The Arizona State Sun Devils have evened their record back up at .500 (5-5) after a 27-17 win over Washington and will now host rival Arizona in the Territorial Cup battle on Saturday at 1:30 pm. This will be the last shot for the seniors of this Sun Devil team to pull out a win in what is the most important game of every season for ASU.
This season, the teams are evenly matched, as Arizona heads to Tempe carrying five losses and just six wins, finding success against Utah (No. 1 in the South) but getting squashed by Washington 49-3.
"This is the most important game of the year period," head coach Todd Graham said. "This game is worth five wins. It's the most important thing that we do, and we want to be able to be a part of the group that says in the Territorial Cup, ‘We got it done.'"
With the defensive captain and nation leader in solo tackles, Jordan Simone, out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, Graham will have a big hole to fill in ASU's secondary this Saturday.
Fans saw both backup defensive back James Johnson and backup safety Chad Adams get reps in the second half of the Washington game after Simone went out injured. Graham said it could be either one that sees the start on Saturday.
"Those guys did a tremendous job last weekend," Graham said. "In practice the ones get most of the reps are the one's so it's hard because that's the body of what we do and I'm really proud of those guys because I thought they did an unbelievable job stepping in. And Marcus ball too, incredible interception.
"He did some really nice stuff and that's exciting to see. He's really starting to kind of get his footing so I'm excited for those guys and obviously they have to step up this week."
Seniors Say Goodbye
This group of graduating ASU seniors is the last among those who were recruited under former head coach Dennis Erickson and said they bought into the program four years ago because they believed in what this program was building.
Now they face their final game in front of a sea of maroon and gold. Receiver Gary Chambers said there would be no better way than to go out with a win over the Wildcats.
"As seniors, we don't want to leave ASU without this one so it's so important for the whole team," Chambers said. "We reflect back a little bit but while we're in the process, you're in the process so I'm still playing, still going to have another game, still got a lot to focus on. But just looking back on my career here, it's definitely been a roller-coaster ride and we've had so many great moments that I'll remember forever, cherish forever. I wouldn't take anything back. Honestly."
Wideout and offensive captain D.J. Foster agreed and said you can win every one except this one and it is an unsuccessful season. Arizona took home the cup last year in the Wildcat's stadium and now Foster and his squad look to do much the same as they did last week in forcing the turnovers and making big stops in pivotal moments.
"It doesn't matter if you go 11-1 you have to win this game," Foster said. "It's a really important game. It's important to our community, important to our team and important to our tradition. I'm 2-1 against them right now but just seeing how fast this game goes. Like last week seeing my brother Jordan go down, I mean you can't take it for granted. Everyday is a blessing coming out here and being able to play this game so I'm definitely going to soak in this last week, I mean we got two more weeks left but this feels like the last one, and so I'm just going to enjoy every second of it. "
Cornerback Lloyd Carrington, another senior leader of this ASU defense echoed both Chamber and Foster's sentiment, and said playing for Arizona State has been something that he will carry with him far beyond the final snap of his last game.
"The two words I can think of are bitter sweet," Carrington said. "The ride I've had these past four years at Arizona State is something I'm grateful for and has truly impacted my life. The main thing really is soaking it all in and enjoying the moment and my final game here at ASU. Just being able to be with beside my brothers for the last time while being a part of this atmosphere here at ASU. "
Carrington said it was the improvement in the communication on the field last week that allowed ASU to force four turnovers and come back from a ten-point deficit while shutting out Washington in the second half last weekend. Now, ASU looks to do much the same against a dynamic Wildcat offense.
"The biggest thing is communication," Carrington said. "Guys understood what we were doing on each and every play (against Washington) and everyone was on the same page so it came easy for us to make plays once everyone established their own role. We knew what we were doing defensively as far as applying pressure and guys creating spots at the right moments."
Foster said he and the other seniors are preaching the importance of this game to the younger players who have not yet had a chance to experience the rivalry the seniors know so well. Foster said pumping up the younger guys is one of the first steps in getting the entire team to unite into a weapon the Wildcats won't be able to break come Saturday.
"We're all doing our individual jobs, going around to the younger guys that haven't really been around the tradition too long and letting them know the importance of this game and that it's a passionate and energetic game so just telling them to go out there, but also be smart," Foster said. "We don't need any cheap stuff. We just need to go out there and play hard."
Emotions will be high in Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday. Seniors will see shadows flying through the air: ghosts of their past selves and the biggest plays they once made; plays they will never make again in the same place. But despite it all, Foster said focus must surface beside the memories in order for the Sun Devils to make this a successful season and give the seniors a chance to say goodbye with a smile on their face.
"I'll never forget (Taylor Kelly) going out there last year and fighting back the tears," Foster said. "It means a lot to me and these seniors. I mean guys that put in years and years of work here and just being a part of this community and the people that we've met over the years. It's a tremendous honor. I just want to go out and leave everything I have on the field."
- Salamo Fiso, Armand Perry, Kareem Orr and Laui Moeakiola were all in green non-contact jerseys Tuesday.
- Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown got first-team reps at cornerback
- James Johnson started off at field safety and then switched over to bandit when Graham called Chad Adams off the field.