The Arizona State offense only had six points in the first half. The run and pass game was weak, with junior running back Eno Benjamin only having 26 rushing yards.
After coming off a top-10 upset against the No. 6 Oregon Ducks last week, it seemed as if they might have gotten inside their own heads.
At the half, Arizona had 220 total offensive yards, compared to the Sun Devils’ 146.
“I don’t know why, but we had a lot of miscues in the first half,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “We came in at the second half and said we’re going to take all of the guess work out of it and play big boy football like we’re capable of doing. That’s all we wanted to do and that’s what we did in the second half.”
The Sun Devils put up 18 points against the Wildcats in the second half, holding them to one touchdown and leading the way to a 24-14 victory in the Territorial Cup.
After scoring their first touchdown of the game at the start of the third quarter, junior cornerback Jack Jones intercepted Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate to give the Sun Devils the ball back.
The offense didn’t gain points on that drive, but once Arizona regained possession, Tate threw another pick, this time to sophomore linebacker Merlin Robertson. This led to a Jayden Daniels touchdown, giving the Sun Devils a commanding 24-7 lead.
Likens knew all they needed was one big play to turn things around for the offense.
A key component that attributed to the Sun Devils’ win was Benjamin. After having a rough first half, he flipped the switch and ended the game with 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Coming out of halftime, the team knew that running the ball would be the main way to success.
Benjamin ended the regular season with over 1,000 rushing yards, in what could be his last season as a Sun Devil, as he is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. But this season wasn’t about accolades.
“With what he did last year, 1,600 rushing yards, he had a lot of expectations coming into the year,” Likens said. “I’m sure he heard everywhere. Everyone is wanting a repeat performance. That’s hard to do.
“Early I think he really struggled with that. As the season went, I saw him grow up and he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I just want to win. I just want to win games. I don’t care anymore about all this stuff.’ He kind of let it go and you saw a different kid in the way he ran the football. I’m so proud of him.”
Even with an outstanding run game in the second half, the Sun Devils didn’t see the usual star performance from senior receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who had one touchdown and 161 receiving yards in last week’s win.
He ended the game against the Wildcats with five receptions for 67 yards and hardly played in the fourth quarter.
Likens announced that Aiyuk had been hurting all week in practice, as he tried to recovered from the matchup against the Ducks.
The Sun Devils don’t know where they’re headed next, but they can end the regular season on a high note, and enjoy their rivalry win.
“It was a game that we need to win honestly,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “We needed to find out how to win again. Back-to-back games...Our players are excited. This game was about our seniors and to send them off with a win. This is the last time those guys will ever play in this stadium.”