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Three things Arizona needs to do to beat ASU in Territorial Cup

Arizona wide receiver Nate Phillips reacts after scoring a touchdown in double overtime against Utah during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Last season, the Arizona Wildcats ended a two-game skid against Arizona State by knocking off the Sun Devils 42-35 in Tucson.

Along with claiming the Territorial Cup, the Wildcats also won the Pac-12 South that day, as Nick Wilson ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns to lead the charge.

This season, the game carries significantly less importance. Sure, the Cup is on the line, but other than that there is little for either team to gain other than pride and better bowl standing (or eligibility, in ASU’s case).

Nevertheless, there is no doubt each team would like to come away with a win. Vince Marotta provided three things the Sun Devils (5-5, 3-4) need to do in order to reclaim the Cup, and here are three things the Wildcats (6-5, 3-5) must do in order to keep it:

Slow the run: The Wildcats enter this game eighth in the Pac-12 against the run, allowing an average of 183 yards per game. Arizona State, with the two-headed monster of Demario Richard (814 yards, 6 TDS) and Kalen Ballage (486 yards, 4 TDs) has ASU ranked sixth in the Pac-12. Todd Graham’s team is 10th in the conference in pass efficiency, as QB Mike Bercovici has been unable to get much going in a passing game that is without a true No. 1 receiver. Allow the Devils to get things going on the ground and UA’s defense will have a tough time slowing their opponent. Find a way to limit the damage there and make Bercovici beat them, however, and this game will be competitive. It has been done before — just last week the Wildcats limited Utah’s Devontae Booker, the third-leading rusher in the Pac-12, to 145 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries. Nobody is expecting UA to shut the Devils’ run game down, but making them turn to the air would be ideal.

Protection, both of the football and the QB: Arizona comes into this game fourth in the Pac-12, averaging 36.7 points per game. Part of the reason for that is they’ve done a good job taking care of the football, with just 15 turnovers all season. Just six of those occurred in their victories this season. In short, often times the only team that has been able to stop Arizona has been Arizona. Now, the idea that limiting turnovers will help a team win is not a novel one, but against ASU especially — a team with a beatable but opportunistic defense — it is all the more important. Of course, that’s all easier said than done against a Sun Devil defense that is known for blitzing its way to turnovers. ASU leads the conference with 36 sacks, and while Arizona has allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the Pac-12, they haven’t faced a defense quite as aggressive as the Devils’. Arizona’s banged up offensive line (tackle Freddy Tagaloa has been ruled out) will be tested the entire afternoon, and whether or not they pass will likely determine the outcome of the game.

Run, run and run some more: Arizona is second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, averaging 236.6 yards per game. However, the inability to generate much on the ground has been a theme in their losses, and would spell doom against Arizona State especially if QB Anu Solomon (concussion) does not play. Though Rich Rodriguez’s offense is known for throwing the ball over the field, it is truly based in the run game. Be it Nick Wilson (718 yards, 8 TDs), Jared Baker (689 yards, 6 TDs) or backup QB Jerrard Randall (680 yards, 5 TDs), it is imperative that the Wildcats are consistently picking up yardage on the ground. Do that, and it will open things up down the field for receivers Cayleb Jones (46 catches, 665 yards, 4 TDs), Nate Phillips (39 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs, Johnny Jackson (43 catches, 532 yards, 5 TDs, David Richards (40 catches, 505 yards, 5 TDs and Samajie Grant (30 catches, 286 yards, 2 TDS), who should all be able to get open against ASU’s 11th-ranked pass defense.

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