(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The Sun Devils are midway through rivalry week, but the energy hasn’t let down one bit. Taming emotions and keeping a steady head will make things difficult for players, coaches, and obviously spectators.
Head coach Todd Graham recognizes that, and that’s why he emphasized many of the same things he has highlighted all year as keys to Saturday’s game.
“All over the country, these games are very, very emotional games, it’s going to come down to turnovers, special teams, and explosive plays.”
Learning the Rivalry
As most people know, the Territorial Cup is one of the longest lived, and most intense rivalries in the country. With so much history and back-and-forth results (Arizona leads 50-37-1), there is no reason to think the intensity will be any lower this season.
Acclimating to rivalry week is a challenge for any newcomer of a college football team, but making the jump from junior college to Division I is bound to shed new light on the hatred between two state schools. Junior wide receiver Tim White has heard the hype, but said he is ready to get down to business.
“Just the intensity,” White said. “I heard a lot of talk about it, I’m not really sure everything that it’s about but I’m sure I’ll find out game day. Just trying to keep emotions down and keep it like another game.”
While players may want to play like it’s any other game, there is so much at stake and your emotions can at times get the best of you. According to White, this is head coach Todd Graham’s biggest emphasis.
“He just wants us to keep our emotions in the right place,” White said. “Don’t react to anything and just play football.”
Having to learn how to play under such emotionally stimulating conditions takes some getting used to, and White said his teammates have helped him to learn more about what it’s like playing in the biggest rivalry in the state of Arizona.
“I just talked to a few players actually yesterday and they just told me their past games, their past stories of how it was and all the intensity and things that went on at the field,” White said.
One teammate of his, freshman linebacker/tight end Jay Jay Wilson, has experienced rivalry week with White before, dating back to their high school days. White said that is the closest he has gotten to the rivalry atmosphere at ASU.
“In high school, not this level but in high school we had a good rivalry against Valencia and I’m sure Jay Jay (Wilson) would tell you about that,” White said. “I’ve experienced it a couple times but nothing like this so far.”
Regardless of what White or Graham are saying, the message is simple.
“This win means everything,” White said. “That’s what (Graham) is telling us so we’ve got to go out there and get this W.”
Preparing for Arizona’s Depth at Receiver
Diversity is what defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is emphasizing in preparing for Arizona, and it comes all over the field.
Firstly, the quarterback position. Having struggled against a two-quarterback system against Texas A&M, ASU is going to face a more cemented dual quarterback offense with the Wildcats. Similar to Texas A&M, one quarterback is better through the air, the other is better on the ground.
“Obviously you better keep the guy who can run in the pocket,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “Having guys making sure they’re playing with their eyes if you’re dropping into coverage and being able to react back up and make plays in space against somebody that can run fast.”
The biggest threat of diversity the Arizona offense presents is in their receiving corps. No matter what diverse element of the group is analyzed, it all is shown in the stats.
“If you look at them they have four or five touchdowns apiece,” Patterson said. “They all have about the same receiving yards.”
Personnel wise, they have the capability of beating you in all sorts of ways, and Patterson says just about every way possible.
“You’ve got big guys, you’ve got quick guys, and they’ve got depth,” Patterson said. “They’ve got about three big guys that they like to run the vertical passing game to, then you have the smaller, quicker guys they get the ball to quicker. Now you’ve got to make plays out in the open space just like we’ve been doing all year long.”
Patterson also mentioned they have this consistency on display through each of their first six receivers. Having come off of playing a big part in the comeback last week against Washington, this ASU secondary has a tough task ahead of them.