(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
A matchup between the two most recent Pac-12 South Division champions is also a matchup between two teams whose divisional title hopes were dead in the water midway through the season.
Arizona State (South champs in 2013) and Arizona (2014 champs) sit at a collective 11-10, but while the championship implications are nonexistent, the 89th installment of Territorial Cup will naturally be as intense as ever.
In Tucson last season, Arizona came away with a thrilling 42-35 win that determined the division. With a plethora of similar faces from that matchup, a similar game can be expected this year.
However, both teams have been hit hard by injuries.
ASU lost redshirt senior bandit safety Jordan Simone for the remainder of the season, and freshman field safety Kareem Orr is questionable after missing last week’s win over Washington. While redshirt sophomore James Johnson and sophomore Chad Adams played well in ASU’s second-half shutout of Washington, experience in this emotional contest is of high value.
For Arizona, sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon is questionable after suffering a concussion, and junior linebacker Scooby Wright III is out with injury as well.
With that in mind, both teams have bounds of explosive talent in their respective skill positions, and with defenses hindered, the potential for explosive plays is abundant.
What to watch for
ASU run defense vs. Arizona rushing attack
This matchup pits the Pac-12’s 2nd-ranked rushing defense (ASU) against the 2nd-ranked rushing offense (Arizona). Sophomore running back Nick Wilson carries much of the load, averaging 89.8 of Arizona’s 236.6 yards per game and leads with eight touchdowns.
Redshirt seniors running back Jared Baker and quarterback Jerrard Randall supplament the ground game with over 675 rushing yards each.
Without Simone, the Sun Devils vaunted run defense may be hindered, but that doesn’t take away from their talented and skilled front-seven. Redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Longino is coming off a seven tackle (four tackles for loss) performance that Graham deemed “inspirational.” Teamed with the rest of ASU’s front, Longino and the Sun Devils are limiting opponents to 124.6 rushing yards per game.
They have been successful in keeping the best of Pac-12 runners from getting into a rhythm, and Arizona has had its way on the ground. With Solomon questionable, the rushing attack becomes that much more important.
Something’s got to give.
ASU secondary vs. Arizona passing attack
The Sun Devil secondary – at one point with three seniors and a sophomore – could see two players at safety who haven’t seen much time at all this season. Adams and Johnson had flashes against Washington, but Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is surely licking his chops down the field.
Washington freshman quarterback Jake Browning was able to stretch the field against ASU last week but missed his targets. Although the quarterback situation is up in the air for the Wildcats, inexperience in the backend of the secondary is debatably the worst for a Sun Devil team that has issues protecting against the explosive play.
Randall is a unique talent who can extend plays with his legs as well, so that adds potential for ASU’s secondary to have to cover the Wildcats receiving core for longer than a traditional play may take to development.
Records, previous play and tendencies tend to mean close to nothing in a rivalry game, especially in college football. With that in mind, Arizona is without its best linebacker, its quarterback and is up against a defense that prides itself on stopping the run. ASU is at home. It’s Senior Day.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org