Bragging rights, pride, and a possible bowl berth were on the line between Arizona and Arizona State in the 90th Territorial Cup.
Arizona State got Manny Wilkins back a few weeks ago, but that didn’t mean he was completely healthy. He’s had a high ankle sprain and that type of injury is one of the toughest to make a recovery from during the season.
The Sun Devils have had a total of 36 players miss a combined 168 games so far this season. To have any success at any level of football you can’t have that type of injury report. Coaches definitely anticipate having injuries, but not at this Sun Devil level.
Emotions always run high in a rivalry game and there was a little dust up of emotions between the two teams in pre-game, but the coaches quickly intervened. Nothing came of it. The coaches wanted the emotion to come out on the field.
Arizona needed their fans into the game from the beginning and the Wildcats gave them something on the third play of the game. Starting quarterback, Brandon Dawkins, took the third snap of the game and scampered 71 yards to end zone. In a blink of eye, it was 7-0 Arizona.
The Sun Devils needed a response. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sun Devil defense made a play. JoJo Wicker stripped the ball loose, and Koron Gump scooped the ball up and took it 42 yards to even the game at seven.
Although both teams scored on big plays in the first quarter, that was the end of the scoring. It was all tied up at seven.
Both teams had a turnover a piece, to many penalties, and the game was being played between the 20 yard lines. Neither team was threatening to run away and hide from the other.
Well, the second quarter started and the threat to run away and hide was made by the Arizona Wildcats. Behind some big plays by quarterback Brian Dawkins and the offense the Wildcats raced to a 28-7 lead.
The Sun Devils managed to get a score with 34 seconds left in the half to cut the lead to 28-14 at the half.
Heading into the locker room at half, Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham could not be pleased with his overall team performance. In fact, he had to be downright irate about it. I know I would be.
His defense was making the Arizona Wildcat offense look like they could win the conference title.
Let’s face facts though. The Sun Devil defense is historically bad this year. Not only historically bad as in Sun Devil historically bad, but in NCAA historically bad. That is saying something right there. The Sun Devils are giving up 514 total yards per game. How they beat anybody giving up that many yards is a miracle.
However, the Sun Devils wanted to make some kind of stand in the second half. Arizona State got the ball to start the second half and quickly went down the field to score to make it a one possession game. They had all the momentum.
Momentum can be a fickle thing. Arizona needed a response and got one. They scored and pushed the lead back up to 35-21 and grabbed all the momentum back. The pendulum was swinging back and forth in this game.
That defensive stop would not come on the next series for Arizona State. The Wildcats once again went down the field and scored on a Zach Green one yard plunge. It was now 42-28 going to the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter is crunch time in the sports world. It’s time when you have to make the right play call. The Sun Devils couldn’t do that.
Arizona State had to grab momentum back being down by two scores. They had a fourth down and they chose to go with their “sparky package”. Which means that they have Kalen Ballage as the quarterback. Ballage took the snap and tried to throw it to a Sun Devil receiver. Yeah, a running back throwing it on fourth down.
That summed up the Sun Devil season right there.
The Wildcats took the gift and once again made a huge running play down the field to the Sun Devil two yard line. A couple plays later Samajie Grant takes the ball in the end zone and pushes the lead back up to 49-28.
The embarrassment of this game comes with the thought that Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham is a defensive coach. It doesn’t look that way anymore because when you allow your opponent to run the ball for over 500 yards, defense is a huge issue.
In the end, it was a decisive 56-35 win for the Arizona Wildcats and something to build on for next year. For the Sun Devils, there is going to have to be some long looks in the mirror about what they can do better next season. Injuries aside, this Territorial Cup was a complete embarrassment for the program.
Things need to be fixed in Tempe.