How can Arizona State keep Territorial Cup for a sixth straight season?
What's the best way to salvage a season that may not have gone as well as you had hoped? Beat your rival to end on a winning note. That's what the football teams from the University of Arizona and Arizona State will look to do when they square off Friday with the Territorial Cup at stake.
Little was expected of the Sun Devils, who came into the season reeling from an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that resulted in a historically bad recruiting class as well as the defection of nearly 20 players to the transfer portal, with many landing at higher profile programs. A loss to Eastern Michigan in the third game resulted in the end of the Herm Edwards tenure with running backs coach Shaun Aguano handed the reins on an interim basis.
Down South, the Arizona squad had reason to be optimistic, riding the momentum of a Top 25 national recruiting class and a new enthusiasm that came with coach Jedd Fisch. While the Wildcats have a losing record it still represents a significant improvement with Arizona having won just one game a year ago.
Despite losing seasons each has notched a significant win. The highlight of the season for the Sun Devils was a 45-38 upset of Washington while Arizona stunned UCLA just two weeks ago. Both of those opponents are nationally ranked and were in the hunt for Pac-12 championship game berths.
ASU will be looking for a sixth straight win in the storied series. There isn't a player on the roster who knows what it is like to lose the contest against its biggest rival.
"One of the legacies for this class is to make sure we carry it over to six years," Aguano said. "Win this game and it's a positive, makes people forget a little bit all the struggles we’ve had in the previous weeks. It’s just like playing golf on the 18th hole. That’s why sometimes they make it a par 5 so you can birdie it and feel good and you can come back the next day and forgot you shot a 105. Just making sure you take care of this game and ride that momentum into the next year and its legacy for this class."
MATCHUP: Arizona State (3-8, 2-6) at Arizona (4-7, 2-6)
KICKOFF: 1 p.m. Friday, Wildcats Stadium, Tucson
TV/RADIO: TV: FS1 Radio: 98.7 FM (KMVP-FM) / Sirius XM 388 / SXM
Arizona Republic sportswriter Michelle Gardner breaks down Friday's Territorial Cup game between the ASU and Arizona:
Arizona State rush offense vs. Arizona rush defense
The Sun Devils rank seventh in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (133 ypg). That effort is led by senior Xazavian Valladay, whose 1,095 yards are second to only UCLA's Zach Charbonnet. Valladay has more rushing yards than any other active player in the FBS and boasts seven games this season of more than 100 yards. This also marked the third season in which Valladay has gone over 1,000 yards, the first two of those coming in his years at Wyoming. Daniyel Ngata is the secondary ball carrier and has also shown the potential to be explosive given the opportunity. Arizona ranks 11th in the conference in rushing defense (213.5 ypg), the only team faring worse being Colorado. Junior DT Kyon Barrs, an All-Pac-12 second-team selection last season, and DE Hunter Echols are the keys for the Wildcats up front. The unknown factor here is the ASU offensive line which has been inconsistent and could be missing as many as three starters. That unit's struggles have made Valladay's results all the more impressive.
EDGE: Sun Devils
Arizona State pass offense vs. Arizona pass defense
Emory Jones started the first seven games but it has been Marana native Trenton Bourguet directing the offense for the last four games. The team average is 240.6 yards per game. While their skill sets are different, their numbers are relatively similar. Bourguet (108-155, 1,114 yards, 8 TDs, 4 Int) had a breakout game against Washington when he relieved the injured Jones and propelled the team to a 45-48 upset win. Jones was back in the lineup the next week against Stanford but struggled so Bourguet got his first career start the next week against Colorado and has started ever since. Elijhah Badger (62 rec., 774 yards, 6 TDs) is ASU's top threat in the receiving game although last week he wasn't able to get loose deep because the offensive line didn't give Bourguet enough time to look downfield. Arizona gives up an average of 247.9, which ranks seventh but has only two interceptions, the fewest of any team. Arizona safeties Jaxen Turner and Christian Young have combined for 140 tackles to lead the back end of the defense. Arizona has a conference low 13 sacks.
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SLIGHT EDGE: Wildcats
Arizona rush offense vs. Arizona State rush defense
Arizona ranks eighth in rushing (131.6 ypg), just a tick behind ASU. But with the Wildcats, it has been more rushing by committee with Michael Wiley (101 carries, 557 yards, 5 TDs) the leader. Other contributors are D.J. Williams (56 carries, 368 yards, 2 TDs) and Jonah Coleman (69 carries, 334 yards, 3 TDs). Rayshon "Speedy" Luke was also expected to be part of the equation but he missed five games with an ankle injury that required surgery although he returned two weeks ago. Like ASU, Arizona has had trouble up front and recently lost its best lineman Jordan Morgan to a torn ACL. He has been replaced by redshirt junior Sam Langi. ASU ranks ninth against the run (179.7 ypg). The Sun Devils have struggled on defense with missed tackles and gap integrity among the issues. Nesta Jade Silvera, a transfer from Miami, is the key up from for ASU with linebackers Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson the anchors and most experienced defenders.
SLIGHT EDGE: Wildcats
Arizona pass offense vs. Arizona State pass defense
A big reason for the Wildcats' improvement this season has been the upgrade at quarterback with Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura (260-412, 3,485 yards, 25 TDs, 12 Int) now manning the position. He has the luxury of three quality receivers which can really spread a defense. That trio consists of Dorian Singer (63 rec, 1,014 yds, 6 TDs), UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing (80 rec., 1,001 yds, 7 TDs) and Tetairoa McMillan (39 rec, 702 yds, 8 TDs). That adds up to the Pac-12's third-ranked passing offense (329.2 ypg) behind only Washington and USC. ASU ranks fifth in pass defense (236.5 ypg). Its best cover corner is Ro Torrence. The ASU defensive line hasn't always gotten enough pressure on the passer which has allowed opponents a lot of time to look downfield. The Sun Devils have just 16 sacks and one fumble recovery.
ASU's Eddie Czaplicki is the top punter averaging 45.95 (49 tries) with 15 put inside the 20, 16 of 50 or more yards and a best of 75 yards while Arizona's Kyle Ostendorp averages 45.65 (31 tries) with 10 downed inside the 20 and nine of 50 or more yards and a best of 64 yards. When it comes to placekicking, true freshman Carter Brown has hit 11 of 14 with a best of 53 yards which stands as the sixth-longest in school history and the longest by a freshman. He hasn't had a lot of attempts as of late with just four in the last six in the last seven games and missed a 29-yarder just last week. He's 28-for-28 on PATs. Arizona's Tyler Loop is 17-for-20 in field goal tries with a best of 48 yards and he's 33-for-33 on PAT's. In the return game, Daniyel Ngata is averaging 22.83 on 18 kickoff returns which has helped ASU to a first in that department. Anthony Simpson has been Arizona's key kickoff return specialist, averaging 19.5 yards on 17 tries, while Cowing is at 8 yards per punt return. When it comes to coverage, ASU foes are averaging 18.57 yards per kick return while Arizona's are at 20.94.
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Momentum seems to be on the side of the Wildcats and they'll be playing at home. They're also no doubt be fed up about having lost five in a row. It really is a tossup game that could go either way but the Sun Devils have struggled on defense as of late and the Wildcats have the potential to make the explosive plays that have been ASU's Kryptonite as of late.
Pick: Arizona 32, Arizona State 27
What to look for
SERIES HISTORY: Arizona leads the series 49-45-1, although ASU has won 14 of the last 20 and will bring a streak of five straight wins into this one. The last time Arizona got the win was in 2016 with a score of 56-35. ASU won last year's showdown 38-15, and its 70-7 win in Tucson in 2020 was the largest margin of victory in the series by either team.
HE SAID IT: “With this Territorial Cup, there is pressure on a head coach, from the standpoint, everybody’s watching. There’s pressure to win. I embrace that. That’s just the game of football and I’ve been doing this for a long time. Do I feel anxiety and my stomach turns before it? Heck yea. That’s the same as when I played football. If it didn’t, then trust me, I’d be on the golf course and home with the wife and kids. I embrace it, look forward to the challenge and I look forward to inspiring these kids to play for that Territorial Cup.” – ASU interim coach Shaun Aguano
"This is huge for our guys that have been part of the program for a while and haven't gotten the win. It's a big game for our young guys they can send off the older guys" - Arizona coach Jedd Fisch
Keys to the game
THE SUN DEVILS WILL WIN IF ... They do what they do best and that's to keep the ball on the ground and run the clock. On the other side of the ball, the Sun Devils have to limit the explosive plays, those of 20 yards or more. They have given up 43 of those in the last three games. ASU has done a better job lately when it comes to penalties but sometimes in rivalry games, things can get heated. Aguano says he has cautioned his team about playing with passion, not emotion. The Sun Devils cannot afford to give the Wildcats free yardage.
THE WILDCATS WILL WIN IF ... de Laura can be rather inconsistent. If he can be the player he has been for most of the season, he'll be a problem for the Sun Devils. If he and his receivers are having their way, it will be a long day for the ASU defense. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats need to be able to stop the run and force the Sun Devils to throw.
Matchup to watch
Arizona QB Jayden de Laura vs. ASU secondary
De Laura has passed for more than 300 yards six times with a season-best of 484 coming against Colorado. While that was more expected with Colorado being the worst team in the conference, the quarterback did throw for 400 against nationally ranked Washington and 380 against a USC team in the hunt for a CFP berth. At times ASU has tended to play soft in coverage. The ASU defenders say they like to play a lot of man coverage and they will be challenged by some quality receivers. The back end of the defense is anchored by corners Ro Torrence and Ed Woods. Torrence is a transfer from Auburn while Woods is a returning player who worked his way into the starting lineup midway through the first time this season.