ASU Football: Best, average and worst case scenarios against Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Manny Wilkins
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Manny Wilkins /

ASU football will look to end their rival’s bowl hopes and win their first game in Tucson since 2012. Here are three potential scenarios for tomorrow’s Territorial Cup.

Arizona State fans had three big plans this week – two which have already passed and one that is yet to come.

On Wednesday night, the Sun Devil faithful watched the men’s basketball team win a Las Vegas tournament for the second straight season. There, we learned Luguentz Dort is a grown man, and that Bobby Hurley might have one of the best teams in the Pac-12.

Yesterday was a break in the action – a day filled with turkey, family and the notorious post-meal nap to prepare for arguably the biggest arrangement of the week:

Saturday’s Territorial Cup.

Now one day removed from the Duel in the Desert, the anticipation behind the matchup is progressing. After ASU lost their shot at a Pac-12 South title in last week’s loss to Oregon, it was difficult to seek motivation or purpose in the heat of the moment.

Alas, tomorrow’s game still has much to play for. With a win, the Sun Devils could knock the Wildcats out of bowl eligibility. It would also be ASU’s first victory down south in six years and their first time winning the Cup in consecutive seasons since 2012 and 2013.

Perhaps most importantly, the game is the first opportunity for Herm Edwards and Kevin Sumlin to strike against one another. For coaches that have seen their fair share of ups-and-downs, a Territorial Cup victory would be one of the highlights of their first year.

With kickoff less than 24 hours away, let’s take a look at three potential scenarios that could play out in tomorrow’s game.

Best Case Scenario: Goin’ Back-to-Back

Last week’s loss to Oregon was filled with disappointment, frustration and sadness. With each emotion bottled up, the Sun Devils enter Tucson seeking vengeance, and do so by unleashing a double-digit onslaught over Arizona to recapture the Territorial Cup.

The focus of this week’s matchup is on the running backs – ASU’s Eno Benjamin and UA’s J.J. Taylor. Whoever gets the better of each other will likely decide the winner of the game.

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In this scenario, it’s Benjamin. While the Wildcats have held their last three opponents to an average of 82 yards on the ground, ASU’s back delivers, extending drives on third down and exhausting the Wildcat defense with runs that carry multiple defenders.

It’s Benjamin’s efforts that get ASU going early, building a two-score lead by the end of the first quarter. Knowing UA must stop the run, Manny Wilkins is able to operate under control, rebounding from a tough game against the Ducks to hit tight windows under less duress.

After a touchdown toss from Wilkins, Arizona’s Khalil Tate responds to ASU’s big start with a touchdown throw and a score from Taylor to bring the deficit back to seven points. Without worry, the Sun Devils get the ball back with limited time and execute a touchdown drive led by Benjamin to put them back up by two scores by halftime.

Arizona gets the ball to start the second half, but their opportunity is shattered by an interception from ASU’s secondary. From there, all hope is eliminated, as Wilkins connects on a chunk play to N’Keal Harry to secure the Sun Devils’ three-score lead for the remainder of the game.

While the teams are different, this type of win would give vengeance not only for the Oregon loss, but for the rushing clinic UA handed the Sun Devils in the Territorial Cup two years prior. With this year’s defense holding Arizona to fewer than 24 points, it’d provide another example of how Danny Gonzales has changed the culture.

Result: ASU wins, 42-21. 

Average Case Scenario: A Back-and-Forth Cup

Coach Edwards won’t like to hear this, but the past six Territorial Cups have been shootouts. A combined 483 points were scored, and the winner had to exceed 50 points three times.

In this game, the marks are no different. Both the Wildcats and the Sun Devils run the score to the 40s as both offenses’ rushing attacks trade shots like it’s a heavyweight title fight.

Remember this week’s Monday Night Football slugfest between the Rams and Chiefs? For as much scoring that game brought, Saturday’s Territorial Cup similarly comes down to defense.

Here’s the breakdown.

The Sun Devils, down six, need a score in the final five minutes. On a fourth down call, Wilkins completes a screen pass to Harry, who scampers by four defenders and rushes to endzone, giving the Sun Devils the lead with less than three minutes on the clock.

With added pressure, Gonzales’ unit delivers, forcing the Wildcats to go three-and-out. The Sun Devils have the ball back, and it looks like they can run out the clock with a first down.

However, Rob Likens‘ and Edwards’ clock management becomes questionable. They call pass plays on first and second down that lead to incompletions. Benjamin can’t extend the drive on third down, and all of a sudden, Arizona has the ball with two timeouts and a chance to win.

While frustration breaks loose in fans’ minds, they turn to the field and see Jalen Harvey making the play of the game – an interception at midfield that suddenly seals a Sun Devil victory.

A win is a win, but things could’ve easily went worse at the end of the game. The Territorial Cup is back, however, and that should do for everybody.

Result: ASU wins, 49-48.  

Worst Case Scenario: A Tragic End

For the fifth consecutive year, the Territorial Cup switches hands, as the Wildcats defeat the Sun Devils by one score to add further insult to ASU’s season woes.

For much of the game, the Sun Devils are behind. An opening touchdown from Benjamin provides early momentum, but the Wildcats quickly respond with a score and a forced turnover to create a 14-point swing.

Now behind, ASU inches closer with field goals and occasional defensive stops, but they’re never able to break through. Every big play the Sun Devils make is negated by a larger answer from Arizona, who consistently maintains 7-to-10 point cushion entering the fourth quarter.

There, the Sun Devils finally tie the game, as Harry beats a defender in man coverage to amplify the game’s drama. ASU’s defense, however, can’t answer once more, as Tate unexpectedly breaks his legs loose for a 50+ yard score to put Arizona back in front.

Undeterred, the Sun Devils strike again, as Benjamin punches in a long score on a three-play drive to tie the score again with less than a minute to go. With Arizona having no timeouts, it looks like the game is headed to overtime.

Except it isn’t.

The crowd noise causes some miscommunication on ASU’s defensive front, and while the group is out of sorts, Taylor gets a carry and takes the ball all the way to the house, shocking the Sun Devils as time expires.

This might be the worst way to ever lose a football game. While recency makes blame easy to deflect, the fact is the Sun Devils were again victimized by their own mistakes. Yes, late-game mishaps happened, but like last week, plenty more opportunities rose to win the game.

Result: Arizona wins, 39-33. 

Next. ASU Football: Three keys to a Territorial Cup victory for Sun Devils. dark

With six of ASU’s losses all coming by one score, this season’s reflection grows even more disappointing. Maybe a victory in the bowl game could refund some joy.