Todd Graham is preparing the Sun Devils for his first Territorial Cup game - Stephen Dunn
The Sun Devils invade Tucson in a nationally televised affair on Friday night. Here's what ASU must do to claim the Territorial Cup.
No singular word better describes a rivalry. From players and coaches, to students and fans, each and every person involved in a rivalry understands the significance and wants to do everything in their power to see their team come out on top.
After picking up their sixth win of the season in a 46-7 romp of the Washington State Cougars, the Arizona State Sun Devils achieved bowl eligibility in Todd Graham's first season.
When Arizona State claimed the elusive sixth victory, Sun Devil fans spent little time focusing on the triumph because they know the road that lies ahead. That road leads to Tucson.
On Friday night, the Sun Devils head south to battle the Arizona Wildcats in the annual Territorial Cup affair. The annual rivalry matchup signifies the most important game of the season and this year is no different.
Each team brings plenty of passion to the table on Friday, and the team that can channel its emotions the best will execute and come away with a victory.
A win against the Wildcats isn't just another tick in the win column for the Sun Devils; it's a memory that will last forever.
Below, I list my 5 keys to victory for the Sun Devils on Friday night.
1. Dominate the Line of Scrimmage
The Arizona State offensive line been less than stellar this year. Talented running backs have seen their stats slashed while Taylor Kelly has had to scramble for his life. If the Sun Devil linemen can open up holes and give their quarterback time to pass, this offense is as dynamic as they come.
A win over the Wildcats starts at the point of attack, and success depends on the big boys in the trenches. Even though the Sun Devil linemen have struggled this year, all is forgiven if they can lead the charge to victory.
On the defensive side of the ball, Will Sutton has one of the quickest first steps in the country. Sutton and the Sun Devils average 8.91 tackles for loss per game, and they will need to get off the ball well to stop the nation's leading rusher, Ka'Deem Carey. If Carey doesn't get going, it could be a long night for the Wildcats.
2. Keep Matt Scott Cold
Three weeks ago, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott suffered a concussion at the hands of the UCLA Bruins. Scott missed the Colorado game, but returned to his starting job last week in Salt Lake City. Against a porous Utah secondary, Scott completed just 12 of 27 passes for 160 yards.
This week offered Scott more time to recover, but he has yet to thrive in a game situation since his concussion.
The Sun Devil defense averages 4.27 sacks per game, which is the best mark in the country. Todd Graham will dial up blitz packages, and their effectiveness will make or break the Arizona State defense on Friday.
Even though the Sun Devil secondary looked strong against the Cougars on Saturday, the Wildcats are a completely different beast. Matt Scott can pass and run, so the Sun Devils will need consistent pressure and a lock-down secondary to slow down the Cats.
3. No Interceptions
A startling trend continued last week as Taylor Kelly threw for four touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Arizona State victory. The Sun Devils improved to 6-0 when Kelly doesn't throw a pick and they remain 0-5 when he does.
If Kelly throws an interception, it's not impossible for the Sun Devils to win. But the trend doesn't look good. Kelly's first year as a signal caller has been up and down, but he rebounded from four consecutive losses with an efficient outing against the Cougars.
In rivalry games, teams seize on every opportunity to swing the momentum in their favor. Nothing gets players and fans more riled up than an interception or a fumble, so ball security is at a premium.
Sun Devil fans expect a victory when their quarterback holds on to the football. It's your move, Mr. Kelly.
4. Own the Red Zone
The most important snaps of a football game take place inside the 20-yard line. Though every part of Arizona Stadium will be decked out in red on Friday, the Sun Devil offense needs no reminder as to where the red zone really is.
The Sun Devils' red zone difficulties have been well documented this year, as their meager 75.4% success rate indicates. However, the Wildcats haven't been much better. Their 77.6% rate ranks just seventh in the Pac-12.
Neither team has dependable field goal kickers to call upon, and a short field typically favors the defenses. All factors considered, expect Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez to gamble in fourth down situations from the get-go.
5. Forget the Ranking
Prior to facing off against Washington State, Arizona State ran the Pac-12 gauntlet playing four consecutive ranked opponents. Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, and USC all ended in the same outcome: a loss.
By the curse of the devil, Arizona snuck into the BCS Top 25 this week and comes into Friday's contest with a handy little twenty-four next to its name.
Fortunately for the Sun Devils, it's rivalry week. Never has the cliché "throw out the rankings, throw out the records, and throw out the stats" been more applicable for Arizona State.
The Territorial Cup is about much more than the standings, it's about passion, pride, and bragging rights. When each team steps on the field, no one will remember that Arizona touts a number next to its name.
The game isn't played on paper, and that's why we live for rivalries.
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