Arizona scored just once after a fiery first two quarters, as the Sun Devils reclaimed the Territorial Cup in a 42-30 win at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday.
A number of plays sparked the turnaround, but one hit on Arizona’s famed quarterback, Khalil Tate, made the difference.
“We knew that we hobbled him,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said of Tate. “The other guy is explosive too. I wouldn’t say just as explosive because Tate is pretty special.”
Tate hurt his throwing shoulder on a Hail Mary play to end the first half and “the other guy,” Brandon Dawkins, was the same Arizona quarterback who took over for an injured Anu Soloman in a 52-37 loss to Arizona State in 2015.
His presence didn’t help the Wildcats.
“I thought the blocked punt is when things turned for us. The interception was a big play as well. It was one big play after another. Our guys played. They balled out,” Graham said.
Dawkins’ first two sequences ended in a in a three-and-out blocked punt, putting ASU to the Arizona 5-yard line. Then an interception by DeMonte King put the Sun Devils at the Arizona 30-yard line. In the third quarter alone, ASU gunned ahead for 21 unaswered points.
Aside for the Wildcats’ offensive woes, it was a major showing from the Sun Devils on senior day. Headlining the crowd was Demario Richard.
Richard rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He surpassed 3,000 career yards on the ground, making him just the fifth ASU football player to do so.
“I’m really proud of this senior group getting this thing back on track where it needs to be,” Graham said. “Demario Richard. Wow. He just refuses to be tackled. On that last play I told him I said, ‘Look. You got to go get that first down.’ There was no doubt he was going to go get it.”
That last play was a 5-yard run that sealed the win. Three rushes before that, Richard ran for 63 yards.
Aside from Richard, defensive seniors came to play. Chad Adams tied Christian Sam for a team-high 13 tackles, A.J. Latu managed a sack and two tackles for loss and D.J. Calhoun doubled Latu’s sack total and had a pair of TFLs as well.
“I just say thank you to [Demario Richard] for bringing the passion that he brings every day,” Manny Wilkins said. “This one meant a lot to me for these seniors. These are guys that I came in with and I told them before this week, ‘Just continue to press on, I promise that I’ll give my all.’”
In Arizona State’s 56-35 beat down in the 2016 Territorial Cup, the Wildcats didn’t pass the ball once in the second half. In Saturday’s second half Wilkins passed the ball just seven times, and two of those passes were touchdowns.
Despite Arizona’s pass defense, which averages a Pac-12 worst 287.3 yards per game to enter the contest, the Sun Devils ran the ball down Arizona’s throat for 227 yards.
“In the beginning of the year we were only predicted to win three games. We went seven and five,” Richard said. “We’re blessed to be here. There’s a million other people who wish they were in our shoes. We’re blessed to be here and we’re going to take advantage of every opportunity given to us.”
News broke minutes prior to kickoff that Graham knew he’d be fired, win or lose, to Arizona, according to USA TODAY.
Saturday’s win solidified Arizona State’s second-placed finish in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 media poll predicted them to finish fifth. The Sun Devils have won three of four games and Graham is now 4-2 against Arizona. And with a bowl win or not, ASU has already surpassed its record the past two seasons.
So what really is Graham’s future? We’ll have to wait and see.