Both Arizona State and Arizona are limping into Territorial Cup week, as both programs find themselves winless going into a season that has pretty much been thrown down the drain.
Nevertheless, a rivalry win can lift the spirits of either side, and there’s no question the game means a lot to both programs, regardless of what’s happened this year.
Herm Edwards is 2-0 in his tenure against the school down south, and he’ll look to remain undefeated going into this Friday’s game. Here were some talking points from his Monday press conference:
Missing The Pageantry
Whether it’s defending A Mountain, trash talking, or claiming the cup, there’s no doubt that the Territorial Cup is a different atmosphere compared to a normal ASU or Arizona home game, whether it’s in Tucson or Tempe.
There’s buzz around the stadium and the respective cities, and a win guarantees bragging rights for at least a year. Of course, all of this is during a normal season, when Sun Devil Stadium or Arizona Stadium is filled to the brim on gameday.
There will still be emotion and energy brought by the players on the field this year, but Edwards reiterated how much he is going to miss the ambiance.
Players put on the pads for these types of games, and without the raucous and hostile environment, it will be an element that is missed.
“The fan bases really get excited about this game and it’s a shame that fans can’t be in the stands,” Edwards said. “I can remember the first time playing down there, it was quite an atmosphere. Last year, they came here and the atmosphere hadn’t changed a lot. Both fan bases are really motivated by this game and you have bragging rights for a whole year when you win a game like this.”
Tyler Johnson’s Emergence
Defensive end Tyler Johnson was named Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week after his three sack, 4.5 TFL game against UCLA this past Saturday.
After nearly retiring from football, Johnson has returned with a vengeance, being one of the most consistent players on the Sun Devil defense.
Edwards stated that it was never a matter of talent with Johnson. Rather, it was just overcoming injury and having his mind fully back in the game.
“He’s improved tremendously. He’s one of the bright spots on the defense right now, as far as rushing the quarterback and getting to the quarterback,” Edwards said. “He made a couple plays in that UCLA game one-on-one with their quarterback that were very difficult to do. He’s a handful in space.”
Multiple times in ASU’s contest with UCLA, the Sun Devils were flagged with illegal man downfield penalties, including a critical offsetting penalty call on a Bruin pass interference that took away from positive yardage for ASU in its final drive while trying to tie the game.
Some of the laundry was warranted, but there were a few, including the late offsetting call, that drew criticism and head scratching from many media members and fans alike. Edwards addressed the calls on Monday.
“A couple of them were tight,” Edwards said, “but some of them were obvious...That hurt us on a couple big plays, including one for a touchdown that you don’t get back. Andre’s (Johnson) first touchdown was a shame. He runs a nice route, it’s a nice play call, everything’s designed right, and we got a man downfield that cancels that out. Hopefully we can learn from that and get better.”
After a missed field goal in the first quarter against UCLA, Cristian Zendejas was pulled in place of redshirt freshman Jack Luckhurst, who came on to drill a 49-yarder to end the first half. He remained on the field for extra points throughout the rest of the game.
When asked about who the Sun Devils No. 1 kicker was, Edwards stated that the battle will be won this week in practice and it’s up in the air right now.
Early Fatigue, Finishing Games
Edwards thought that his team was fatigued coming off a month layoff, and it showed in the first quarter. They were able to find a second wind as the game went on, though.
Additionally, he talked about his group’s struggle finishing games, whether it be in the fourth quarter at USC or in the final few minutes against UCLA. He went over the things that need to change if ASU wants to turn tight losses into close victories.
“It’s understanding the situation and not letting their guard down,” Edwards said. “Games go in ebbs and flows. They go up and go down, and I think there comes a point in the fourth quarter when you are playing a tight game, that every snap becomes more magnified when a game’s tight...When we get into those tight situations, we have to understand that.”