It's that time of year again for ASU football (3-8) to travel to Tucson to take on cross-state rival UA (4-7), in the annual Territorial Cup, one of college football's oldest rivalries.
"This game means a lot to this school," said redshirt fifth-year linebacker Kyle Soelle said following the team's 31-7 loss to Oregon State. "Anyone who's a Sun Devil knows it means a ton. All my eggs are in that basket next week. All my focus is on that next week. I know the whole team is going to be the same way, we got to have our best week of preparation."
The Wildcats' season has been full of ups and downs. They went 3-2 through their first five games, lost four straight games after that, then upset No.12 UCLA in Los Angeles 34-28, and then proceeded to lose 31-20 to Washington State last Saturday.
UA head coach Jedd Fisch is in his second year with the program and was hired a month after the Wildcats' embarrassing 70-7 loss to ASU in the 2020 season. Fisch expressed earlier this week he understands how big of a deal this game is and that 29 players on his roster are from Arizona, signifying the importance.
UA's strengths lie in the team's efficient pass-heavy offense led by sophomore quarterback Jayden de Laura. De Laura transferred into the Wildcats' program earlier this year after two seasons at Washington State, where he won the 2021 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year award.
De Laura has thrived in his time in Tucson so far, ranking fifth in the entire nation in passing yards with 3,485. He's conducted an offense that ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in total yards with 460.8, compared to ASU's 373.5.
"They (UA) have a dangerous quarterback," said ASU's interim head coach Shaun Aguano in a postpractice press conference on Monday. "We got to contain him in the pocket. They can probably throw the ball 40, or 50 times. He makes great off-schedule throws and we're going to have to make sure that our eyes don't get dirty."
To round out this imposing aerial-focused offense are two of the statistically best wide receivers in the Pac-12, sophomore Dorian Singer and junior Jacob Cowing. The two have the most receiving yards in the conference with Singer sitting at number one with 1,014, with Cowing residing at the second spot, trailing his teammate by only 13 yards with 1,001.
"Pretty cool to have two 1,000-yard receivers on the same team with still another game to play," Fisch said. "There are a lot of good things here, especially with the fact that every one of those players will be returning moving forward. I'm hopeful for that."
With an offense that loves to throw the ball, it would be expected that the Wildcats don't really focus on the run game. However, statistically, this isn't the case — UA acclimates 131.6 rushing yards per game.
ASU on the other hand only rushes for one yard more (132.9) despite having graduate student running back Xazavian Valladay, who is one of two running backs in the conference with over 1,000 rushing yards.
"I'm looking forward to this game," Valladay said at a postpractice press conference last week. "I just want to go out there and repeat some history a little bit, be able to go tear the field up again. And you know, just have fun with my guys."
The Wildcats' weak spot is their defense, which is the second-worst unit in the Pac-12 in both points and yards allowed per game. UA concede 36.6 points per game, compared to ASU's 30.8, and they let up 461.5 yards a game, while the Sun Devils allow 416.2.
Coach Aguano stressed ASU will have to keep up with the Wildcats' potent offense by running the ball, particularly with Valladay, on the Wildcats' fragile run defense. UA allows 213.5 yards on the ground, the second-worst in the entire conference.
In every loss, UA has had this season it has let up more than 30 points, but in all its wins has scored more than 30 points so the Sun Devils will most likely be in for an offensive showdown.
The Territorial Cup was first played in 1899 and comes with many traditions, including the Wildcats painting the "A" on Hayden Butte. This year was no different as the "A" was vandalized with UA colors late Saturday night.
The Sun Devils kickoff as a four-point underdog at 1 p.m. MST on Friday in Tucson to cap off their 2022 campaign.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Piper Hansen and Grace Copperthite.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.