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Same old mistakes fuel Arizona’s season-ending loss at ASU in Territorial Cup

arizona-wildcats-football-asu-sun-devils-recap-highlights-stats-pac12-football-territorial-cup-2021 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

TEMPE—If your first time watching the Arizona Wildcats play football this year was during the Territorial Cup, you got a season in review all wrapped up in one game.

The Wildcats squandered multiple scoring chances in the red zone, had costly penalties and turned the ball over at critical moments, much as they did throughout the first year of the Jedd Fisch era, in falling 38-15 at ASU on Saturday afternoon in the Territorial Cup.

It was the fifth straight loss for Arizona (1-11, 1-8 Pac-12) against ASU, the first time that’s happened since dropping nine in a row from 1965-73, and capped off the worst season in school history in terms of losses.

The Wildcats scored four of five red-zone possessions but only managed one touchdown, finishing the season with just 12 TDs in 39 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. They were also flagged 12 times, several of which were of the absurd variety.

And while Will Plummer threw for a career-high 346 yards—most every by a UA quarterback in the Territorial Cup—on 28-of-38 passing he also turned it over twice, with both giveaways leading to ASU TDs either on that play or the one right after.

The passing game was all Arizona had on Saturday because it couldn’t run to save its life. Its longest run was eight yards, with the Wildcats finishing with 50 yards on 34 carries thanks to Plummer being sacked four times for 55 yards.

ASU (8-4, 6-3) ran for 228 yards, with Rachaad White producing 98 yards and a TD on 21 carries. The UA outgained the Sun Devils 396-314.

ASU turned a 14-9 halftime lead into a 12-point edge 1:53 into the third quarter when Jayden Daniels escaped the pocket and ran untouched 48 yards for a TD. Replays showed Arizona linebacker Malik Reed may have been held on the play but no flag was thrown.

A flag was thrown on then ensuing kickoff, against ASU, giving Arizona good field position that it took advantage of, as it also did with a tremendous 29-yard catch from Stanley Berryhill III. Berryhill had 10 catches for 104 yards, finishing the season with 83 receptions to tie for 3rd-most in school history.

Berryhill had 10 catches for 104 yards, finishing the season with 83 receptions to tie for 3rd-most in school history.

Michael Wiley caught a 5-yard TD pass from Plummer, putting Arizona down 21-15 with 9:35 left in the third after it went for 2 and failed. On the TD, Dorian Singer was ejected for “flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct.

Daniels and Ricky Pearsall connected for a 14-yard TD, Pearsall’s second of the game, to make it 29-15 with 4:50 left in the third after Curtis Hodges caught a 2-point pass from Daniels. The UA only had 10 players on the field for the 2-point play, which came after it called a timeout.

ASU’s lead extended to 31-15 with 1:44 left in the third when Bryce Wolma was called for holding in the end zone on a punt. That came after Arizona was backed up by a delay of game and came at the end of a drive that started bad when Wiley was flagged for an “invalid fair catch signal” on the kickoff, resulting in the Wildcats starting at their own 3-yard line.

Plummer was then picked off by Jack Jones, who returned it 78 yards for a score to make it 38-15 with 9:49 left.

Arizona scored on its opening drive, getting a 32-yard field goal from Tyler Loop to cap a 77-yard drive. The result was a disappointment after the Wildcats quickly got into the ASU red zone thanks to a pair of long passes, one on a trick play that saw Jamarye Joiner line up under center—with only two offensive linemen in the middle the field—and throw backward to Plummer, who connected with a well-covered Singer on a 44-yard gain.

ASU went 75 yards in nine plays to go up 7-3 on a 14-yard TD pass from Daniels to Pearsall. Pearsall came in motion and was wide open on the right side, one of two such plays for the Sun Devils on the drive that were similar to the ones Utah ran at will against the UA two weeks ago.

The Wildcats again used a long Singer catch—this one with one hand—to get into the red zone, getting down to the ASU 2-yard line on 3rd and goal before Jordan Morgan was called for a false start and a short pass from Plummer to Wiley went for negative yardage. Loop then hit a 26-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.

The Sun Devils made it 14-6 with 12:12 left in the first half on a 1-yard run by White, which came after ASU recovered a Plummer fumble at the UA 1. Plummer was flushed from the pocket on 3rd down and was trying to escape when he was stripped by Jones, with Tyler Johnson recovering just short of the goal line.

The UA’s third trip to the ASU red zone in the first half produced a third field goal, this one 27 yards by Loop to make it 14-9 with 2:19 left in the second.

Arizona now heads into its first full offseason under Fisch in search of a defensive coordinator as well as plenty of player reinforcements. It has 15 high school prospects committed ahead of next month’s early signing period, and the Wildcats are expected to be very active in the NCAA transfer portal.