Three things ASU needs to do to beat Arizona in Territorial Cup
Where’s that darn time machine?
Seriously, this year’s Territorial Cup matchup between the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats has everyone involved in the rivalry asking a similar question.
Two years ago, the two teams met the day after Thanksgiving in Tucson with a Pac-12 South championship on the line. Arizona won a very entertaining game, 42-35, behind Nick Wilson’s 178-yard, three-touchdown performance.
This year, uh, yeah. The Sun Devils and Wildcats come into this year’s contest riding a shared 13-game losing streak. ASU has dropped five straight since starting the season 5-1 and the Wildcats haven’t celebrated a victory since downing Hawaii in a non-conference game in mid-September.
In fact, it’s been a really long time since Arizona has even held a lead, according to Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star.
Arizona has not led a football game for 328 minutes and 12 seconds of game time. It was 9:47 p.m., on Saturday October 8 in Salt Lake City
— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) November 21, 2016
Somebody’s got to win this year’s rivalry renewal Friday night in Tucson. Here are three things the Sun Devils need to do to ensure a win and lock up bowl eligibility for the sixth straight year.
Contain Brandon Dawkins in the run game
Of course, this is assuming Dawkins will start at quarterback against ASU. Arizona’s QB situation has been muddled at best — Dawkins, Anu Solomon and Khalil Tate have all started games and converted tight end Matt Morin has also seen time. Dawkins did some nice things in relief of Jerrard Randall in last year’s Territorial Cup game in Tempe, throwing for a career-high 305 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 78 yards and a score.
But Arizona is not a good throwing team. In Dawkins’ last six outings, he’s completed only 44-of-92 throws for 643 yards with four touchdowns and four picks. He’s been effective on the ground, however, rolling up 370 yards and a touchdown. Dawkins is fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 84.6 yards per game.
The generous Sun Devil defense (ranked 125th in the nation) must key on Dawkins in the option game and when passing plays break down and most importantly, do something they haven’t done well all season — tackle.
Get their own running game going
Maybe the biggest disappointment surrounding ASU’s 2016 season has been their inability to run the ball. Yes, the Sun Devils have a young (and banged-up) offensive line, but you would have thought running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard would cover up for a lot of the issues up front.
That hasn’t been the case.
Ballage and Richard have combined for 1,082 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season — with seven of those rushing scores coming from Ballage in one game. The duo averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year, a figure that’s down more than a yard per attempt this year.
In their last seven games, the Sun Devils are averaging only 73 yards per game on the ground. Against a depleted Arizona defense, that allows 200 yards per game on the ground, it’s imperative for ASU to generate yardage in the run game and take pressure off quarterback Manny Wilkins’ shoulders.
Jump on them early
Arizona Stadium has been a ghost town in the second half of games this season. It should be ASU’s goal to make that the case after halftime Friday night.
As pointed out earlier in Greg Hansen’s tweet, the Wildcats haven’t had anything to crow about in a long time. Allowing them to grab an early lead might just put enough wind in their sails to pull of an upset and end their season on a high note against their bitter rival.
ASU hasn’t exactly been a fast-starting team, but they have outscored opponents 72-69 in the first quarter this season. The Devils need to score early in this game and put UA on its heels, planting that seemingly ever-present seed of doubt into the heads of the Wildcats.