There’s no longer a shot at the Pac-12 South Division title, and while one more victory will mean bowl eligibility the likely destinations for such a game aren’t exactly appealing.
The 92nd edition of the Territorial Cup is on tap for Saturday afternoon—yes, afternoon; kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. MT—at Arizona Stadium. Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Pac-12) has won its last two meetings with the Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4) in Tucson, most recently in 2016 when its 56-35 victory included zero pass attempts in the second half.
First-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who has preached a one-game-at-a-time, none-is-more-important-than-any-other mentality to his team this season, is more or less scrapping that mantra for the regular-season finale.
“To say, well, this is just another game … I used to say that, but even as a player, you knew what this was about,” Sumlin said Monday. “We’re going to approach it the same, but deep down everyone knows it’s a rivalry game. It’s for the trophy.”
ASU won last year’s clash in Tempe, 42-30, so the Territorial Cup will be on its sideline to start the game. Making sure it doesn’t go back up north is critical, Sumlin said.
“That trophy being brought back to your school or locker room at the end of the game means something,” he said.
Here’s what else Sumlin said at his weekly press conference:
On his experience with rivalry games:
“I think I’ve been in the Apple Cup, been in the Brass Boot, which is Wyoming and Colorado State; the Paul Bunyan Axe, Minnesota and Wisconsin; the Old Oaken Bucket, at Indiana-Purdue; the Red River Shootout. And then I was an assistant coach before A&M moved to the SEC, it was Texas and A&M on Thanksgiving night or Friday night. I’ve been involved in a bunch of them.”
On why rivalry games are so intense:
“Until you’re involved in it, you really don’t get a feel for it. You’re pulling up to these games, you’re in the game. Sometimes the intensity in the parking lot is worse than on the field. You can feel that as you get closer to the field. It means the game’s important. They’re all important. But rivalry games are a little bit different. Like I said, I’ve been involved in some games that some people didn’t think were very important. The Brass Boot is pretty intense. Many of these are either in-state (rivalries) or right across state lines. That’s a whole year that you have to listen to some things that maybe you don’t want to listen to.”
On the lack of pressure the defense got on Washington State against the pass:
“We didn’t rush three the whole game. We changed up, and we blitzed and we rushed three some of the time. Because, based on what happened the whole year, nobody’s really gotten to them. To change things up was what we thought was the best way to play against Washington State.”
On S Scottie Young’s personal foul on the first drive of the game:
“The early personal foul is inexcusable. (It was) away from the play, one of the receivers was trying to cross the middle and he hit him.”
On QB Khalil Tate’s speed and explosiveness on a 33-yard run against WSU:
“He had one the other night here, too, for about 20. I know the numbers on the GPS, so I know what he can do and what he can’t do.”
On WR Shawn Poindexter’s breakout season, and only catching touchdowns:
“We like that. We probably need to get him the ball some more. What I see is, this guy plays hard without the ball. A lot of the screen game, a lot of the runs, a lot of the things that are going on on the perimeter. He’s got to be a very, very physical blocker. He’s not as thick or as big as (former Texas A&M receiver) Mike Evans, but kind of a similar story. Mike’s best years were ahead of him, and I think the same thing about Shawn. He works really hard at the little things in the game. I’ve got a bunch of people asking about him that have come into this building to the next level.”
On the return of injured RBs Gary Brightwell and Darrius ‘Bam’ Smith:
“I thought they were pretty good. We talk a lot about scoring with your body, not the ball. That’s a mistake Gary made. I thought, for the most part, he was solid, but we can’t have that happen. I thought Bam was back to form. He’s really struggled this year … he had a really bad turf toe. It was almost better if he’d broken it. It’s a little bit like a high ankle sprain, sometimes you’re better off breaking it. For a guy who runs the way he runs, a change-of-direction guy with power, it’s awful. I think you see that he’s got tremendous potential to be an every-down back.”
On if the defense had been getting better as the season progressed:
“You can say that until last weekend. The last two weeks before that … this is a results-based business. The weeks before that I thought it was getting better. The performance Saturday night, you can’t say that.”
On CB Jace Whittaker’s status:
“It is all based on his injury. You’re never going to put a guy in harm’s way. He wants to play. With the strength in his arm right now, I don’t see that happening this year. He has another year. He has those (redshirt) games left if we wanted to play him, but we just don’t feel good about putting him out there with one arm.”
On Senior Day ceremonies:
“Each player will be recognized with his own introduction. One by one we’ll introduce those guys, shake their hands, and parents will get down on the field. Then we’ll have the team run out to meet them one last time.”
On his relationship with ASU coach Herm Edwards:
“I did an internship, I’m not sure if it was ‘97, ‘98—I was at Purdue. The NFL has an internship program for assistant coaches to really broaden your horizon. I was fortunate to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time. Tony Dungy was the head coach, Herm was there. Herm was kind of running the (internship) program. Herm was the secondary coach. Lovie Smith was the linebacker coach. (Rod) Marinelli was the D-line coach. Every coach on that staff, on the defensive staff, became a head coach. It was a great experience, and that’s where I first got to meet him. Then, two years ago I had him come talk to our team at A&M. Not just about football, but about life. You guys have heard him speak, he’s energetic. I think network television is another thing that’s helped him grow, but he’s his own guy. Obviously he’s doing a great job.”
On ASU WR N’Keal Harry:
“He’s a fabulous player. Just a tremendous young man. A guy that we had a lot of conversations with … from the last place I as at. He’s big, got great body control. He’s a grown man now, and he plays like that. If that weren’t enough, now he’s returning punts. He’s everything that is as advertised. He’s going to be one of the first players taken at that position in the draft.”
On ASU QB Manny Wilkins:
They have a quarterback who is very smart, who can run. He can throw and does not turn the ball over.”
On ASU RB Eno Benjamin:
“He’s a violent runner.”