Five Things We Learned From the 2014 Territorial Cup

TUCSON-The ArizonaWildcats defeated the Arizona State 42-35 in the 88th meeting of the annual Territorial Cup before 56,083 in attendance on a picture perfect day at Arizona Stadium. With the win the ‘Cats improve to 10-2, 7-2 while ASU drops to 9-3, 6-3. It was Rich Rodriguez’s first win in three tries against the Devils and Todd Graham’s first loss.

With Stanford’s upset of UCLA, Arizona claims the Pac-12 South Championship and will get a rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game next Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

Here are five things we learned in the game.

1. Filling Up the Cup…both head coaches promised an improved product when they took over three years ago and to this point both have  delivered beyond expectations. It was apparent Friday the talent level is far better than what each predecessor left behind. The heart of Arizona’s offense are freshman and ASU’s young, attacking defense will only improve in the coming years with more time in the system. The game flowed with excitement like true rivalries do and gave us a glimpse of what the future holds. “We didn’t get it done [Friday],” a reflective Graham said afterwards. “This one hurts more than any of ’em.”

2. Nick’s Knack …last February Fresno Central High School senior running back Nick Wilson had a final choice to make: play football for UofA or ASU. Wildcat fans are happy he decided to head south. The true freshman burst on the Pac-12 scene eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark entering the T-Cup. He etched his name is Arizona football lore gashing Graham’s defense to the tune of 178 yards on 24 carries (7.4/attempt). Wilson’s 72-yard, third quarter touchdown pushed the lead to 35-21 and put ASU on their heels for the rest of what proved to be a long afternoon in the Old Pueblo. “I’m glad I did choose this school and work as hard as I did,” Wilson explained. “I’ve got the opportunity and I’ve tried to make the best of it.” He finished with three scores and showed sneaky, breakaway speed in the open field outracing the ASU defense on several occasions.

3. Skooby Do…Rodriguez knew little about his defense before the season started but knew sophomore Skooby Wright would spearhead the group. His efforts all season and particularly against his in-state rival proved Rich Rod to be a wise sage back in August. Wright was all over the field, mostly camping out in the Devils’ backfield registering a game-high 13 tackles, five for loss. His late-fourth quarter sack, one of two on the day, helped stall a late ASU drive in Wildcat territory. “Skooby Wright has proven every game that he’s one of the best football players, not only on defense, but overall in the Pac-12.” 

4. Getting Defensive…it started as one of the most unconventional Territorial Cups with a pair of defensive scoop and scores to start the scoring. On the opening drive Taylor Kelly was sacked and fumbled, the ball was scooped up by Anthony Lopez and returned 25 yards untouched for a quick 7-0 lead. After the Wildcats turned ASU over on downs inside the four, Anu Solomon mis-handled the snap and big Demetrius Cherry lumbered in from two yards out to the game. It’s the type of ball-hawking, play-making skills both defenses have shown. Despite the high scoring game, there were plenty of big hits including James Johnson coming untouched off the corner and drilling Solomon last in the first quarter. UofA registered seven sacks and forced two turnovers.

5. Strong Start, Slow Finish…after Wildcat senior safety Jourdon Grandon said earlier in the week talented Jaelen Strong didn’t respond well to the physical play the junior from Philadelphia updated his NFL tape consistently beating Grandon and the rest of the Cats’ secondary in the first half, reeling in the throws with either hand and showing the separation speed some believe is one of his few drawbacks. His three-yard touchdown in the second quarter was one of the best catches of the year fully extending to snare Kelly’s high throw. Strong averaged nearly 25 yards per reception in the first half but finished with just one second half reception. He was neutralized after halftime and is likely still being hampered by back issues but still became the first ASU receiver to pass 2,000 receiving yards in their first two seasons in maroon and gold.

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A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.