(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
No one was able to stop redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins in the first half of the 90th Territorial Cup.
Arizona (2-9) leads Arizona State (5-6) 28-14 at the midway point thanks to the arm and the legs of its 6-foot-3, 210 signal caller.
The Wildcats have been able to run the ball with ease – its rushing attack, headlined by Dawkins’ 98 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, has totaled 186 yards on 26 attempts collectively and is averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
While Dawkins struggled to throw the ball in the first half – he completed just three of his eight attempts for 77 yards – his 64-yard touchdown completion to Nate Phillips in the second quarter gave the Wildcats some breathing room to close out the half.
Zach Green’s one-yard score with 7:07 remaining was just further insurance.
At the time of the Dawkins touchdown pass, Kareem Orr and Armand Perry had both left the game and returned for unspecified reasons, perpetuating the theme of injuries, as well as big play vulnerability, that has plagued the Sun Devils all season.
Perry was later ejected after a late hit on Dawkins and in the first half alone, the Sun Devils allowed five plays of 10 or more yards on defense.
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins completed 21 of his 25 attempts, but finished with 157 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception in the half. He didn’t fare much better on the ground, either, amassing 25 yards on 10 carries.
The Wildcats’ defense was on top of the Sun Devils’ conservative offensive effort, limiting Wilkins to 7.5 yards per completion.
Wilkins’ 21-yard touchdown pass to Tim White at the end of the half narrowed the margin to two scores, but was still an outlier in an otherwise stagnant offensive showing through the air.
In place of an effective running game, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey elected to deploy a generous dose of screen plays at the line of scrimmage to salvage that production – albeit to no avail – and carved out a role for Kalen Ballage as a receiver out of the backfield.
Ballage carried the ball four times for 12 yards and finished with four catches for 33 yards in the half.
Junior Demario Richard carried the ball five times for 21 yards.
The Sun Devils were faced with 12 third downs over the duration of the half and picked up only five, a display of the team’s struggle when tasked with keeping drives alive.
Arizona is currently in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, the program’s worst since 2003, while Arizona State, a team that started the season 4-0, could be poised to finish the season on a 1-7 slide.
Should nothing change on offense for the Sun Devils in the second half, the latter seems all the more likely.