Arizona football: Wildcats hope to end conference winless streak with win over rival ASU

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Jesus Barrera and Jesus Barrera | The Daily Wildcat Arizona defenders pull down Arizona State player in the second quarter of the game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.

Arizona football takes on rival ASU in the Territorial Cup at Arizona Stadium on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 48-40-1, but the Sun Devils won last year’s meeting 52-37—their third win in the last four years.

“It is the biggest game we play every year,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. “I think as tough as the season has been, playing ASU gives our guys something to work hard for.”

At 2-9, Arizona was eliminated from bowl eligibility weeks ago, but the Wildcats can still play spoiler. Just like last year, ASU is coming into the season-ending rivalry game at 5-6 and will need to beat Arizona to earn a bowl berth.

“We obviously have not been a very good football team, but I see glimpses and guys are still trying,” Rodriguez said. “Some of these issues will not get fixed overnight, but we can play well enough to win.”

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ASU running back Kalen Ballage paces the Sun Devils' offense, and for good reason. Ballage has run for 13 touchdowns, caught one and also thrown a touchdown this season.

ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins has thrown for 1,957 yards and nine touchdowns while also adding 167 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Just like Arizona, the Sun Devils have had a number of bodies play quarterback this year, with three throwing at least 49 passes. Also similar to the Wildcats, ASU has had four different players throw a touchdown pass this season.

Brandon Dawkins came in for Jerrard Randall and the Wildcats last season and had a very up-and-down game. Dawkins threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score, but also threw two interceptions.

It is unclear whether Dawkins or Anu Solomon will receive the start, though both will likely play. Dawkins has thrown for 1,271 yards and seven touchdowns while running for 761 yards and eight touchdowns. Solomon has completed just 37-of-63 passes for 462 yards and a touchdown to two interceptions this season. Arizona has yet to win a game where both quarterbacks saw action this season.

Friday presents Arizona its last chance to secure a conference win. A loss, especially to ASU no matter the circumstances, would set the program into very murky waters and Rodriguez into the hottest of seats. The Wildcats' fifth-year head coach would fall to 1-4 against rival ASU, to go along with a putrid 17-27 Pac-12 Conference record. Rodriguez has finished no better than fourth in the South division in every year outside of 2014.

Senior Samajie Grant will try to stop that from happening as he paces the running game and has 55 carries for 285 yards and three touchdowns this season. Grant also has 22 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns, tied for the Arizona team lead.

Grant shares that honor with receiver Shun Brown, whose emergence has not at all shocked Rodriguez this season.

“It is not a total surprise the way he has progressed. He is a really good player and a tough guy,” Rodriguez said of Brown's progression. “He has made a lot of big plays for us this year.”

Brown’s 521 receiving yards and 18 yards per catch lead the team while his 29 catches are good for second.

There is an err of uncertainty regarding the game, especially in relation to the fans. It is the day after Thanksgiving, a situation that may not bode well for a UA football program struggling to fill the stands and the ZonaZoo. ASU may show up in waves, and if UA fans aren’t careful, the Sun Devils may take over the stadium and ruin Senior Day.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., to be aired on ESPN. 


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