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Arizona vs. ASU: What can we learn from recent Territorial Cup matchups?

When it comes down to rivalry games, it's best to expect the unexpected. But that doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from Arizona and Arizona State's most recent matchups.

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

It doesn't matter what each team's record is, which team is favored or who owns home field advantage; the Territorial Cup always tends to be a toss up.

Yet if you're able to read in between the lines, there's always a lesson that can be built upon each time Arizona and Arizona State take the field against each other.

With that in mind, we asked our writers to look back at recent history to hopefully find something Arizona State can use before Saturday's big matchup in Tempe:

Question: What can ASU learn from its most recent Territorial Cup matchups?

Brad Denny: The primary lesson is the same every time these teams meet: assume nothing. As with all great rivalries, records, rankings and momentum go right out the window in this game. The Duel in the Desert is a war, plain and simple. Anything can, and most often does, happen. The most recent case-in-points have come the last two years, when the eventual loser held a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter. If the Sun Devils have learned anything from battling UofA, it's that every play must be executed with 100 percent effort. There can be no letdowns from kickoff to the final whistle.

Nick Krueger: Limit turnovers. I hate to pour salt on old wounds but there's plenty to learn from and forget from when the last time the two teams played in Tempe in 2011. The Sun Devils turned it over three times in that game as the Wildcats came back to win 31-27 on a 23-yard touchdown catch by Juron Criner. ASU was fortunate enough to escape against UCLA but it might not be the case again.

Former ASU defensive tackle Bo Moos was quoted after the game saying "I think we just hit a point in the season where we thought we had arrived..." Now this is the Dennis Erickson era we're talking about here but winning a Pac-12 South title on the road in the Rose Bowl when you already know you're in the Pac-12 championship game is pretty darn close to "arrived." Now I don't think that it is, nor do I think this team believes it has reached its final goals. As I'm sure Todd Graham has already told this team, nobody hangs "Pac-12 South Champion" banners. ASU needs to realize that a Territorial Cup win means a ton to the fans and to have the Pac-12 title game at home would do wonders for this program going forward.

Cody Ulm: If there's one thing I learned from last year's Territorial Cup matchup, it's that Ka'Deem Carey can get his and it's not the end of the world. This is especially encouraging news considering Carey's fresh off a game in which he carried the ball a career-high 48 times for 206 yards and four touchdowns.

The last time these teams met, Carey racked up 172 yards and one touchdown on just 25 attempts. That was good for a 6.9 YPC clip. Yet the Wildcats time of possession was greater than the Devils' by only a little over a minute and a half. In other words, Carey turned in a hell of a game but still wasn't able to control the flow like he did last Saturday against Oregon. Of course, you can make the case that Carey has improved since then. But then you have to factor in that Arizona State's run defense is no where near as awful as it was last year. The Sun Devils have only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season long. Carey is virtual lock to make it three this Saturday but at least we know that won't be the ultimate X-Factor.

Ryan Bafaloukos: I am going to say special teams play and I look back to the game in Tucson in 2010 when Arizona State blocked two extra points to win the Territorial Cup. Rivalry games like this often times come down to three or four plays that decide the game and special teams is a huge factor in close games. Field position is a very undervalued aspect of a football game. Zane Gonzales has to keep being consistent kicking field goals and even extra points. Arizona State was gashed by UCLA on kick returns and the Sun Devils cannot afford to give Arizona short fields to work with. It is unlikely that the game will come down to a blocked extra point, however a few crucial special teams plays throughout the game may have an impact on who takes the Territorial Cup.

Kerry Crowley: Whether the Sun Devils look at recent Territorial Cups or even just focus on last week's Arizona-Oregon game, they have one thing to learn: focus. Arizona State has the talent and coaching staff to beat this Wildcat team with ease, but that's not how it works in rivalry games. Todd Graham and his staff are smart and despite all of the talk about how the players are able to focus themselves against the Wildcats, Arizona State shouldn't change its preparation one bit.

After watching the Sun Devils compete against UCLA, it's clear that game was among the most physically exhausting and mentally taxing that Arizona State has played in recent memory. It's extraordinarily difficult to bring that kind of energy two weeks in a row, but if the Sun Devils are truly destined for a Pac-12 championship, they'll figure out a way to be ready to conquer the Wildcats. The secrets in rivalry games are the secrets that Graham has preached about all year: penalties, turnovers and special teams. If the Sun Devils dominate all three of those areas, then expect this team to beat a determined Arizona team that has a bad taste in its mouth after last season's collapse