half, 17 pass attempts to 16 carries as a team, the Sun Devils went full ground-and-pound to finish off the Wildcats, as true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels attempted just two throws to Benjamin’s 24 rushes.
“The second half we were able to run the football and that was good to see,” Edwards said. “We owned the possession time, almost 35 minutes. Eno had a big night, the offensive line did a nice job.”
The adjustment paid dividends almost immediately as Benjamin found the end zone on the opening drive of the half, scoring from six yards for the team’s first touchdown of the evening. He wouldn’t stop there, either, plunging in from a yard out to extend the Sun Devils’ lead to 21-7 in the third quarter.
“I understand what this game’s about,” Benjamin said. “There’s a lot of young guys and so I was just trying to fuel that passion so that they understand what this rivalry means to me, also. Great win, great team win.”
Adding to the fire was the defense, which stepped up big against the Wildcats dual-threat quarterback. All told, the unit picked off Tate three times throughout the evening, twice on back-to-back Wildcat possessions in the second half alone.
Leading the way for the defense was redshirt-junior defensive back Jack Jones, who snagged two interceptions to go along with six total tackles, and junior DB Evan Fields, who led the team with 10 tackles. Sophomore linebacker Merlin Robertson also came down with a pick, making a one-handed grab after a tipped pass in the third quarter went his way.
The Wildcats would break their scoring drought in the fourth quarter, scoring on a two-yard connection from Tate to Joiner, but couldn’t overcome the Sun Devils, who added a third field goal in the quarter on their way to victory.
“All in all it was a game that we needed to win, to be quite honest. We needed to win this game,” Edwards said. “We needed to find out how to win again in back-to-back games. We went through this streak of 5-1 and then we had lost four in a row.
“You need to learn how to win and winning this game was important in the fact that we beat an Oregon team and if we lose this game it takes a lot away from you. It takes a lot away from your momentum.”
The Sun Devils finish the regular season at 7-5 (4-5), while the Wildcats end their year at 4-8 (2-7).
Up next, ASU will wait and see where they land in the bowl-game landscape.