Territorial Cup Preview
It’s that time, again. The Territorial Cup rivalry will be renewed this Saturday in Tempe for one of the most high stakes matchups in recent memory.
Both Arizona (7-4, 5-3) and Arizona State (6-6, 5-3) will come into the game unranked, but there’s plenty up for grabs besides the annual bragging rights. The winner will end the season in second place in the Pac-12 South standings and lock up a higher quality bowl game.
It would be quite the accomplishment since both teams were selected to finish at the bottom of the pack in preseason polls. Not to mention, both UA’s Rich Rodriguez and ASU’s Todd Graham were sitting on burning coals to begin the year.
Yet somehow, the Wildcats and the Sun Devils have defied the low expectations to create what should be another unpredictable Territorial Cup game. Let’s take a look at what the Sun Devils will bring to the field on Saturday.
Redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins has put together a solid campaign under center for the Sun Devils, despite having Blake Barnett, a five-star transfer from Alabama, waiting on the bench. Wilkins has thrown for 2755 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. His 63.5 completion percentage ranks fourth among qualified Pac-12 quarterbacks.
The biggest challenge for Arizona will be defending a talented backfield, a problem that has plagued UA for the last several weeks. The Sun Devils will feature a two-headed rushing attack led by Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage as both players rank in the top-12 in rushing in the Pac-12 and have combined for 1,433 yards and 15 touchdowns. Although as a unit, Arizona State ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in total rushing offense.
On the outside, the ‘Cats will have to find someone to defend wide receiver N’Keal Harry. The 6-4, 216 pound target ranks second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards with 957.
The most impressive stat about the Sun Devils, though, is their red zone efficiency. They lead the Pac-12 with a 97.6 percent success rate, putting points on the board 40 out of 41 times this year.
The good news for the Wildcats is that the Sun Devils’ defense isn’t that good. ASU ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in total defense while UA ranks first in total offense. The Sun Devils also rank eighth in rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing 172.9 rushing yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry.
For comparison, Oregon’s run defense allows only 3.7 yards per carry, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 32nd in the country.
The softer ASU defense should bode well for a UA team that will come into the game with the nation’s third best ground attack with 331.6 yards per game.
However, the Wildcats will have to watch out for ASU defensive lineman JoJo Wicker and linebacker Alani Latu who each lead the team with 6.0 sacks.
Neither team will hold a significant advantage here. The Wildcats will have opportunities to garner nice punt and kick returns with speedy Tyrell Johnson and Shun Brown handling return duties as the Sun Devils rank ninth and sixth in those respective categories.
But UA has struggled to actually punt the ball with efficiency with Josh Pollack and Jake Glatting recently, so ASU returns might not have to worry about out-running Brown and Johnson.
Overall, this Saturday’s matchup in Tempe should feature a high-scoring affair where the last team to have the ball might end up winning. The Territorial Cup will kick-off at 2:30 p.m. and will air on the Pac-12 Network.
The Wildcats lead the all-time series 49-40-1 over the Sun Devils, including a 56-35 win in Tucson last year.
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