Arizona State’s defense bends but doesn’t break in Territorial Cup win
TEMPE — Bend but don’t break.
That was the calling card for the Arizona State Sun Devils defense in Saturday’s 38-15 Territorial Cup win over the Arizona Wildcats.
ASU was without the likes of starting senior linebackers Darien Butler and Merlin Robertson in addition to safeties Evan Fields, Kejuan Markham and Willie Harts.
Despite gaining 396 yards of total offense, Arizona only managed to score 15 points on five red zone trips.
That’s largely due to the Sun Devils winning the turnover battle 2-0 — one in each half — that lead to 13 points, the latter of which was cornerback Jack Jones’ first pick-six of his entire football career to seal the game in the fourth quarter.
JACK TO THE CRIB.
— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) November 28, 2021
“Jack Jones. Great play. Turned the game around. I mean that was really the turning point in the game in my opinion,” head coach Herm Edwards said postgame.
The second ASU takeaway was also nearly a scoop and score, as DL Tyler Johnson recovered a quarterback Will Plummer fumbled caused by Jones inside Arizona’s 1-yard line. Rachaad White punched it in on the ensuing play.
— Sun Devil Football (@ASUFootball) November 27, 2021
“The second half we got things going offensively a little bit more and the defense got some big turnovers,” Edwards said. “We’ve been fortunate in this game I think as I reflect back, we’ve always had the ability to get some turnovers in this game.
“We’ve always been able to take the ball away. And that’s kind of how our defense is built. When we’re taking the ball away and not giving it to the opponent and when we can run the football, we’re a pretty good football team. That really helped us tonight.”
Plummer finished the day going 28-for-38 (73.7%) for 346 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And in addition to leading the game in total yards, Arizona also had more first downs (22), fourth-down conversions (three) and time of possession (35:31).
The Wildcats put up 149 yards in the first quarter alone and outgained the Sun Devils 216-128 (215-48 passing yards) in the first half. But because of Arizona State’s red zone defense, Arizona’s three red zone trips in the opening 30 minutes only mustered nine points.
Two of the bigger plays of the first half came in with ASU’s defense on the field, as UA had the ball for nearly 19 of those minutes. Arizona got inside ASU’s 1-yard line in the first quarter, but a false start penalty pushed the Wildcats back. A third-down stop by the Sun Devils resulted in the second Tyler Loop field goal of the afternoon.
The win brings the Sun Devils to 8-4 on the year — the most in a single regular season with Edwards at the helm. The victory is also his fourth in a row over Arizona, which marks the first time in Arizona State history that a coach has started the Territorial Cup 4-0.
“When you first arrive here to become the head coach, it’s amazing how many people talk to you about this game,” Edwards said. “They give you the history of it. All week we had former players come talk to our team. …
“It’s not me. It’s the football players. It’s the players. … And to win four of them, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve been on the good side of it thus far. I haven’t been on the other side. I’m happy for our players, I’m happy for our staff because this is about these guys. I just happen to be the head coach. This is about some other people that are helping do this. It’s unique.”
Edwards also confirmed that he will be returning as the head coach of ASU next season.
Johnson on Arizona players digging up Arizona State’s Sparky logo at midfield during pregame warmups:
“They do that to get themselves pumped up but that doesn’t win football games. Cup’s right here. Little brothers got beat on. They can take a little nice 2.5-hour drive down to — got to be clean here — down to the little toilet bowl down there.”
The Sun Devils have one more contest remaining on the 2021 docket, but will have to wait for the announcement of who they will play in that bowl game.