The Arizona Wildcats will host the Arizona State Sun Devils in the battle for the Territorial Cup Friday evening. On the surface, this game is a huge letdown compared to its iterations from the past three seasons. Past matchups in the Rich Rod vs Todd Graham era have had Pac-12 South title implications. This year’s edition has Arizona State bowl-eligibility on the line and not much else.
But don’t tell that to the Wildcats. No matter how good or how bad the year has gone up until this point, the biggest game is ALWAYS the Territorial Cup. Arizona sits at 2-9 on the season, having lost 8 consecutive games, while ASU is idling along at 5-6, needing one more win to play one more game during bowl season. There is nothing the Wildcats players, coaches, and fans would like more than to make this game the Sun Devils’ last of the year.
Arizona has been thoroughly dominated in 6 of its 8 losses during the current losing streak. Its defense has been lacking while its offense had extended stretches of invisibility. The team is giving up 38.6 points per game, good enough for 120th in the country. They cannot throw the ball, something the fun game of quarterback roulette that Arizona has employed this year has not helped. They are averaging 187 yards through the air, coming in at 101st nationally. Just about the only thing the Wildcats have done well is run the ball, mostly due to Brandon Dawkins shouldering the rushing load from the QB position.
Arizona State, contrarily, has the nation’s worst pass defense and a weak offense. In a cruel twist of fate, this week’s winner will likely be determined by which team’s weakness plays… ”less bad”? With Anu Solomon unlikely to play this week, can Dawkins get enough going in the passing game to keep the Arizona State defense honest? Last year, Dawkins had a breakout game against the Sun Devils, throwing for 305 yards to go along with 2 touchdowns and 2 late interceptions. He also ran for 78 yards in that game. Arizona will be hoping for a similar performance from their quarterback Friday.
The Sun Devils have had their own QB issues this year, with Manny Wilkins struggling to stay healthy. Judging by years past, they won’t be afraid to throw in some trick plays against the Wildcats. For ASU, this is truly a win-or-go-home situation. If they lose, the season is over. For the Wildcats, this is the last hoorah regardless of the result. Is Arizona State, losers of 5 straight themselves, going to use their quest for a bowl appearance as added motivation? Do they even need any added motivation against their hated rival? And for Arizona, can Rich Rod get his team to cuts its losses and come together for 1 positive to come out of this year, a win against “that team up north”?
We will find out Friday who the real Pac-12 cellar dweller is for 2016. It truly does seem as simple as which team is more motivated? But everyone knows, in a rivalry game, anything can happen.