The Territorial Cup remains as wild as the western frontier for which it was named.
In other words, yes, you better throw the records out the window.
Arizona State came into the game looking to keep pace in the Pac-12 South race and improve its bowl position. The Wildcats had nothing but the game and trying to feel good about themselves. Showing pride. Earning bragging rights.
A lot of Arizona Wildcats are feeling really good this week.
UA coach Tim Kish has now achieved Russ Pennell status in the Arizona Pantheon of Temporary Coaches. He’s not going to go to the football equivalent of the Sweet 16 but he will forever be listed as having a 1.000 winning percentage in the Territorial Cup (Kish > Kush).
Kish will now be a guy Wildcat fans remember fondly and root for wherever he ends up. Maybe Pennell can talk Grand Canyon U. into starting a football program.
The Wildcat seniors can go to their future alumni functions with the honor of a 3-1 career record against ASU. (For their sanity it’ll be better to focus on the three rather than that one.) They can say they won a bowl game after a decade-long drought. They can talk about finishing 2nd in the Pac-10. And, unless Colorado wins at Utah, the 2011 Cats will never have to talk about finishing last. Eleventh place never felt so good.
It looked like Nick Foles was going to get another chance at a rivalry-winning drive (this time only down three instead of the fateful six). Does he get credit for half a drive?
(And how often does a quarterback have to leave the game after a handoff? Only at Arizona.)
The Wildcats used two senior QBs and they combined to complete 36 of 52 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns. No, it wasn’t exactly an even split, but career backup Bryson Beirne got the one that mattered most. With a single pass his career epitaph went from Faithful Backup to Rivalry Game Hero.
Cornerback Trevin Wade was another senior who rose from the shadows. It was as if he watched film of himself as a sophomore and said, “Wow, I was really good back then. Maybe I should play like that.” They don’t keep track of forced interceptions but Wade’s assist on Jourdan Grandon’s INT was perhaps the biggest play of the game.
The Wildcat D as a whole deserves a ton of credit. It seems strange to praise a unit that surrendered 548 yards but for once the UA played “bend but don’t break” instead of just “break.” The Devils made it into Arizona territory six times in the 2nd half (including three trips to the red zone) and only came away with six points.
Another surprise was all the big hits from the team from Tucson. The one highlight of Mike Stoops’ first season (besides beating ASU) was watching energetic young defenders making aggressive tackles. Wildcat fans kept waiting for that kind of defense to come back and it finally reappeared in the final conference game of Stoops’ final season.
Arizona’s maligned special teams can also hold their heads high. The two missed field goals didn’t help but they held the Sun Devils’ lethal kick returners to fewer than 23 yards per attempt and almost recovered a big fumble. (John Bonano lost MVP votes with the two misses but more than made up for it by emerging from that fumble scrum with the football and no helmet).
The UA didn’t dominate on the ground but the Wildcats did break 100 yards. ASU appeared to be trying to break 100 pass attempts. It’s hard to argue with the 487 yards through the air but it is easier for a defense to force turnovers against the pass. Sure enough, the Sun Devils’ three giveaways were two interceptions and a wide receiver fumbling after Wade’s huge hit.
Arizona has been a pass-heavy team all year and Foles’ eight interceptions greatly contributed to the three-game losing streak. That’s why it’s all the more impressive that he stood in the pocket 52 times Saturday night without a single turnover.
It all adds up to a happy bunch of Cats and a Sun Devil team wondering how its season unraveled. If this year is Dennis Erickson’s swan song it’s because his much-hyped defense lost discipline and forgot how to cover and tackle people. If this was the game that got the swan singing it’s fitting that every penalty committed by the men in black was significant. Here’s the list:
– Offsides on 3rd down
– Pass interference on 3rd down
– Personal foul on 3rd down
– Personal foul on UA’s 32-second scoring drive to end half
– Offensive holding negates 3rd down conversion
– Illegal block turns 3rd-and-4 into 2nd-and-17
– Offensive pass interference sets up 2nd-and-22
– Personal foul on UA’s first 4th quarter TD drive
ASU still has plenty to play for in its final game but few Sun Devil fans are going to be happy with the season. Arizona isn’t satisfied either. I’m not one who says beating Arizona State makes the season a “success.” But you can break down a college football schedule into four parts. Here’s the UA’s report card for 2011:
Territorial Cup: SUCCESS!
– – – – –