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What Arizona players are saying about ASU and the Territorial Cup rivalry

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NCAA Football: Arizona at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 94th edition of the Territorial Cup series kicks off Friday when the Arizona Wildcats (0-4) host the Arizona State Sun Devils (0-2). Both teams are winless, but that shouldn’t diminish what is one of the most heated rivalries in college sports.

Here’s what UA players had to say about it during Tuesday’s media session.

Arizona redshirt junior linebacker Rourke Freeburg on what this game means as an Arizona native: “It means a lot. That’s my hometown. Believe it or not I actually grew up in a Sun Devil household. My mom went there. And then coming out of high school I decided to come here. I thought this was a better fit for me academically and athletically. But this game means a lot. I look forward to this game every year and especially now that I have a critical role on defense and I can make some plays to help have an impact on this game. I’m really looking forward to it. This is a game that I circle every year, just because it means the most to me. Not to discredit any other game but it’s the Arizona State-Arizona game. It’s for the Territorial Cup, so I can’t wait to get on the field Friday night.”

Freeburg on ASU’s offense: “I think they got a lot of weapons, some young guys they got in there. I think that LV Bunkley-Shelton and Johnny Wilson, two highly recruited guys that I’m sure they’re gonna want to get the ball to. They got a good run attack, a lot of shifts and motions and stuff like that. That’s why I go back to eye discipline and understanding assignment because they’re going to do a lot on offense that it’s going to try and mess with our eye progression and we can’t let that faze us. ... But I think it goes back to the run game. I think if we can stop the run game that will have success against this offense.”

Freeburg on the key to slowing down ASU’s big running backs: “Gotta be physical. You can’t let size shy you away. USC had a couple of backs that were 220-plus (pounds) and I don’t think anybody shied away from either one of those backs. Not to discredit them, but if we can carry that over to this game, be physical and wrap up, we can’t miss tackles. That’s obviously a big thing that we’ve struggled with.”

Freeburg on the intensity of the rivalry: “I played the last two years, it was really only on special teams, but it’s like nothing else, man. Especially two years ago when we had sold-out crowd almost and that was really my first time in a truly filled stadium. The atmosphere was unbelievable. You can just feel the intensity. You get on that field and it’s loud and it’s a true battle. The Territorial Cup every year is a game that is a true toss up. No matter what their record or who’s better than who, I feel like it’s always a toss up. And then last year, same deal. Playing in Tempe, I honestly love going into opposing stadiums. I think it’s one of the coolest experiences in college football. ... It’s a great environment, the intensity is always there. I’m looking forward to this Friday. Even though there’s no fans, I know that intensity still gonna be there.”

Freeburg on Chuck Cecil’s speech to the team: “I can’t necessarily get in the details of that but it fired me up. He’s a truly passionate guy. I honestly like to think of myself kind of as him, as a newly reformed Chuck Cecil if that makes sense. He’s a walk-on back in the day who made a legacy for himself here, so I’ve always kind of looked up to him and gone to him for advice. I talk to him every other day here and there just about football, and especially this week. I told him, ‘Chuck this is our game’ because he gets fired up every year for this. You can definitely hear in his voice the passion he has and I know he’s looking forward to getting out there Friday night. Even though he’s not playing, I know he’s highly anticipating this game as well.”

Freeburg on the significance of a win: “I honestly think it would mean a lot, especially to this community of Tucson and the state of Arizona. It’s been a really weird year—no fans and our season hasn’t really gone our way. We’re 0-4 right now, but if we can get a win in the Territorial Cup, that can set all things straight because at the end of the day that’s one of the biggest games of the year, if not the biggest game of the year on the schedule. So I think if we can get one Friday, that’ll help start moving this program in the right direction.”

Arizona senior defensive tackle Aaron Blackwell on the keys to a win: “Our mentality is always stop the run. It’s the three factors of football—stop the run, make them throw, make them it throw fast. And you do that, you create turnovers. I thought we finally got our turnovers in the game last week. We were real excited about it, it got the guys kind of throwing some balls they didn’t want to throw. We weren’t able to capitalize, but I think going into ASU if we can carry that same energy, same mentality that we had, we just got to shut down the big plays and not let them break for those huge runs that they had.”

Blackwell on what went wrong on those big runs: “We preach all year about being in your gap and doing your job, and kudos to Colorado from last week. They had some great coaching maneuvers where they kind of saw some things that we weren’t prepared for and exploited that pretty hard with those big runs you saw. I thought we did a pretty damn good job overall. But eliminating big plays is a key to a defense. When you give up six or seven plays that break for 60 yards, you’re taking everything out of yourself and all the hard work on the other plays.”

Blackwell on the significance of the rivalry as a Phoenix native: “It’s everything. You hate to say, but if we had to win one game this year, it’d be this one. It’s the biggest one of the year, especially every Arizona guy is watching this. Growing up, this was always the he-said, she-said in town...so we’re excited beyond belief. Just so thankful that we made it this far and thankful Arizona State got healthy enough to meet us this late in the season. So just grateful for the opportunity to play each other and bring Arizona football back together.”

Blackwell’s most notable memory of the Territorial Cup: “I was actually at New Mexico and I believe it was when Arizona was up big and they were about to make it for that bowl run, and Arizona State actually came back and took it from him. It always just shows how you could be a one-win team to the whole year, the other team could be undefeated, it comes down to this. It’s whoever came to show up to play for the Territorial Cup and that’s what’s so exciting about it.”

Blackwell on ASU’s offense: “They come out in that strong 11-personnel and they run really well. So I think I’m absolutely you see what we’ve done in the past and exploiting that big play option and seeing what we did last week is probably gonna be a target. But you can’t ignore that there’s a downfield factor. Whenever someone has a good run game, they could switch to that play action like Arizona State does. So it’s just covering all your ground and making sure that you’re doing exactly what you pregamed for and exactly what you plan for and don’t ever take a play off or get comfortable.”

Blackwell on having no fans at games: “Especially for me who’s played for the past five years and you’re used to big stands and stuff, it’s just really kind of a weird feeling. I don’t think a lot of people get to see when watching our games on TV for us. It’s just very different. You hate to say you get used to it, but I think it really in our eyes just makes us more excited for things to get back to normal and very hopeful to see people back out there again. But in the end, we’re just glad to be out there playing football.”

Blackwell on how the atmosphere will be different this year: “I mean, you think about this week, you’d have your big tailgates and your big trash talk and everything going on. And it’s just dead quiet in the middle of winter and it just doesn’t have the same feel at all. But for guys who play football and know what this is and you come out and practice every day, that doesn’t change your mindset. It just kind of takes more of the spirit out of it. But the want to win and the want to play and the enjoyment is still there.”

Sophomore running back Michael Wiley on the rivalry: “A lot of tradition. Coach Cecil had a speech for us. Very interesting, but he pretty much got his point across. Us versus ASU is a big game and just to see the history behind it is amazing. But this week we got to look at them as a team that has zero wins just like we do. This game is just a battle of who can get their first W.”

Wiley on ASU: “I think they’re a good team. I think that we can just beat them with our offense, with the guys we have and the schemes that we put against them. I think that we’re the better team but I think they’re a good team too.”

Wiley on the significance of a win: “I think it would mean a lot. It’s unfortunate that we are 0-4 right now, but if we can just finish out the season strong, I think it would be good for our team, especially with beating ASU.”