GAME NOTES: In a weekend chock full of rivalry games the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils will renew theirs in the Duel in the Desert for the Territorial Cup at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night.
There are not many teams entering play this weekend with more confidence than Arizona. The Wildcats stunned No 5 Oregon, and the college football world, last weekend by routing the Ducks in a 42-16 triumph. The win ended a two-game losing streak for the Wildcats, who defeated a top five team for the first time since 2007. The Wildcats will be gunning for their second straight eight- win season on Saturday, as they were able to reach that many victories a year ago in their first campaign under Rich Rodriguez.
Arizona State might be one of the few teams to have more momentum than the Wildcats in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils went into the Rose Bowl last weekend and pulled out a 38-33 victory over UCLA. The victory wasn't just impressive because it came on the road against a ranked opponent, or because it was the sixth straight for the Sun Devils. The most important part of the victory was that it secured the Pac-12 South Division title for Arizona State. The Sun Devils will now face Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game when they next hit the field.
"We visualized what it would be like to walk out of Sun Devil Stadium hosting the Pac-12 Championship," Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said after the win, while affirming just how important this rivalry game is. "Obviously, the most important game of the year is next week though. It doesn't matter what we've done up to this point. We lose (that) one, its an unsuccessful season."
Graham's noting of rivalry is well founded as these teams have been meeting since 1899. There have been 86 all-time meetings between the two teams with Arizona holding a 47-38-1 series lead. However the Sun Devils took home the Territorial Cup last season with a 41-34 victory in Tucson.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has pushed himself into a muddled Heisman Trophy race with an astounding 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Carey was unreal against Oregon as he piled up 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries. The 48 attempts were the most in the country this season and also set a school record. Carey's yardage total also gave him a 10th straight 100-yard performance.
"He's going to get a lot of individual accolades and he absolutely deserves them but he's about the team first the way he prepares," Rodriguez said of his star running back. "He's a physical, hungry runner. There were some holes (against Oregon) that weren't there that he made. I love the way he approaches the game."
Carey has deservedly gotten the headlines for the Wildcats, but quarterback B.J. Denker deserves some credit for his steady play. Denker surpassed 2,000 yards passing last week and also threw for two touchdowns to bring his season total to 14. Denker has been fairly efficient with his passes, connecting on 61.5 percent of his throws, while being picked off four times. Denker is also a dangerous threat with his legs as he has 811 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Denker tallied 102 yards, a season-high, against the Ducks.
Nate Phillips is one of three receivers for the Wildcats that have reached the 300-yard mark this season. Phillips leads the team in yards (486) and touchdowns (seven) through the air, though he had only 32 yards on three catches last weekend. Terrence Miller (36 receptions, 435 yards, TD) was the top option last week with nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Samajie Grant (44 receptions, 435 yards, TD) is another reliable option.
Against Oregon, the Arizona defense did something no team has been able to do this year as the Wildcats picked off Oregon quarterback not once but twice. The two picks brought the Wildcats' total to 15 this season, which has been a major reason for their success on that side of the field. The Wildcats are seventh in the league in total defense (398.6 ypg) so there is still room for improvement.
While the Wildcats have Carey, the Sun Devils have Marion Grice. Although he has yet to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the ground, Grice is flirting with the 2,000-yard plateau when it comes to all-purpose offense. For the season Grice has racked up 996 yards on 191 rushes and an additional 438 yards through the air, all while finding time to total 507 yards on kick returns. Grice is also one of three players in the country to have at least 20 total touchdowns this season (14 rushing, six receiving). Grice was at it again last week against UCLA with 167 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches.
The Sun Devils are also similar to the Wildcats under center with their own dual-threat quarterback in Taylor Kelly. This season Kelly has been the better, or at least more productive passer, as he has piled up over 3,000 yards and 25 scores through the air, connecting on 63.2 percent of his pass attempts. Kelly does have more interceptions (10) than Denker, but he has rushed for 411 yards and eight touchdowns, including a 99-yard effort against UCLA last weekend.
Jaelen Strong (65 receptions, 925 yards, six TDs) and D.J. Foster (52 receptions, 524 yards, three TDs) are the most important receivers for the team, though Grice clearly gets work in that are as well. Strong had six receptions for 91 yards and a score last week when Foster was held in check with only two catches. Tight end Chris Coyle (26 receptions, 385 yards, four TDs) works into the mix as well.
While a difficult team to stop on offense, the Sun Devils are just as effective on defense. Arizona State is second in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (344.4 ypg). Discipline is the key for Graham's unit, as the Sun Devils have the best turnover margin in the Pac-12 (+10), while having committed the fewest penalties in the league (40). Chris Young (84 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks) anchors the talented group of defenders.
Both of these teams possess skilled running backs and versatile quarterbacks. The difference in the game will be which defense can handle the challenge. The Sun Devils have a clear advantage in that area, especially at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 42, Arizona 30