"This game is the single most important game every year for us."
Those were the first words out of the mouth of ASU head coach Todd Graham Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference. Graham is 2-0 against Arizona as ASU's head coach, including a victory on the road in Tucson in his first year.
However, this year's game is different. This year, the Pac-12 South may come down to whoever hoists the Territorial Cup.
"Obviously it has a lot more meaning (this year) with both teams looking for their 10th win and a Pac-12 championship on the line," said Graham.
For the first time since 1986, the Territorial Cup game will feature two ranked teams. Not only are both ASU and Arizona ranked, they are both ranked inside the top 15, with Arizona rising to No. 12 after an impressive victory over Utah and ASU coming in at No.13.
If there is a question mark surrounding a quarterback in the game, it will not be Taylor Kelly. Arizona redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon did not play in the second half against Utah and was seen in a walking boot on the sidelines.
"He's done a tremendous job, he's a great operator of the offense," said Graham about Solomon. "His ability to extend plays, he really has a great knack for that. He's very elusive in the pocket and you can tell he has a mastery of what they are trying to do."
The last time ASU played in Tucson, they came away with a 41-34 victory. Brandon McGee and Will Sutton carried the Cup around the field and fans were heard chanting "One more year!" to Sutton as he walked off the field. Graham believes the key on Friday will be about containing emotions.
"I think they key in this game is not getting too emotional, that is something I have talked about every year," said Graham. "The key for us is to focus on the fundamentals and the game plan and what we need to do to execute for us to win."
What ASU has on its side is experience. Solomon and Arizona running back Nick Wilson are freshman, both will be playing in the Territorial Cup for the first time. While Kelly will be looking for his third victory over the Wildcats.
"There is no substitute for experience," said Graham. "Jamil's (Douglas) and Taylor's (Kelly) experience, especially in big games is something that helps our younger guys. None bigger than this game."
Scouting the Wildcats
The Wildcats have plenty of playmakers on offense and it starts with Solomon. Although the Las Vegas native is completing just 58 percent of his passes, he has thrown for 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and a quarterback rating of 131.6.
"The key what they do is they have a great running game," said Graham. "They are very physical in the run game and he (Soloman) has great talent around him. They have great receivers and a very good running back. He does a great job dispersing the ball and managing the offense. I think as good as any quarterback they have had."
Nick Wilson has filled the void left by Ka'Deem Carey, who left Arizona after his junior season for the NFL. Wilson is averaging six yards per carry and has 12 rushing touchdowns.
"He would be similar to the style runner of (Devontae) Booker from Utah," said Graham. "They are a downhill, inside zone based team. That is what he is, he is a really good inside zone runner. They run the inside zone as good as anybody."
- Graham confirmed reports that ASU expects Jaelen Strong to play against Arizona.
- Even though Solomon left at halftime, the Sun Devils are preparing for him to be the quarterback on Friday.
- Pac-12 South Scenario: If Stanford beats UCLA, the winner of the Territorial Cup will play Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. If UCLA wins, both Arizona and ASU are eliminated. UCLA/Stanford begins at 1:30 p.m. MT on Friday, the same time as ASU/Arizona.