Arizona vs. Arizona State: What We Learned from the Territorial Cup

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2013

Arizona vs. Arizona State: What We Learned from the Territorial Cup

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    Arizona State retained the Territorial Cup, blowing out rival Arizona 58-21 on Saturday night in Tempe to win its seventh straight game.

    The Sun Devils (10-2, 8-1) won the Pac-12's South Division and, by having the league's best overall conference record, will host Stanford (10-2, 7-2) on Saturday night in the Pac-12 title game. The winner will likely represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, which for ASU would be its third-ever berth in the storied contest.

    For Arizona (7-5, 4-5), the loss put a bitter finish to a second straight winning season under Rich Rodriguez, and likely another bowl bid.

    Besides the winner and loser, what else did we learn about these teams from the Territorial Cup? Click through the slideshow to see what we noticed, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

ASU Is a Complete Football Team

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    Arizona State entered the game among the top 30 teams nationally in passing, averaging 286.5 passing yards per game, while its rushing attack was in the top 50 in FBS at 186.4 yards per game.

    Against Arizona, the Sun Devils threw for 274 yards and rushed for 204 more, getting four touchdowns via the rush and two on passes.

    ASU also scored on an interception return, the fifth time its done so this season, and forced four turnovers.

    This isn't one of those outscore-you teams or one that has to grind out defense-first contests to win. The Sun Devils do it all.

Arizona Is Not Ready for Prime Time

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    Take away Arizona's shocking 42-16 home win over Oregon last week—a victory that might have been as much a result of Oregon sleepwalking as the Wildcats' efforts—and the 2013 season results show this team is getting better, but it's not at the same level as the top teams in the Pac-12 Conference.

    Arizona lost handily at Washington in late September, then fell to a USC team that had been left for dead before the teams met. The Wildcats managed to get to 6-2, though, but then lost three of four down the stretch, failing to topple UCLA at home, dropping a stinker at home to Washington State and then Saturday night's blowout loss.

    The Wildcats will make a bowl game. But with nine bowl-eligible teams and only seven or eight guaranteed bowl spots, depending on if the Pac-12 gets two teams in the BCS, where that destination will be is uncertain. It will likely be in a low-level bowl, similar to last season's entry in the New Mexico Bowl.

Losing Marion Grice Wasn't That Big of a Deal

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    Marion Grice injured his leg during last week's 38-33 win at UCLA, an injury that hasn't been fully explained yet but which kept him from playing against Arizona.

    Normally, losing a player with 20 total touchdowns (14 rushing, six receiving) would be a huge blow, but ASU showed it has more than enough weapons to compensate.

    First and foremost, quarterback Taylor Kelly showed the ability to diversify, keeping the ball for 13 rushes while also completing passes to eight different receivers.

    But beyond that, the Sun Devils went to other players to fill Grice's running void, with sophomore D.J. Foster going for a career-best 124 yards and two touchdowns and backup tight end De'Marieya Nelson showing off his talents as a running back with 35 yards and two scores.

    Whether Grice will be able to play in the Pac-12 final, or in whatever bowl game ASU gets into, has yet to be determined. If he can't, though, the loss won't be as bad as you'd have thought.

Winning the Turnover Battle Always Matters

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    One of the most tried-and-true statistics in college football that helps determine a winner is the turnover margin. Get more takeaways than giveaways, and the odds of winning the game are better.

    Arizona turned the ball over four times against ASU, with B.J. Denker throwing three interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown by Damarious Randall—and the Wildcats fumbling away a kickoff return. ASU had just one, an interception by Taylor Kelly that was negated a few plays later by Denker's third pick.

    Arizona also turned the ball over on downs three times, with ASU scoring on the ensuing possession each time.

    The Wildcats finished the regular season plus-four in turnover margin, compared to plus-13 for ASU.

ASU Will Be Tough to Beat at Home

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    A crowd of more than 72,000 mostly Sun Devils fans saw ASU finish unbeaten at home in the regular season for the first time since 2004, winning by an average score of 49-21.

    That kind of home-field advantage should be amplified when ASU hosts Stanford in next week's Pac-12 title game. The Sun Devils scored at least 30 points in every home game, as opposed to tallying as few as 20 points in road contests.

    While the ACC, Big Ten and SEC play their conference title games at neutral sites, the Pac-12's choice to have the final be at a home site puts a premium on winning that home-field advantage. Oregon and Stanford hosted the first two Pac-12 Championship Games, and both won handily.

Todd Graham Has This Team All-In

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    Todd Graham wasn't Arizona State's first choice to replace Dennis Erickson after the school fired Erickson following the 2011 season. He probably wasn't one of the top three picks on the Sun Devils' wish list.

    But since coming from Pittsburgh—where he'd only spent one season—Graham has done nothing but win. He went 8-5 in his first season in Tempe, and in the second year, he has ASU within a win of just its third Rose Bowl appearance in school history.

    And while Graham is doing it mostly with players recruited by Erickson, he's getting the most out of the roster he has. And he's won over both the team and the fans, not to mention owning a 2-0 mark against in-state rival Arizona.

Ka'Deem Carey Is Amazingly Consistent

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    It was a very slow start for Ka'Deem Carey, who had only 23 yards on his first 11 carries.

    But before you knew it, Carey was over 100 yards, the 15th straight time he's done that. That's the longest active streak in FBS and a reason he's become the most consistent rusher in college football the last two seasons.

    And Carey doesn't just barely get over 100 yards, he's usually far over. He ended up with 157 yards on 32 carries in the loss to ASU, giving him 1,716 yards this season. Carey didn't play in Arizona's opener, so he's averaging 156 yards per game.

    In 2012, he led FBS with 1,929 yards in 13 games.

The Rivalry Is Heated, But It's Not Caustic

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    Arizona and Arizona State fans don't like each other, and the teams want to pound each other into the ground.

    But this isn't one of those rivalries where the hatred is so deep-rooted and venomous that it extends too far beyond rooting hard for one's own team and against the other. At least not this time around.

    The pushing and shoving on the field was minimal, and only one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called. The teams actually combined for just six penalties, keeping the action clean and spirited without unnecessary extracurriculars.

    That compares to rivalry games such as Ohio State-Michigan or UCLA-USC, both of which featured on-field brawls or punches being thrown that led to player ejections.