Football stands toe-to-toe vs. UA for grudge match

Redshirt senior safety Keelan Johnson returns an interception in ASU’s 46-7 blowout of Washington State on Saturday. (Photo by Kyle Newman)

ASU and UA will not kick off the 2012 Territorial Cup until Friday night, but the Sun Devils have been counting down the hours until kickoff for a few months.

Coach Todd Graham views this contest as the most important of the season and had a digital clock installed in the Sun Devils’ (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) weight room when he accepted the job. The clock counts down to kickoff against the No. 24 Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) so that the team knows what it is working for.

“It’s a reminder that we need to focus in,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg said. “The rivalry is the biggest game for the state and for us as players. We put an extra emphasis on this game. When you’re getting tired at the end of practice, or you don’t want to work out as hard, you look at that clock and know that you need to get some work done.”

Friday’s game only counts as one on a schedule of 12, but there is no mistaking that this one is more important. The players want to win every game and every Territorial Cup they take part in, but the last rivalry game that a senior plays in is especially important.

“I want to win,” redshirt senior safety Keelan Johnson said. “This being my last game against the Wildcats, I want to go out there and bring the Territorial Cup back to Tempe.”

If the Sun Devils want to return to Tempe with their second Territorial Cup victory in the past three seasons, they will need to slow down the Wildcats’ offense.

UA, led by senior quarterback Matt Scott and sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey, is currently averaging 37 points per game.

Carey is having a tremendous season and averages over six yards per carry and 144 yards per game.

“I think he is one of the best running backs we’ve played,” Graham said. “He is as good as there is. He is, no question, the guy you have to stop, and it is a tall order to do that. Not many people have even come close.”

ASU knows about Carey and the Wildcat’s offense, but the Sun Devils believe if they simply focus on playing their game, the results should be favorable.

“It all comes back down to what we need to do,” Johnson said. “As long as we can stop the run and rattle the quarterback, everything else should take care of itself.”

Graham echoes Johnson’s sentiments and feels rivalry games, though often littered with trick plays, are often won and lost on the most basic aspects of football.

“I told the players today that it is going to boil down to the team that can block the best, the team that can tackle the best, (and) the team that is most disciplined,” Graham said. “I am trying to focus our guys in on the key values and principles that win games, and give them every opportunity to win on Friday.”

The Territorial Cup serves as motivation in-and-of itself, but if the ASU players seem to need an extra push come kickoff, they won’t have to look any further than last year’s contest, which UA won 31-27.

“When they were down here, they stomped on the pitchfork (at midfield),” Johnson said. “That’s one of the things I’ll remember, and I’ll use it to my advantage when I play.”

 

Notes

UA leads the all-time series against ASU 47-37-1, but the visiting team has won seven of the last 12 contests, including the last three.

ASU redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly completed his final 18 pass attempts against Washington State, and his streak will carry over into the UA game.

ASU junior tight end Chris Coyle has 51 receptions on the season. Zach Miller holds the school record for receptions by a tight end in a season with 56.

 

Reach the reporter at william.boor@asu.edu