Arizona (7-4, 4-4 in Pac-12) at No. 12 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1 in Pac-12)
Kickoff: 7:30 P.M. MST/9:30 EST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium
Point Spread: Arizona State (-10.5)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson, Glenn Parker, Drea Avant)
Radio: 620 KTAR AM (Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst, Doug Franz)
Weather Forecast: 60 degrees
Series History: The Arizona Wildcats lead the all-time series against the Arizona State Sun Devils with an overall record of of 47-38-1. The two schools have competed for the Territorial Cup Trophy, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, since 1899. While the Wildcats dominated the early games in the series and own the longest winning streak between the two schools, the Sun Devils own a 30-24-1 lead in the series since Arizona State became a university in 1958.
The visiting team has won each of the past four contests in the series and 13 of the past 21 games between the two programs. Arizona State shocked the Wildcats in last year's game with a stunning 24-point fourth quarter outburst that propelled Todd Graham's team to a 41-34 win.
Arizona's Season to Date (As adapted from The First Look at Arizona)
Arizona opened its second season under head coach Rich Rodriguez on a tear, but much of the Wildcats' early season success was due to a lackluster schedule. Arizona looked like an SEC team with all of the cupcakes on its nonconference plate as the Wildcats recorded three straight victories over Northern Arizona, UNLV and University of Texas San-Antonio to start the season.
After the real season began, the Wildcats discovered that winning wasn't exactly as easy as they once thought. Arizona met its match in a strong Washington squad that always plays tough in Seattle and the Huskies recorded a 31-13 win.
Then, the Wildcats dropped a 38-31 road contest against the USC Trojans in Ed Orgeron's first game at the helm for an embattled program. When Arizona returned to Tucson, the Wildcats regained their form and rode running back Ka'Deem Carey for 234 yards on 39 carries in a 35-24 victory.
The Wildcats would hit the road for two consecutive weeks but fortunately for Arizona, their opponents in the coming weeks turned out to be the Pac-12's two worst teams. Arizona ran away from the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder before outlasting theCalifornia Golden Bears by a final of 33-28 in Berkeley. That game proved to be the Bears' closest conference game en route to an 0-9 finish, but a win is a win in the Pac-12.
Arizona followed up its trip to California with a home game against another Southern California power in the UCLA Bruins. At 6-2, Arizona knew it would likely need one more win to make a stronger case for a bowl game based on its nonconference wins. Despite an inspired effort, the Wildcats couldn't hold back Myles Jack and the Bruins as Jack's 66-yard touchdown run helped UCLA to a 31-26 win.
The following week, Arizona suffered its worst defeat of the Rich Rodriguez era as the Wildcats couldn't capitalize on countless opportunities in a 24-17 loss to the Washington State Cougars.
Despite losing two consecutive games at home, the Wildcats wanted to send their seniors out with a bang and on Saturday, Arizona accomplished something even the most ardent red and blue fans would have a hard time dreaming of. As 20-point home underdogs, the Wildcats completely dominated the Oregon Ducks from start to finish. Saturday's victory was a dream result for Arizona, and it will look to carry that momentum over to the Territorial Cup this Saturday.
Arizona State on Offense
A week after holding the vaunted Oregon offense to just 16 points, the Arizona Wildcats will attempt to contain an Arizona State attack averaging 41.9 points per game this season.
When the Sun Devil offense matches up with the Wildcat defense, it will pit two of the brightest minds in college football against each other in Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Both assistant coaches are Broyles Award nominees for their outstanding work as top assistant coaches for their respective teams.
Norvell will have his work cut out for him this week because the Sun Devils will likely be playing without their most versatile threat in Marion Grice. Grice suffered an undisclosed lower body injury against UCLA last week and all indications point to him sitting out the Arizona game. If Grice is unable to play, D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis will share the load in the backfield.
Lewis is averaging 5.5 yards per carry but he's amassed just 269 yards while Foster has played the slot receiver position this season and hasn't seen many snaps in the backfield. Foster's 524 receiving yards are second on the team, but he only has 183 rushing yards on 43 carries this year.
The Sun Devils found success against UCLA last week with a disciplined read-option attack that relies on the tandem of quarterback Taylor Kelly and Grice. If Grice is out, there is skepticism that the Sun Devils' read-option will maintain its success because neither Lewis nor Foster has developed the same chemistry with Kelly. However, Kelly says that's not the case and that he's comfortable running the read with all three backs.
"We all get those reps, the only extra reps that Marion would get are during game time," Kelly said. "I get just as much or equal with the other guys in practice so D.J. and Deantre are doing a great job this week."
It is difficult to build chemistry overnight on a play that requires so much attention to detail. Kelly and Grice have become much more successful in their read-option attack in the latter half of this season. For Norvell, the hope is that switching running backs won't affect Kelly's mindset and ability to read defensive ends because the play starts with the quarterback's ability to anticipate the defense.
"It takes a lot of time, spring ball, summer, winter workouts without a ball, just practicing with the mesh," Kelly said of the read-option. "All year long we've been working on it because it takes a long time to build."
Kelly says he is familiar with the tendencies that Foster and Lewis have when lining up next to the quarterback in shotgun formation and it helps that both players have been factors in the backfield at practice this year. With a full week of reps behind them, Foster and Lewis have been brought up to speed to the point where the read-option should be full-go during the game.
With Foster abandoning his normal position in the slot to fill in for Grice, the Sun Devils will call on veteran wide receiver Kevin Ozier to take on Foster's usual role. Ozier has 18 receptions this season, including eight against the Washington Huskies. Ozier stepped into the lineup when Jaelen Strong went down with an injury and performed admirably in his absence.
Kelly is confident throwing the ball in Ozier's direction and the senior should benefit from the changes made to the depth chart this week. Ozier could be poised for another breakout game, but he's been preparing for moments like this all season long.
"I anticipate to play the slot every week," Ozier said. "When my number is called, I like to go in there and help the team out and if D.J.'s not playing the slot and they put me in, that's what I anticipate to do."
Arizona State will face its fair share of challenges this week, but the Sun Devils are fortunate to have so many weapons to call upon. Norvell will operate under a next-man-up mentality this week, and though the personnel might look different, the Sun Devils expect the results to stay the same.
Arizona State on Defense
The Sun Devil defense has heard the stories. Arizona State knows the legends. Now, the maroon and gold will confront them headfirst. It's time to stop Ka'Deem Carey.
Everything the Wildcats do on offense is built around the play of one of the nation's top running backs. Carey has been sensational over the last two seasons and if any one man can beat a defense, it's Carey. The junior from Tucson has accumulated his second straight 1,500-yard season and already his 16 touchdowns to his name.
If the Sun Devils want to shut down the Wildcats, it all starts with negating Carey's ability to run the football. Arizona State has a track record of handling backs like Carey, as the Sun Devils held Washington's Bishop Sankey to 22 yards earlier this season.
Arizona State would be hard-pressed to put up a similar performance against Arizona, simply because the Wildcats won't give up on running with Carey as early as the Huskies abandoned hope with Sankey. If the Wildcats are contending, Carey will handle the ball between 35 and 45 times. If the Sun Devils gain a lead, Carey should still register at least 25 to 30 rushing attempts.
Sun Devil defensive tackle Will Sutton has heard about Carey's prowess all week. He saw it up close last season, and he has a world of respect for Arizona's top threat.
"He's the best one we're going to face, he was the best one last year when we came out on top," Sutton pointed out. "He's going to get his carries, he's going to get his yards, that's what he does. He's a good back. We just have to do our best to limit the big plays."
The Sun Devils can't just focus on stopping Carey, because that's where teams get into trouble against the Wildcats. Quarterback B.J. Denker has improved steadily this season, and his performance against Oregon was a day to remember.
Denker was extraordinarily efficient against the Ducks completing 19 of 22 attempts for 178 yards. Denker's success is predicated on getting the ball out of his hands early and finding receivers in the short to intermediate passing game.
The left-handed senior is also a dual-threat and can hurt defenses with his feet. He racked up 102 rushing yards on just 14 carries and could cross the 1,000-yard plateau for the season with a career day against Arizona State. The Sun Devils faced a mobile quarterback last week in Brett Hundley, and Sutton says the game plan doesn't change against Denker.
"If he's a mobile quarterback, we know we just have to keep our rush lanes," Sutton said.
The Sun Devils kept their rush lanes to the tune of nine sacks against the Bruins in last Saturday's victory. Senior linebacker Chris Young had three of those sacks, and Young's performance will be vital to Arizona State's defensive success this week as well.
Arizona likes to run off-tackle with Carey and that will require outstanding pursuit and block-shedding from the Arizona State linebacking corps. Young, Salamo Fiso, and Anthony Jones will be the most important players on defense this week and much of the Sun Devils' game plan hinges on their ability to fill running lanes.
If Carey can work off tackle and turn upfield, the Wildcats are in for a competitive game. If the linebackers keep contain on the edge and hit their backside pursuit lanes, then the Sun Devil defense should win the battle on the ground. But against the Wildcats, that's much easier said than done.
The Final Breakdown
Anyone who watched Arizona State play UCLA can understand the physical and emotional toll that the game took on the Sun Devils. It's hard to imagine Todd Graham being able to refocus his team for another season-defining battle just seven days after winning a division championship, but that's exactly what the head coach is tasked with.
Arizona State is beat up. Taylor Kelly ran for 100 yards, and suffered the consequences. Center Kody Koebensky left the UCLA game with an injury, but returned later on. Marion Grice wasn't so fortunate. The Sun Devils' best offensive weapon hobbled off the field and is doubtful for the Territorial Cup. Plain and simple, the season has done some damage on the maroon and gold.
The one thing that Arizona State does have going for it this week is that the nine-game conference schedule employed by the Pac-12 has left the rest of the teams in the conference battered and bruised as well. While Arizona didn't see the physicality teams are accustomed to facing against Oregon, the Wildcats poured their hearts and souls into getting a victory on senior day.
At this point in the season, the Territorial Cup has become a survival of the fittest contest. Which team has enough left in its tank to make it to the finish line? This is the point in the season where depth comes into play.
If that holds true, the Sun Devils should win this game by two touchdowns. Arizona State has more talent this year, and more offensive threats to call upon. But that's not how rivalries work.
So often, rivalry games come down to the final series or final play and the Territorial Cup is a traditionally a prime example of that theory. One player, and it's likely going to be a rotational guy, will be fresh enough to make the difference and propel his team to a victory this week.
For both teams, the usual suspects are tired and in need of a break. Last year, Marion Grice was just coming on strong and it was his sensational effort that gave the Sun Devils a fighting chance. This year, it could be freshman wide out Terrance Miller for the Wildcats, who is beginning to break out. Or it could be Kevin Ozier for the Sun Devils, who figures to see extended playing time.
After 114 years of the Territorial Cup, nothing should surprise us anymore. And with the way these teams have navigated this season, we should expect the unexpected on Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Arizona State 34, Arizona 30