(13) Arizona State (9-2) at (12) Arizona (9-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The Territorial Cup will be up for grabs for the 87th time, as the 13th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils visit the 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats with Pac-12 Conference implications.
Arizona State recovered from a puzzling 35-27 loss at Oregon State by recording a 52-31 triumph over Washington State last weekend. The Sun Devils have now won six of their last seven games to improve to 8-2 overall and 6-2 in league play, which has them tied with UCLA and Arizona for the top spot in the Pac-12 South standings.
"This game is the single most important game of the year for us and for our fans," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously it has a lot more meaning, both teams are going for their tenth win and the Pac-12 South Championship is on the line, there is definitely a little extra importance added to this game."
Arizona has just as a good a shot at making it to the conference title tilt. The Wildcats not only have the same conference record as the Sun Devils, they also are in possession of a 9-2 overall mark after topping Utah, 42-10, on the road last weekend. That was the third straight win for the Wildcats, who have bounced back from a 1-2 stretch at the end of October.
The first time these teams met was all the way back in 1899, when Arizona State survived with an 11-2 victory. Arizona has had the upper hand since, with a 47-39-1 record all-time against the Sun Devils. However, ASU has been creeping up on the Wildcats in recent years, with wins in three of the last four meetings, including a 58-21 triumph last season in Tempe.
There should be plenty of offense in this contest. Arizona State is among the top-35 teams in the nation in total offense (452.6 ypg), ranking sixth in the power-packed Pac-12 as well. The Sun Devils were not so potent in their win over Washington State, as they managed only 330 yards, compared to the 622 they allowed. However, the defense was opportunistic in coming up with five turnovers which turned into 35 points.
The offense was without one of its primary weapons in the win, as Jaelen Strong was sidelined with a concussion. Strong is listed as probable for this contest, which is encouraging considering he leads the team in receptions (71), receiving yards (982) and touchdown catches (nine). Cameron Smith (34 receptions, 541 yards, six TDs) did a fine job as the primary receiver against the Cougars, tallying a season-high 131 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.
D.J. Foster is an integral part of the passing game as well, ranking second on the team in receptions (52) and receiving yards (586). He also has three touchdown receptions, but his biggest impact has come as a runner, with 968 yards and nine scores on 170 carries. He finished with 96 yards and three touchdowns against Washington State.
Feeding the ball to Strong, Foster and Smith is quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has reclaimed the starting job after sitting out with an injury earlier this season. Kelly threw for 232 yards and a season-high four touchdowns against the Cougars, upping his totals to 1,730 yards and 18 scores this season. He was sacked five times in the win, however, which cut into his rushing total. He has 234 yards and three scores on the ground, but has had more than 20 yards just once since returning to the field.
Although the turnovers helped their cause, the Sun Devils cannot afford another defensive disaster like they had against Washington State. They have not been the defensive power that they've been in the recent past, as they rank seventh in the Pac-12 in total defense (426.3 ypg).
Arizona will present quite a challenge for Arizona State's defensive front. The Wildcats rank third in the Pac-12 in total offense (494.7 ypg) and fourth in points scored (36.2 ppg), averaging just a point less than their foes in this one.
In the win over Utah, the Wildcats ran the ball well, finishing with 298 rushing yards. Nick Wilson deserves most of the credit, as he erupted for 218 yards and three touchdowns. The effort pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season (1,085) and put his touchdown total at 12.
"We went into the game expecting to run the ball," Wilson said of the Utah game. "We prepared for the weather, but it wasn't anything we weren't expecting. Those are the games that you love though."
Arizona isn't a one-dimensional team, however, as it can move the ball through the air at a high rate as well. Anu Solomon has ensured that, by racking up 3,216 yards and 25 touchdowns, compared to only seven interceptions, on 57.6 percent passing. Solomon only completed 8-of-17 attempts for 158 yards against Utah, but it was enough with Wilson running all over the place.
Cayleb Jones (60 receptions, 803 yards, eight TDS), Austin Hill (38 receptions, 541 yards, three TDs) and Samajie Grant (36 receptions, 554 yards, three TDS) are the most productive pass-catchers. Grant finished with 88 yards on four receptions against Utah.
Although Arizona does not rank highly in total defense among Pac-12 teams, sitting in the ninth spot by allowing 436.9 yards per game, the unit does enjoy the efforts of Scooby Wright. A Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Wright leads the league in tackles (127), while contributing 22 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
Neither of these teams is perfect, but both have a ton of offensive talent and some positive aspects on defense. Expect a close game with plenty of fireworks, and for the Sun Devils to be the ones left standing.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 38, Arizona 35