The Sun Devils won in all phases of the “Duel in the Desert” against Arizona. They ran the ball effectively, won the turnover battle, played well in special teams and contained UofA’s best offensive players.
A big part of ASU’s winning equation is the focus of this team — they appear to be grounded and zeroed in on the task in front of them. This is a sign of good coaching and good leadership. The coaching staff, seniors and natural leaders of the team have done a tremendous job of preparing for each week.
The Territorial Cup had all the ingredients for some wacky drama. In recent years, the battle for the cup was won and lost by seven points or less. Also, the visiting team had won the last four. And, typically, records and rankings have had no bearing on the outcome of this game.
ASU destroyed all of the latest trends and took care of business, continuing its march towards a Pac-12 conference championship and a Rose Bowl.
Some observers might have questioned why ASU played a lot of nickel defense against Arizona. This is a strategy where an extra defensive back replaces a defensive lineman. It’s very common to use this package in obvious passing downs. But coach Todd Graham used it almost all night. This was a bit of a surprise because of the opponent. Arizona is not a prolific passing team. Their bread and butter is the zone read play and they have most of their success because of RB Ka’Deem Carey. So, the obvious logic would have been to “stack the box” with eight players to take away the running game and roll the dice with the Wildcat secondary.
But coach Graham and his staff obviously saw something different and game planned accordingly. It worked.
It would be irresponsible of any writer to not mention the performance of the ASU offense without RB Marion Grice. Grice is the team’s leading rusher, leading scorer and a multiple threat weapon. His injury should have been a huge problem for the Sun Devils. But ASU plugged in D.J. Foster and even TE De’Marieya Nelson to run the ball effectively and score touchdowns in the red zone.
The ASU passing game was also on point Saturday night. QB Taylor Kelly spread the ball around to several receivers and torched Arizona with the back shoulder fade. It was good to see the Devils attack and throw the ball downfield. Kelly’s 64-yard TD strike to WR Jaelen Strong was the back-breaker for Arizona.
All in all, it was a brilliant and dominating effort by Arizona State. But coach Graham knows what is coming. That’s why he didn’t really celebrate too much after the victory. He knows that his defense will have to step it up next week against Stanford. The Cardinal are a different animal than anybody ASU has played in the last six weeks or so. The Sun Devils will have to tackle better, stop the run better and play their most mistake-free game of the season to secure a berth in the Rose Bowl.