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Kevin Sumlin discusses ASU, his relationship with Herm Edwards, in-state recruiting, Khalil Tate, and more in weekly presser

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arizona-wildcats-college-football-spring-practice-preview-sumlin-gunnell-mazzone-2020-pac12 Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are officially in playing-out-the-string mode, with only one game left in the 2019 season and now hope for a bowl bid. But it’s also Territorial Cup week, which provides its own motivation for a team that’s riding a six-game losing streak to put in maximum effort and go out on top.

That’s the hope of coach Kevin Sumlin, who said he expects nothing less from his players.

“Just my feedback with guys today that have come in … I think they’re focused on this football game,” Sumlin said Monday during his final weekly press conference. “Individually and as a team.”

Here’s what else Sumlin said ahead of Saturday’s trip to ASU for the renewal of the Duel in the Desert:

On if he has an explanation for why Khalil Tate’s career didn’t take off as expected: “There’s a lot of different reasons, it’s not one thing. He played basically five, six games before we got here. Change of offense, change of philosophies, change of different things probably had a little bit or a lot to do with that. We want the best for all of our players. The quarterback position becomes a situation where there’s a lot more focus on there than on other players on the team, because it’s the quarterback. We don’t have a set system that (says) you have to do this. What you do ... is try to tailor (things), like we’ve done defensively with getting all three linebackers on the field. Winning is the priority, and what that looks like can be a lot of different ways.”

On why RBs Bam Smith and Gary Brightwell haven’t played much lately: “The reason that they played early was because J.J. (Taylor) was hurt. J.J. is healthy now, and as I’ve said before, we’re trying to get him between 25 and 30 touches a game. There’s only one football.”

On DLs JB Brown and Jalen Harris’ limited roles against Utah: “The defense we were playing … they’re not as effective against those two tight-end formations and big sets. You saw Myles (Tapusoa) and (Trevon Mason) and (Kyon) Barrs in there a lot.”

On how much he considered going for it on 4th down from his own 34-yard line in the second quarter vs. Utah: “Very seriously. With the way (Utah) is built and the way they did things, I still feel like that was the right decision at that time. When we punted down to the 13 they ate up rest of the second quarter to get down to the one to stop them. There was consideration of that, there was consideration of a fake punt.”

On if he would take more chances against ASU since it’s the last game: “We went for it on fourth time how many times last game? We went for it on 4th and 10 one time, actually, maybe 4th and 11. We’re trying to win a game. Every game is mutually independent. As a coach we’re trying to give our players the best chance to win.”

On if any of the many injured offensive linemen could be available for the finale: “We’ve got an opportunity to do that. It’s Monday. We just played 48 hours ago and they didn’t play in the game. We’ll see where they are here. We’ve got a couple guys who are experienced that have missed four or five weeks. I’ll know better by Wednesday.”

On if there’s anything he learned from last year’s Territorial Cup to make this year’s experience a better one: “You mean, a better experience by winning? That would be a better experience.”

On his appreciation for the rivalry: “Certainly in a rivalry game the intensity level ratchets up. It’s a game where we’re going up there. As I said in the locker room after the game, for our seniors, we would like to leave them with a nice taste in their mouth for their last game. (For the fans) it starts in the parking lot. There’s a lot of people who really, really care. There was a little skirmish before the game last year. The intensity level was high right when we got to the game. I’ve got a great appreciation for this game.”

On how long it took to get over the 19-point collapse last year: “I was out recruiting the next day.”

On the Territorial Cup’s importance to recruiting: “Every game’s important, but it’s important from a state standpoint. A lot of guys will be there. A lot of things have changed in recruiting just because of the early signing date. Dec. 18 is quicker than the first Wednesday in February.”

On how recruiting in Arizona has changed over the years: “It has increased exponentially. Fifteen years ago … when I first when to Phoenix to recruit, there are (now) high schools where there were just horses and farms. All the way to Goodyear. There was no Goodyear. Just population growth has helped. Coaching has helped. It has really, really grown in the last 15 years.”

On his recruiting process and how much he takes recruiting rankings into account: “We evaluate them based on what our evaluation process is like. Wherever I’ve been, at three different schools, sometimes those guys, when we evaluate, when we recruit them, sometimes those stars go up, sometimes they go down. Our process is about who can help us. Our evaluation process is based on that, not based on the internet.”

On ASU true freshman QB Jayden Daniels: “Last week he played lights out. He’s gotten better as a young player. He is understanding their offense better and better every week. Last week he was almost perfect. He takes care of the football. The addition of (wide receiver) Brandon Aiyuk has been big for them. Here’s a guy who leads the league in receiving. He’s a real threat. That’s a go-to guy. I think (Daniels) has done a real good job of operating and being consistent, but I think Brandon has been a difference maker.”

On ASU RB Eno Benjamin: “He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He runs really hard, he’s a driven player. The way he plays, he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

On ASU’s run defense: “Third in the league. We’ve seen 1 and 2 the last two weeks, so now we see No. 3 this week. They have a great scheme up front, they play hard. We’ve got to figure it out.”

On his relationship with ASU coach Herm Edwards and if it’s changed now that they coach rivals: “It’s been that way for a long time. He came in to speak at Texas A&M when he wasn’t coaching. When I was a younger coach I did an internship at Tampa Bay for Coach (Tony) Dungy and he was the secondary coach there. He’s doing a great job. He’s been around, he’s done a lot of things. He’s got a lot of experience but he’s also got a lot of experienced guys around him.”