Arizona and visiting Arizona State each will be looking for their first victory of the season when they meet in their annual rivalry game Friday in Tucson, Ariz.
Granted, the Sun Devils (0-2, 0-2 Pac-12) have only played twice, the fewest of any FBS program that isn’t sitting out this pandemic-impacted season. They got back on the field Saturday, losing 25-18 to UCLA, after missing three weeks of action.
The news is worse for Arizona (0-4, 0-4).
The Wildcats have lost a school-record 11 consecutive games, with 10 of the defeats coming by double-digit margins.
Given all that, each team is happy to throw out the records when they battle for the Territorial Cup in a series that dates to 1899.
“It’s a rivalry game, that’s the first thing,” said Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, looking for his first win in his third try against Arizona State.
“A lot of guys know each other. It’s intense, between players and coaches. It’s a pride situation. For our fans and alumni, their fans and alumni, it’s a big deal in this state. We’re both coming into this thing looking for a win. I think that actually raises things up a little bit more.”
Arizona State began the season with hopes of winning the Pac-12 South but opened with a 28-27 loss to then-No. 20 Southern California when the Sun Devils allowed two touchdowns in the final three minutes.
Head coach Herm Edwards said his team started “kind of slow” last Saturday after not playing for a month. There hasn’t been a lot of time for sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels to get into a rhythm with new offensive coordinator Zak Hill and plenty of new wideouts.
Daniels has completed 32 of 58 passes for 359 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” Edwards said. “The only way you can work it out is you have to play games.”
This week, the Sun Devils might want to use a heavy dose of running backs Chip Trayanum (27 carries, 192 yards) and Rachaad White (19-129). The Wildcats gave up 407 rushing yards, including 301 to Jarek Broussard, in a 24-13 home loss to Colorado last week.
Only Bowling Green has given up more rushing yards per game than Arizona’s 273.5.
On the other hand, the Wildcats’ running game might be their strength on offense. Gary Brightwell and Michael Wiley each topped 100 rushing yards last week.
Sumlin said Monday he was unsure if starting quarterback Grant Gunnell would be available. Gunnell injured his shoulder on Arizona’s first snap against UCLA two weeks ago. True freshman Will Plummer has taken every snap since then, completing 36 of 67 passes for 305 yards, with three interceptions and no touchdowns.
“Our issues were not related to the quarterback position Saturday,” Sumlin said. “As you watch what happened, we had issues in protection.”
Arizona allows 4.25 sacks per game, the fourth-worst mark in the country.
Arizona State is looking for its fourth consecutive win in the rivalry, which would be its longest since winning four in a row from 1975-78. The Sun Devils were 11-point favorites early in the week.
“They have not won a game; we have not won a game this season,” Edwards said. “So all bets are off. We have a bunch of young guys, and this is their first year going to this.”
–Field Level Media