Wildcats’ sole focus: Keep the Cup in Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey sat the media table, pointed to the silver Territorial Cup and said, “It’s a big deal to bring the Territorial Cup home.”

It’s rested in Tucson for just under a year now. On Friday night — deep into the night — we’ll find out if it will stay. It’s been in the Old Pueblo for three out of the last four years, and the fans have liked it.

First-year UA coach Rich Rodriguez got that early. In his preparation for his introduction a
year ago, he made sure he mentioned beating the “team from up north” every year. He makes sure it’s part of his speech every time he speaks at a function involving Arizona fans. He understands the importance.

It doesn’t get any more important than Friday.

“A lot of people say, ‘If you were going to win just one game, make sure it’s the ASU game, then we’ll be happy,’ No, I don’t think you will be,” Rodriguez said. “But maybe it will at least make them less angry if that’s the one game you win.

“It’s a huge game. It’s a rivalry (regardless) of who’s sitting in this seat or who is sitting in the seat up there (at Arizona State).”

It’s a built-in rivalry. Players generally hate each other — or at least dislike one another. But that’s what makes for a good rivalry. And it makes for intense practices leading up to the game. Arizona players said that would be a key this week.

The Wildcats have been able to keep the intensity high all season en route to a surprising 7-4 record. This week, they’ve tried to find another gear.

“There’s going to be a lot of intensity,” Rodriguez said. “This shouldn’t be a game where I have to do all of the motivational tactics to get guys excited. It’s a rivalry game, an in-state game and a conference game. Everything is in place. This should be easy to motivate.

“On the flip side, we have to be able to keep our poise and composure, because there is going to be a lot of intensity out there. That goes back to being disciplined and not
making selfish decisions that will hurt your team.”

One thing that could hurt Arizona is Arizona State’s defensive pressure. Typical of Todd Graham-coached teams, the Sun Devils are aggressive up front. To wit: ASU leads the country in sacks per game at 4.3 and is No. 2 in tackles for loss at 8.9 per game.

“They blitz a lot — I think it is over 50 percent of the time that they bring pressure — but they also bring pressure without blitzing,” Rodriguez said. “In the last game, they had a three-man rush which brought a lot of pressure.

“They have great defensive players like Will Sutton, who is a potential first-round draft pick. They are a big pressure team. They are able to get pressure without bringing extra
guys, and that is a big concern for us.”

Arizona H-back Taimi Tutogi said he’ll do everything he can to help mitigate that rush and added, “I’m going to worry about all I can do to get that Territorial Cup here in Tucson. I’m sure all the guys feel the same way.”