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

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

With their chances of a Pac-12 South title now dashed, ASU football must now concentrate on preventing their rivals from hoisting the Territorial Cup.

There isn’t a single player on ASU’s roster who understands the ASU vs. UA rivalry better than Manny Wilkins and Jalen Harvey.

As redshirt seniors, Wilkins and Harvey have seen this game play out, four times actually, with the two sides protecting their home turf in each of those four meetings.

This time around, if the Sun Devils want to break the trend of home-team victors, they will have to be successful in these three aspects of the game.

1. Slow down the Arizona offense

In four of their five victories this season, the Wildcats have scored 35 points or more.

Arizona is averaging 30.5 points per contest this season. After initially struggling to start the year on that side of the ball, the Wildcats have improved thanks in large part to Khalil Tate‘s increased comfort in Kevin Sumlin‘s offense.

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J.J. Taylor has 1,288 yards on the ground this season while Shawn Poindexter‘s 10 touchdown grabs gives Arizona a dynamic one-two punch on offense around Tate who was a preseason Heisman candidate.

Tate’s dual-threat abilities is something the Sun Devils have not seen too much of this season. Although Tate has transitioned into more of a pocket passer under Sumlin, the quarterback is easily the most dynamic athlete ASU has seen yet.

Arizona will be difficult to slow down but the Sun Devils’ performance against Oregon once Merlin Robertson was allowed to play in the second half resulted in just three points allowed to the Ducks.

The game may very well hinge on this aspect of the matchup.

2. Manny Wilkins must throw the ball often

Heading into the final week of the season, Arizona’s defense is allowing just under 24 completions a game.

Opponents have been throwing the ball frequently against the Wildcats. Just last weekend Gardner Minshew threw for 473 yards and seven touchdowns against a hopeless Arizona team.

The Cougars may be the No. 8 team in the nation but video game numbers like those should pop out to Arizona State offensive coordinator Rob Likens.

It’s no secret that ASU has turned into a run-oriented team. For good reason as well.

Eno Benjamin has 1,444 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns with another game left to play. The Sun Devils running back hasn’t had under 100 yards rushing in a game since week seven against Stanford.

But the Wildcats secondary has, frankly, not been good. With a weapon like N’Keal Harry on the outside, the Sun Devils best chances will most likely come from the air.

3. Understand the importance of the rivalry

Herm Edwards explained this week to the media that he will have one speaker a day leading up to this week’s game to help explain the importance of the Territorial Cup to the Sun Devils’ younger players.

There is no denying that ASU is a young team. On defense, Danny Gonzales has deployed lineups with as many as six freshman on the field. Running back Eno Benjamin is only a sophomore and ASU’s receiving corps outside of possibly N’Keal Harry will be returning in 2019.

With freshmen like Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler in key positions of leadership on and off the field for the Sun Devils, it will be critical for all of the freshman and first-year starters on ASU the importance of the rivalry.

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They will need to understand the magnitude of a game that is this intense while at the same time, making sure they don’t let their emotions get the best of them on the road in what will be a hostile environment in Tucson.