Put Rich Rodriguez on the official ballot for any coach of the year award. Nick Wilson rumbled for 177 yards on 23 carries, Scooby Wright did usual Scooby Wright things and the Arizona Wildcats overcame miscues to create more mistakes on ASU's end in a 42-35 Territorial Cup win.
The Friday victory never seemed certain and always felt testy because the offense wasn't often cruising. Anu Solomon took 47 yards of sacks in the wrong direction but completed 15-of-21 passes for two scores and no interceptions. Yet, enough grinding on the ground and another impressive defensive performance sealed the deal late.
More importantly (and out of Arizona's hands) was the result in the Rose Bowl, where Stanford surprised the UCLA Bruins with a 31-10 drubbing that gave the Wildcats the chance to play for the Pac-12 South title and a date with the Oregon Ducks in next week's championship game.
Turnovers define first half: Arizona got help in a classic Territorial Cup form when Scooby Wright stripped ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly 44 seconds in the game and watched Anthony Lopez run it 25 yards for a touchdown. And in classic Territorial Cup form, the Wildcats would dish some luck the Sun Devils' way soon after. A botched hand-off deep in Arizona territory saw Solomon lose the ball two yards away from the ASU end zone, and a recovery of that made it all even with 5:56 to play in the first quarter.
That wasn't the end of the bad news for Arizona. A minute remained in the first half when the Wildcat defense forced a punt, but a failed catch from DaVonte Neal led to ASU picking up the 21-21 tie just before halftime.
No traction: Well into the second quarter, the Wildcats had produced 71 total yards of offense, 69 of which came on a screen pass to Samajie Grant that turned into a long and winding touchdown. Late in the first half, Arizona finally started a few drives with solid field position. To put UA ahead 21-14, Arizona went for it on 4th-and-inches and picked up a 21-yard score from Nick Wilson. The play, an off-tackle run to the right, saw Arizona take advantage of a bandaged up secondary and ASU's nature to blitz on the inside.
A new tempo: Arizona put together a scoring drive off the bat in the second half, and it was aided by a Sun Devils linebacking corps that were without two starters (one of whom was the defensive playcaller) and relying upon freshmen in their steads. The Wildcats went right at ASU with a accelerated tempo that had the Sun Devils on their heels as UA went ahead 28-21 on Wilson's second score of the day.
ASU goes to the backup: Maybe the most curious part of Arizona State's gameplan was the second-half benching of starting quarterback Taylor Kelly. While he wasn't as nimble as he usually is -- he's still hurting from a serious foot injury -- Todd Graham went to Mike Bercovici late in the third quarter. On the second drive with Bercovici under center, the Sun Devils finally found life, going 65 yards in just 2:13 to cut the UA lead to 35-28. The momentum was brief.
The other turning point: On the first pass of the next drive, which came after a brief Arizona possession, Jourdon Grandon picked off a deep ball thrown by Bercovici and returned the ball to ASU's 16-yard line. While ASU would get the ball back for one more stress-inducing drive that was aided by pass interference and hand-to-the-face penalties, the Wildcats eventually got the Sun Devils into a fourth down they couldn't convert.