This year that trophy has even more significance, since neither team currently has a win in this COVID-affected season. ASU (0-2) will only be playing its third game of the season due to an outbreak within its program, while Arizona (0-4) has dropped 11 in a row and hasn’t been victorious in more than 14 months.
To better understand how the Sun Devils have navigated these crazy times, we reached out to Brady Vernon from our SB Nation sister site House of Sparky for some insight. Below are his poignant answers to our heartless questions.
ASU completed its first game before almost every other Pac-12 team started their season, then had to sit out three weeks before getting back into action last Saturday. What were the most noticeable byproducts of this hiatus against UCLA?
It was easy to notice the sloppiness. Arizona State ended up with 12 penalties against UCLA which is one of the highest marks in the Herm Edwards era. Three of them I believe were ineligible man downfield calls, which I never remember that many called on one team in a game. Then the two turnovers were unusual as well. Jayden Daniels has been known for keeping the ball safe. However, he had an ugly interception that seemed like he decided where he was throwing it before the snap. Then the fumbled snap inside the 5-yard line was just odd. The Sun Devils just looked like a team that has barely practiced and played.
QB Jayden Daniels had a brilliant true freshman season in 2019, but in the little he’s been able to play this fall the results haven’t been as good. How much has this delayed and disjointed season impacted his development?
I do believe the disjointed schedule has harmed Daniels’ development. Daniels is a quarterback who would’ve seriously benefitted from a normal offseason. It’s his first season in Zak Hill’s offense, that allows the quarterback to be a playmaker. He needed as much practice time under that system to transition well from being a game manager which Rob Likens’ offense asked him to do last year. Add in that Daniels lost Brandon Aiyuk to the NFL, Frank Darby was out for most of the USC game and his next top targets have been true freshmen. Nevertheless, I don’t think Daniels himself has played particularly well. As I said before, that interception against UCLA was ugly and unlike him.
It sure looks like ASU has a heck of a rushing duo in true freshman Chip Trayanum and junior college transfer Rachaad White. How have both been so impactful so quickly?
The duo between Trayanum and White has been great thus far. They truly feel like a combination of thunder and lightning. Trayanum is just a hard-nosed runner that never seems to go down on first contact and finds an extra gear in the second level. White isn’t easy to tackle either. He’s not as powerful as Trayanum but makes up for it with his speed, especially in the open field. Hill’s scheme, and defenses respecting Daniels has also opened up the running lanes for the pair.
The Sun Devils have 17 tackles for loss in two games, while Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin called DB Evan Fields ‘one of the best players in the league.’ Why does it look like that side of the ball is so far ahead of the offense?
It’s as simple as experience. Of the 11 starters against UCLA, I believe seven have starting experience from last season. That’s not counting Jack Jones and Aashari Crosswell (who has entered the NFL Draft) who were suspended for the game. The scheme change from the 3-3-5 to a more basic 4-3 with a lot of nickel seems to have made things simpler for the defense. Marvin Lewis being the co-defensive coordinator has also added a play caller who has seen just about any offensive look you can think of. All that together has put the defense ahead of the offense.
Many Territorial Cup games have come down to field goals at the end, either made or missed. UA and ASU currently have kickers in the NFL who are having vastly different levels of success in 2020, but what about the ones on the college roster? ASU made a change midway through the UCLA game, does this mean the position is in flux?
Edwards said on Monday that ‘we’ll just play it by ear. Practice will have to do a lot with it.’ Edwards is no stranger to benching players for others he might believe give them a better shot at winning. Christian Zendejas has been accurate the past two years as the Sun Devil kicker but he truly lacks power. His career long is 43 yards. Meanwhile, Jack Luckhurst came in and nailed his first career field goal attempt ... from 49 yards out. That’s a huge factor in deciding which player gives you a better chance to win.
Prediction time: Does Arizona bring the Cup back to Tucson for the first time since 2016, and thus end its program-record 11-game losing streak, or does ASU maintain dominance in the rivalry and keep the Wildcats winless? What will the score be?
It’s been a frustrating, disappointing year for the Arizona State football program. However, I think everyone in maroon and gold would be happy enough to know that they at least kept the Cup in 2020. I think the Sun Devils bring everything and win 30-20.