It was a night for the guys in black. Photo by Wildcat Universe

Hey, the Cats beat Oregon! And Duke!

There’s not much you want to say after getting dominated like that. Arizona State‘s 37-point victory and Pac-12 South championship emphasized that Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats are trying to catch up in the Territorial Cup rivalry.

The extra twisting of the fork was an attempted trick play in the fourth quarter.

How bad was it at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday? Even if you could have hit the reset button after ASU’s 27-0 lead, the Devils still would have won by double digits.

So the Territorial Cup stays in Tempe and the Arizona coach remains winless against his fellow members of the Pac-12 coaching class of 2011. That last factoid wouldn’t be a big deal except two of the three other second-year Pac coaches are South division rivals.

ASU’s Todd Graham is clearly ahead in this rivalry and it goes beyond the 2-0 Territorial Cup record. Posting the best record in the Pac-12 this year and hosting the conference championship game are undeniably great accomplishments. Graham now has the Devils where the Wildcats want to be.

Before UA fans panic you have to remember Graham had a head start. He took over a team that had been to a bowl game the previous season while Rodriguez inherited a program that had only two conference wins the year before.

The difference in age between the two rosters is evident when you look at the two-deeps (both ASU’s and Arizona’s):

Starters by Class


Two-Deep by Class


Do you think RichRod would like another half-dozen Pac-12-ready seniors at his disposal?

Granted, Graham gets credit for successfully bringing in impact junior college players and he has proven he can produce wins with a talented team. We will see, however, where things stand when Rodriguez’s construction project is complete.

None of this is an excuse for failing to win back the Cup. They play the game once a year whether you’re ready or not and if you’re not ready, for whatever reason, you get results like 58-21.

So, no, it’s not an excuse. But it is an explanation.

A sub-(sub-sub-sub)-plot that emerged from the wreckage of the game is we may have seen the first hint of animosity from the Graham regime toward Rodriguez’s crew. It happened on a three-yard play with the game well in hand.

It has been well documented that the pair of coaches share a long history, from working together at West Virginia to running similar offensive and defensive systems to the hiring and re-hiring of “mercenaries.”

The play in question occurred with Arizona State up 51-21 in the fourth quarter. The UA had just failed on a fourth down for the third time in the game, this time from its own 34-yard line. There was 11:48 left in the contest and on the next play ASU ran an end-around to wide receiver Richard Smith, running right. Right before the sideline he paused and looked downfield then ran forward and gained those three yards.

I wasn’t initially sure what I saw from my perch just below the overhead U.S. Airways planes but it was confirmed on the TV broadcast: Smith was looking to throw it, a trick play with a 30-point lead.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to score as many points as possible with 12 minutes left in the game. It’s the defense’s job to stop you. But it was a curious time to be reaching into your razzle-dazzle bag for the first time.

The gimmick certainly wasn’t necessary. The Sun Devils had marched up and down the field all night will little resistance. They ended up scoring the touchdown anyway on the next possession by giving it to a running back seven straight times.

As it stands the play will quickly fade from fans’ memories (if it was noticed at all) but if Smith had launched the pass – especially if it was completed for a touchdown – it would have been one of those moments that lives in rivalry lore, like ASU’s fake punt with a big lead late in the 1991 game.

Is this going to be a meaningless blip on the radar or the start of something bigger? I picture Graham like Anakin Skywalker, trained at the feet of a Jedi master before throwing on a black cloak and trying to kill everyone. But I do tend to reside on the dramatic side.

Again, the aborted trick play changes nothing about the Devils’ dominance Saturday night. It detracts not one midi-chorian from ASU’s 8-1 Pac-12 record and presence one step away from the Rose Bowl. I’m just guessing the play didn’t go over very well during the Wildcats’ film session. We’ll see if anything comes of it in future battles for the Territorial Cup.

Until then, it’s a good thing RichRod doesn’t like to huddle because the Cats are playing from behind.

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