NCAA: Territorial Cup Showdown
You can say beating the UCLA Bruins last Saturday for the Pac-12 South title was the most significant game of the year for the Arizona State Sun Devil football team; but for the Sun Devil coaches, players and even the fans, the game this Saturday at Frank Kush Field against their “arch” rival the Arizona Wildcats, will be the game of all games this season.
This year’s Territorial Cup showdown has turned out to be bigger than ever. Beat the Wildcats and the Sun Devils will host Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game in Tempe. Lose and the Sun Devils will head to Northern California. But this game is still first and foremost, a rivalry game and the players on both sides, as well as their fans, know the significance of that.
The Sun Devils fans are well aware that the recent trends in the Territorial Cup series may appear to favor the Wildcats this year. The visiting team has won each of the past four games and the underdog has won the matchup in three consecutive seasons, so the Sun Devils are surely on upset alert notice, with the players focused and preparing all week at practice leading up to the showdown.
For the first time since 1986, both teams enter the game with at least seven wins.
In order for the Sun Devils to come away with a victory this Saturday, they must:
Avoid the costly penalties, especially the unsportsmanlike penalties. There will be times when the Sun Devil players will want to retaliate for late hits or extra roughing on plays and a 15-yard penalty will kill a drive or extend a drive for the Wildcats.
The Sun Devils need to stop the Wildcats rushing game. They are second in the Pac-12 in rushing with a 267 yard average. The Sun Devils have the third best rushing defense giving up 123 yards a game.
Will Sutton who dominated up front against the Wildcats last year, should prove challenging for them to block again this year. Sutton’s year hasn’t been the statistical equivalent of his 2012 All-America season, but 9.5 tackles for loss for an interior lineman is outstanding.
Linebacker Chris Young was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against UCLA. Young will play an attacking role for the defense. He could easily end up playing every snap. He has made a team-high 84 tackles, including 11 for loss and needs to continue his aggressiveness for this game.
The Sun Devils will need their running game. Marion Grice is injured and his game status is unknown at this time. If he is unable to play look for D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis to power the running game. The Sun Devils will need a strong rushing effort against the Wildcats to control the clock and Deantre Lewis needs to hold on to the ball.
Receiver Jaelen Strong is back in game form after an ankle injury sidelined him for a couple of games. He has 13 catches for 195 yards in the past two games. He will be the team’s main threat on the outside; nicely complementing the team’s pass-catching running backs. Look for tight end Chris Coyle to get involved in the offense for this game as well.
The Wildcats have an average pass rush and that should allow Taylor Kelly time to throw deep. Kelly is a smart quarterback who is a double-threat by being able to take off on runs and he scrambles well. If given time, Kelly could pick apart the Wildcat secondary.
The Sun Devils need to score first to set the tone. The Sun Devils have scored first in 20 of the 24 games under Todd Graham and are 8-1 in this season.
They have outscored their opposition 252-112 in the first quarter under Todd Graham and are outscoring opponents 104-43 in the first quarter this season. The Sun Devils are 15-0 when leading at halftime with Graham as coach.
The Sun Devils know how to close out games as well, outscoring teams 247-128 in the fourth quarter of games during the Graham era. ASU has outscored its opponent in eight of eleven games in the fourth quarter this season.
If the Sun Devils can avoid costly mistakes and turnovers they should be able to win the 87th Territorial Cup and host the Pac-12 Championship game in Tempe.
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