ASU vs. U of A: The key players to watch

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Territorial Cup game kicks off, what players should you look out for?

The Arizona State-University of Arizona rivalry adds another chapter on Saturday.

The Territorial Cup resides in Tempe and the Sun Devils plan on keeping it. Meanwhile, the Wildcats hope the Territorial Cup comes back with them to Tucson.

The name on the front of the jersey matters most, and the name on the back of the jersey isn't relevant. However, three individuals on each side are going to play pivotal roles in the game. Let's find out who they are.


D.J. Foster, Running Back

With Marion Grice firmly entrenched atop the depth chart at running back, it seemed like D.J. Foster might as well permanently switch to wide receiver. In the blink of an eye, it all changed. Grice hobbled off the field against UCLA and the severity of the injury was unknown, and the severity of the injury is still unknown. During practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, the media couldn't spot Grice.

Grice, Grice, baby probably won't happen against University of Arizona. Because of the Grice injury, the Sun Devil faithful are going to chant a new moniker; "go DJ, that's my DJ." Both are catchy and both are effective.

Between pass protecting, running and catching, the Arizona State backfield controls its destiny offensively. Foster needs to fill in and take advantage of the long-awaited opportunity.

Jaelen Strong, Wide Receiver

It's hard to overlook Jaelen Strong. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound athlete routinely displays the two most important traits for wide receivers: size and speed.

Week six through eight caused Strong to slightly fall off the radar, as he logged only 50 receiving yards combined. The numbers don't tell the entire story, as Strong battled a knee issue that clearly limited him. The ailment subsided over the previous two games. Strong hauled in 197 yards and one touchdown against Oregon State and UCLA.

Strong takes the center of the stage even more so without Grice. The red zone dynamic changes drastically. Grice owns 20 trips to pay dirts and is the clear go-to option down there. Strong now takes over the responsibility as the main target inside the 20-yard line.

Will Sutton, Defensive Lineman

Remember when Will Sutton took grief earlier in the season? I remember, and said it was premature. Thank you Sutton, for proving me right.

No Sutton isn't at the same All-American level, but he is still at an All Pac-12 level. The University of Arizona relies on the running game as much as any collegiate football team because of Ka'Deem Carey. The Sun Devils shouldn't fear Carey, they should respect Carey.

Arizona State defensive coordinator Paul Randolph continues to make great adjustments and strides in slowing down opposing ground games. Who's at the center of the action? Sutton. What Sutton lacks in size he makes up for in determination, speed and smarts. For the Sun Devils' defense to thrive, Sutton needs to eat some more, even after Thanksgiving.


Ka'Deem Carey, Running Back

Who's the model of consistency and greatness for running backs in college football? Carey.

On paper, University of Arizona isn't good enough to beat Oregon, but it did so. On paper, University of Arizona Isn't good enough to beat Arizona State, but it can do so. Why? Carey. Get the point? On the ground alone, Carey has 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns, putting himself right back in the Heisman Trophy conversation again.

The 290 attempts speaks volumes to Carey's toughness and puts him on pace for 368, well above his 308 last season. Few 5-foot-10 198-pound human beings can handle that damage and still prosper. Say what you want about the Wildcats, but don't make fun of Carey, otherwise you will sound dumb.

Nate Phillips, Wide Receiver

The top target on Rich Rodriguez's depth chart was Austin Hill. Unfortunately, he went down in summer camp with a torn ACL. Hill has returned to the practice field, yet he still isn't ready for game action. Therefore, the first looks from B.J. Denker are sticking with Nate Phillips.

Arizona State can spread the ball around with ease. University of Arizona can't spread the ball around with ease. Phillips tends to be their one man band. Terrence Miller and Samajie Grant aren't far behind in yards, but neither compares to Phillips in touchdowns. The Wildcats receivers have scored 14 touchdowns and half of them ended up in Phillips hands.

Denker isn't ready to make the necessary progressions, often locking onto targets. Even though Denker hit Miller nine times against Oregon, Phillips should be his top target against Arizona State.

Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Safety

The Wildcats' pass defense in 2012 was abysmal. The Wildcats' pass defense in 2013 has improved. What's the constant between both years? Tra'Mayne Bondurant's ball-hawking ways provided light at the end of the tunnel and was the spark plug behind the turnaround.

CBS's Phil Steele selected Bondurant as Freshman Second-Team All-American back in 2011. The steady rise now puts Bondurant on the map for higher accolades.

Bondurant leads the University of Arizona defense with four interceptions. Turnovers aren't his only calling; racking up 61 tackles. Taylor Kelly and the Arizona State offense may be one of the best units in the country. Bondurant will be asked to go from boundary to boundary to slow Kelly down.

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