ASU football's performance in the Territorial Cup was a microcosm of its underwhelming season

The Sun Devils left Tucson empty-handed for the second straight road trip against rival Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. – Two years ago, the Territorial Cup was a portkey to the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, California.

Then, ASU football had a chance to upend its archrival on hostile ground and return with the cup that it had earned after consecutive home blowout victories.

An Arizona team that had nothing to lose but pride and had only narrowly squeaked out a 42-35 win at Arizona Stadium in 2014 showed that this game was a close as it gets to a bowl game for a 3-9 team that had to rush for a school record 511 yards to earn its first conference victory, pummelling ASU 56-35 on the on the last day of its season.

The Sun Devils (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) are in fact who many skeptics thought they were. A 5-1 start that produced delusions of Rose Bowl grandeur turned out to be nothing but fool’s gold, as ASU lost six straight games to end its Pac-12 slate as the second-worst team in the South Division. The only thing ASU fans had on their foes down south was a better record, and they have ceded bragging rights for what is sure to be an insufferable nine months of waiting and hoping.

That the Wildcats (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12) underscored ASU’s numerous recurring flaws and even exposed some new ones shouldn’t come as a shock in a game that encapsulated the season for head coach Todd Graham’s team in 60 excruciating minutes.

“As far as us, that was the worst performance we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Graham said. “That was embarrassing.”

Before the season began, Graham was advised by Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson to let his team’s play back up his talk, advice that seemed fitting for a coach who has been known to indulge in superlatives very often.

While Anderson did console his head coach on the field and had already reassured him that his job was safe, there won’t be any living down this dud of an outcome.

There should be little debate about Graham's assessment of his team’s performance in its most important game – it was spot-on. Humility and candor are admirable qualities, but results are the bottom-line, and by any objective measure, the Sun Devils failed spectacularly to accomplish their goal of statewide supremacy and bowl-eligibility.

“No excuses, but that was very, very difficult to watch,” Graham said. “We let our university down, let our program down… Just absolutely didn’t show up at all defensively. You can’t play that bad and make up any excuses. We just played atrocious.”

Three Wildcat drives spanned just three plays or less, and all had scoring plays that went for touchdowns of 71, 64, and 63 yards, respectively.

Arizona redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Dawkins completed just three passes on eight attempts, a welcome sign for an ASU defense that has been spared no rest against some of the nation’s best passers in consecutive weeks.

That is, until you consider that Dawkins still threw for 77 yards and a touchdown pass, rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and was voted the Bob Moran Award winner for the Territorial Cup’s most valuable player.

On the other side, redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins played one of his best games, and in his first real taste of Territorial Cup action, he stayed poised in the most adverse circumstances he faced.

Wilkins took a major step forward in becoming a leader, standing tall, though visibly emotional while his teammates, redshirt senior wide receivers Tim White and Fred Gammage, sat in what was likely their final postgame press conference as Sun Devils.

“I think we all have to do a good job and continue to better ourselves as people before football players,” Wilkins said. “It’s easy for a team to fall apart and point fingers… It will show a lot about our character, just staying united.”

Junior devilbacker Koron Crump ran back a fumble for a touchdown, and in an even bigger display of heart, outran his own teammates in the defensive backfield to bring down redshirt junior running back Zach Green on a 56-yard run and save the Sun Devils from giving up yet another demoralizing explosive scoring play.

“The young guys are going to be back at it,” redshirt senior wide receiver Tim White said. “They’re going to get at it and change it up.”

Crump is part of the future – the mistakes are in the past, however immediate and fresh in their heads it remains.  


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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