Books have been written about it. It divides families, marriages, houses and plenty of friendships too. For over a century, Arizona State and Arizona have met for the Territorial Cup. Friday afternoon in Tucson is setting up to be another classic chapter in the historic rivalry.
The two teams will meet as ranked opponents for the first time since 1986 and the stakes are high as well. A UCLA loss Friday against Stanford would guarantee that the winner of the Territorial Cup will win the Pac-12 South and head to the Pac-12 Championship game.
This season, the Pac-12 has been completely unpredictable. The question marks that surround pressure-cooker rivalry games guarantees that hardly anyone truly knows what will happen this time around between Arizona State and Arizona. Both fan bases aren't sure which team will show up. For the Sun Devils, it might be the group that throttled Notre Dame and easily took down Washington State in the second half or it could be the team that lost to Oregon State and was trounced by UCLA at home. The Wildcat fans would like to see the team that took care of then No. 2 Oregon on the road and killed No. 17 Utah by 32 points but the team that barely beat Washington and University of Texas San Antonio might come to play as well. But that's what makes rivalry games at the end of the season so intriguing.
For both sides, it has been an incredible season full of a lot of highs and lows, but the season can be considered a failure if they lose the Territorial Cup. A lot more than state pride rides on Friday's game so here's what Arizona will bring to this season's game.
Key wins and losses
The Wildcats hobbled past University of Texas San Antonio in their second game of the season. They started out up 10-0 but lost the lead 16-13 on a touchdown followed quickly by a safety. Arizona quickly regained the lead on a 2-yard touchdown run and two field goals, holding on to win 26-23. Freshman running back Nick Wilson carried the ball 30 times for 174 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Cayleb Jones had four catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Almost a month later the Wildcats stunned No. 2 Oregon in Eugene on a Thursday night, doing so for the second straight year against the Ducks. It was also the first time Arizona started a season with five straight wins since 1998. Oregon took just a 7-3 lead into halftime before things revved up in the second half. Wilson gave the wildcats a 10-7 lead with a rushing touchdown, but the Ducks struck back on a 6-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead. Another touchdown run and reception by Wilson put the Wildcats back on top 24-14. The Ducks reciprocated and tied the game at 24 on a Marcus Mariota pass to Keanon Lowe from nine yards out. With 2:54 to play, senior running back Terris Jones-Grigsby punched in the game winning touchdown from a yard out and launched Arizona into the AP Poll as well.
The Wildcats two losses came at the hands of UCLA and USC. Arizona scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter but kicker Casey Skowron pushed a 36-yard field goal wide right which would have given the Wildcats the win. He would redeem himself with a game winner against Washington a little over a month later. The 17-7 victory by the Bruins was a product of stout defense by UCLA, which allowed just 175 yards passing and 80 yards rushing to the Wildcats. Arizona also barely beat Cal on a hail mary earlier in the season.
Arizona on offense
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon won the starting job out of fall camp and has proved himself as a threat this season. The Wildcats are No. 15 in the country in passing yards per game and Solomon has 3, 216 yards passing and 25 touchdowns this season. He's capable as a runner and passer and his versatility has helped the Wildcats' offense keep defenses on their toes all season. Solomon injured his ankle Saturday against Utah and spent the second half in a walking boot, so his availability for Friday is up in the air. Redshirt senior Jesse Scroggins came in for Solomon against Utah and completed 3 of 5 passes for 64 yards.
Freshman running back Nick Wilson has been consistent for the Wildcats this season, averaging 108 yards per game on the ground. He has already rushed for over 1,000 yards this season with 12 touchdowns. At 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds, Wilson is definitely a smaller and shiftier runner out of the backfield and has big play abilities as well.
The Arizona wide receiving corps took a hit losing sophomore Nate Phillips for the season with a foot injury, but the group still has plenty of depth. The Wildcats have three wide receivers with at least 30 catches and three touchdowns. It starts with 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore Cayleb Jones who has 60 catches for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. He is definitely Solomon's favorite target. He's trending downwards as of late though with just 10 catches combined in his last three games. Senior Austin Hill has 38 catches for 541 yards and four touchdowns. He missed last season so he's a threat Todd Graham has only dealt with once. Sophomore Samajie Grant will also play a role, he had four catches for 88 yards against Utah and four catches for 85 yards against Washington so his contributions are picking up.
The offensive line is an experienced group which has only allowed 23 sacks this season and considering how much Solomon runs and moves around that's pretty impressive. They start two juniors in Lene Maiava and Cayman Bundage. Seniors hold down the tackle spots and center with Mickey Baucus, Steven Gurrola and Fabbians Ebbele.
Arizona on defense
Arizona runs a 3-3-5 scheme under Rich Rodriguez. It's a little irregular in that relies more on deception and the speed of players off the offensive line and it's not something offenses see a whole lot. Anchoring the front three are seniors Reggie Gilbert and Dan Pettinato joined by redshirt freshman Parker Zellers. Of these three its Pettinato who sticks out with 37 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries this season.
Looking to keep contain and blitz is stud sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 230-pounds. He has 126 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He's one of those players who just has a nose for the football and makes plays on the football field. Wright is joined by fellow sophomores William Parks and Jake Matthews. Parks has made an impact as well with 62 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions.
The corner spots are handled by redshirt freshman Jarvis McCall and redshirt senior Jonathan McKnight. They've combined for just one interception this year but have 87 combined tackles. McKnight also has 12 passes defended. The safety play is a combined effort of seniors Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jourdon Grandon and Jared Tevis. Tevis is the second leading tackler on the team behind Wright with 100 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. Grandon is right behind him with 69 tackles and two interceptions. Taylor Kelly will certainly have his hands full trying to place balls over the top against this group.
Freshman Tyrell Johnson has done a decent job returning kicks, averaging 21.5 yards on 15 returns. Punt returns belong to DaVonte Neal who has nine returns for an average of 14.6 yards and a touchdown. Junior Drew Riggleman is an incredible punter, averaging 46.5 yards per punt with 23 punts over 50 yards and landing 15 of his 53 punts inside the 20-yard line. Casey Skowron has had an adventurous season in kicking to say the least, making and missing a game winner. He's 17 of 25 on the season with a long of 49 yards and two blocked attempts as well.