The Territorial Cup returns to Tucson: 3 big takeaways from Arizona's win over the Sun Devils

Posted at 12:05 AM, Nov 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-26 12:02:20-05

For the Arizona Wildcats, it was four quarters of redemption after one of the most miserable seasons in recent memory.

For the Arizona State Sun Devils... it's tough to know where to go from here.

The Wildcats ended a 2-9 season on a high note by reclaiming the Territorial Cup in an emphatic 56-35 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in front of over 50,000 fans at Arizona Stadium. It was the most points Arizona has scored against ASU since 1946, as the Wildcats set a school record with over 500 rushing yards and prevented their rivals from earning a bowl berth.

Here are three big takeaways from the 90th Territorial Cup game.

1. Wildcats run roughshod over Devils.

The knock on the Sun Devils coming into Friday's game was their inability to defend the pass. But the Wildcats threw three -- count them, three -- passes against ASU, instead keeping the ball on the ground against a Sun Devil defense that looked like it had mentally checked out for the season.

UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins and running backs Samajie Grant and Zach Green all rushed for well over 100 yards and combined for seven touchdowns against a Sun Devil defense that came in as the Pac-12's second-best team against the run. Arizona's 511 rushing yards are a new school record, and it marked the first time since 1993 that the Cats had three 100-yard rushers in a single game.

Make no mistake: Arizona earned the victory Friday night, but ASU's defense was flat-out embarrassing. And if Todd Graham is back as ASU's head coach next season, he's got some serious work to do.

2. ASU fails on fourth down.

Coming into Friday's game, ASU was 7 of 11 on fourth-down conversions, the second-best conversion rate in the Pac-12. Against the Wildcats, the Sun Devils were just 1 of 6 on fourth down, and they failed to convert twice in the first half. 

One of the biggest plays of the game came in the fourth quarter when ASU running back Kalen Ballage decided to run to the outside on fourth and 1 rather than run up the middle. He ended up inexplicably throwing the ball away. Three plays later, Arizona scored to go up by three touchdowns and seal the deal.

Whether it was a case of Graham gambling too often or the Devils simply failing to execute, those plays were huge in a game in which ASU nearly matched UA in total yards (588-492).

3. Devils fail to keep it simple.

It took ASU a while on Friday to finally commit to the run, preferring instead to throw the ball, often through screen passes that didn't produce a great deal of yards. And when they trailed by two or three scores in the second half, the Devils were in a situation in which they had to pass.

ASU's one-two running-back punch of Ballage and Demario Richard didn't get a lot of reps, as they ran the ball just seven times apiece. Wilkins was reasonably effective for most of the night, but there's no way he should have thrown the ball 58 times, as he did Friday.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but instead of keeping it simple, Graham sort of got away from his normal game plan on Friday, and it's one of the reasons the Devils got into a hole they weren't able to escape from. 

Quick hits:

-Grant, a senior who was converted from wide receiver to running back this year, scored two receiving touchdowns vs. ASU in Tucson two years ago. He followed that performance up with three rushing scores Friday. For the game, Grant had 176 yards on 19 carries.

-Three Sun Devils caught at least nine passes Friday, led by Frederick Gammage, who reeled in 116 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions. Ballage had 10 catches and freshman N'Keal Harry had nine.

-Arizona's 21-point victory matched its biggest against ASU in eight years when the Wildcats beat the Devils 31-10 in 2008. 

-ASU's Zane Gonzalez is the best kicker in the country, but he missed both of his field-goal attempts at Arizona Stadium. He missed a 45-yard attempt in 2014 and a 53-yard attempt Friday.

-The home team has won the last four Territorial Cup games. (The last time that happened was 1962-65.) The home team hasn't trailed in any of those games, either.

-UA's 56 points were its most in a Territorial Cup game since ASU became an accredited university in 1958.