ASU vs. Arizona: How the Sun Devils Keep the Cup


Photo courtesy of ASU News.

For the Arizona State football team, winning the Territorial Cup is an annual obsession. This season is no different. Beat their archrival, the University of Arizona, and the Sun Devils will earn the all-important home field advantage against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They’ll also enjoy in-state bragging rights — and a leg-up in local recruiting — for another year.

Lose to Wildcats, and according to ASU head coach Todd Graham, the 2013 season will be a failure.

With this scenario in mind, members of the Devils in Detail staff offered their keys to an ASU victory tomorrow night.

Dave Campbell: I’ll get this started by focusing outside of the Xs and Os. I’ve always thought the mental aspect of the ASU-Arizona game was the deciding factor. I attended my first Territorial Cup in 1980 as an ASU student, and over the years, the Sun Devils have normally fielded the better team. But, in some cases, they weren’t the most motivated. Take the 1986 contest, where a talent-laden ASU squad was 9-0-1 entering the game, already clinching a spot in their first Rose Bowl and challenging for a national championship. An angry and determined Wildcat team took the field in Tucson, intent on showing-up their rivals from the North. They succeeded thanks to plays like Chuck Cecil’s 106-yard interception for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. UofA had no business winning in ‘86, but they still came out on top.

I believe Saturday’s Territorial Cup game will go to the team that is the toughest, mentally.

Ryan Knowles: Demolish Denker. While UofA’s offense runs through running back Ka’Deem Carey, it is quarterback B.J. Denker’s steady arm that allows them to keep opposing defenses honest and manufacture quality yardage through the air. The lefty was crucial in the Wildcats’ upset win over Oregon last Saturday, throwing for 178 yards, two touchdowns and just three incompletions. Aside from a 363-yard performance against USC, Denker’s passing numbers (2,066 yards, 14 TDs, four INTs) have been very pedestrian in UofA’s run-first offense, but the Torrance native does much of his damage with his legs; rushing for 811 yards and 11 TDs on the season.

ASU’s defense has had success against mobile quarterbacks this season, utilizing aggressive blitz schemes to force mistakes and turnovers. If Will Sutton and Company can collapse the pocket, keep Denker contained and force him into bad throws, they will succeed in making the Cats’ offense one-dimensional on Saturday.

Mike Slifer: From my perspective, stopping the UofA offense consists of two objectives. First, stop the zone read play. This is Arizona’s bread and butter. Assign the defensive end to stay home and take Denker. Everybody else in the front seven should key on Ka’Deem Carey. Period. The secondary should play single high, press man. This will free up some help to contain Carey. Objective number two is to force Denker, who’s left-handed, to roll to his right. Denker is not a very good drop back passer and is very ineffective rolling to his right. This could be accomplished by putting a hang-back player (safety) lined up to the defensive right. It’s a bit of a gamble, but it will be worth the risk. That’s it. You do that, and you take away most of their offense. No exotic coverages or blitz packages are necessary. Load up to stop the zone read play and send a guy from the right on obvious passing downs. Tackling will be crucial, especially on Carey.

Offensively, ASU just needs to be itself: pound the ball and use play action passes. The Devils should be able to dominate up front.

Lastly, fix the punt and kickoff coverage teams. And be aware of fake punts/field goals and on-side kicks during this game. Rivalry games are notorious for displaying wackiness on special teams.

Wes Adamson: Obviously, as Mike said, one of the priorities for a Sun Devil win will be stopping Carey after his 206-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oregon last week. The Devils’ defensive line must get pressure up the middle and force Arizona to get behind in the chains. Also, the ASU offense must score touchdowns in the red zone when they have opportunities to do so, and not allow the Wildcats to gain confidence and remain in the game.

And, yes, a good day from ASU’s special teams unit wouldn’t hurt, either.

Lucas Robbins: It sounds like a broken record, but the key to a Sun Devil victory over the Wildcats is the most important and obvious one: stop Ka’Deem Carey. Last season Carey rushed for almost 2,000 yards averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns. When he faced the Sun Devil defense last year they held him to 172 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Marion Grice rushed for three touchdowns and averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Carey is going to get solid numbers; the goal for ASU is to keep him out of the end-zone and get its players into the end-zone. So far this year, the Sun Devil defense has stopped some of the nation’s best running backs. Washington’s Bishop Sankey ranks fourth among running backs (one spot ahead of Carey) averaging 5.8 yards per rushing attempt, but ASU contained him 1.7 yards per carry and 22 yards rushing.

Both Grice and Taylor Kelly also need to have complete games on Saturday. Arizona’s pass defense is ranked 67th in the country while ASU’s pass offense is ranked 28th. Kelly and Grice combined to account for 53 touchdowns (Grice 20, Kelly 25 passing and eight rushing) to rank the Sun Devils 11th in the NCAA in points.