The Territorial Cup is one of college football’s oldest rivalries, the trophy dating back to the late 19th century. Yet for Arizona, that trophy hasn’t spent more than a few hours in Tucson in the past six years.
ASU (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) has won its last five encounters with Arizona (4-7, 3-5), but this could be the year the Wildcats end the drought. The Sun Devils are in the middle of a rough season that has seen them fire their coach and face NCAA recruitment allegations.
To better understand ASU, we turned to us Kevin Redfern the sister site of SB Nation Sparky’s house for some insights. Here are his great answers to our common questions.
AZ Desert Swarm: ASU carried a lot of uncertainty regarding the program into the fall and then dispatched most of it when they fired Herm Edwards after a 1-2 start. Results aside, how has the team changed under Shaun Aguano’s leadership and do you think he’s a legitimate candidate for the permanent position?
Kevin Redfern: “When Shaun Aguano took over as interim manager, he inherited an awkward schedule to start the Pac-12 game. ASU was a punching bag for Utah and USC in its first two games. But the limelight stayed on Aguano, where he initiated cultural changes in the locker room and has repeatedly expressed interest in a major overhaul of the program’s recruiting efforts in the state. It was reportedly not that difficult for Aguano to win the dressing room and the players were all there. But those words only mean so much. We heard a similar tune from Herm all offseason, then they lost 30-21 to Eastern Michigan.
“Aguano did well from a PR standpoint, announcing a quarterback rotation and taking on play-calling duties in ASU’s 42-34 win in Colorado (makes sense, right?). That maneuver was brilliant at the time, but the Sun Devils haven’t won since. During his introductory press conference, Aguano said he would be making “subtle changes, not drastic ones.” So far it has been like this. I believed he needed to lead ASU to bowl eligibility and make significant progress with the 2023 recruit class for Aguano to become a legitimate candidate. He got a few words, but most of his great offers won’t stay.
“ASU also just hired renowned head of search firm Jed Hughes from Korn Ferry to lead the coaching search. It looks like Ray Anderson and co want to swing big. Will Aguano stay on staff? Unpredictable. There’s been a lot of ado surrounding Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, but in the meantime, keep an eye on Tom Herman.”
The quarterback situation looked messy from the outside, with Emory Jones winning the job outside of camp, but Walk-On (and Tucson native Trenton Bourguet) edging him out and what looked like the better option. What made Bourguet more effective and how did that change offense?
“Offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas was hired in January. Emory Jones made the move in May. That gave Bourguet, who underwent foot surgery in the spring, a 5-month head start on learning the playbook. For a quarterback known for his skill between the ears, I’m sure that’s come a long way. Against Washington and Colorado, Bourguet rushed for 617 combined yards with a 74 percent completion rate, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He masterfully handled offense with quick releases and accurate throws that we hadn’t seen from Jones all year. It was a simple but effective upgrade. Bourguet’s pre-snap diagnostic skills are impressive. He knows where to go with the ball.”
Xazavian Valladay is one of two active FBS running backs with more than 4,000 career rushing yards to break the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in five seasons last week. How does he fit into this retooled offense and do you expect him to get a bigger load against Arizona’s pathetic rush defense?
“If anything, offense suits Xazavian, who calls himself X Valladay, and that’s why Aguano called him the ‘heart and soul’ of the program. After the Arizona game, it’s possible that Valladay (current 1,095 yards, 14 TDs) can be considered a slight upgrade in the running game over the 2021 iteration of Rachaad White (1,006, 15 touchdowns), at least in the rushing category.
“Although he’s also a threat from the air with 272 yards and two points. He was a Jones favorite in the red zone. Unless the Sun Devils are playing by two points, expect Valladay to make 20+ tries. Aguano, the former running back coach, adores Valladay and I’m sure they’ll make him a focal point of the Territorial Cup schedule.”
Linebacker Kyle Soelle leads the Pac-12 with 105 tackles, but it looks like his numbers have dropped recently, possibly due to injury? Will he be 100 percent in this game and what does he bring healthy to the table?
“ASU addresses us in the Aguano era and reports injuries as “upper body” and “lower body.” After missing the 28-18 loss at Washington State with an “upper limb injury,” a shadow of Sölle recorded just four tackles. As a result, he has the ninth most tackles in the FBS. His departure last week definitely means he’s not 100 percent fit, but there was no way captain Kyle Soelle would miss his senior say.
“When he’s healthy, Sölle does a fantastic job cleaning up a struggling defense unit. It’s their second line of defense, turning a potential big play into minimal play. It’s a largely thankless job until everyone looks at the box score after the game.
Who else should Arizona be most worried about in ASU’s defense?
“Part of that is an injury, but even with a monster frame of 6ft 3in and 210lbs as a cornerback, Auburn-Transfer’s Ro Torrence continues to fly under the national media radar. The other part is that quarterbacks just don’t attack receivers who are guarded by Torrence at the same rate they attack other ASU defenders. Despite this, he has eight pass breakups this year and leads ASU corners with 21 solo tackles. Unfortunately, coverage hasn’t resulted in forward pressure, and Pac-12 quarterbacks have had success extending plays with their arm or legs.
forecast time. Will the Sun Devils retain the trophy for a seventh straight season, or will Arizona hold it for the first time in Tucson since failing to attempt a pass in the second half in 2016? Give us a point selection.
“The time has come. Jayden de Laura keeps his head on his shoulders and handles the Sun Devils for the second time in as many years, but this time for the Wildcats. Neither of these teams seem to like hitting or marking in secondary , so take the points. final result, 41-31 Wildcats.”