Territorial Cup Scouting Report: Expect the unexpected

The stakes have never been higher in the Territorial Cup than they will be Saturday when No. 11 Arizona and No. 13 ASU face off in Tucson with the Pac-12 South title potentially on the line.

The fate of the winner will be decided by the result of the UCLA-Stanford game being played simultaneously, so the team that prevails in Tucson may or may not know its fate right away. But players this week have been focused solely on their own game, and there’s plenty to consider.

As with many rivalry games, just about everything that has happened previously can be tossed out the window. Examining the play to this point can prove meaningless, but we’re going to do it anyway.

Here’s a closer look at what to expect Friday at Arizona Stadium.

WHAT TO WATCH

Atmosphere. Coaches don’t have to do much to get their players fired up for a game like this. Both schools build it up all season, and that tends to manifest in the most emotional game of the year. But how will the teams manage those emotions? High pressure and high intensity games can sometimes lead to mistakes or uncharacteristic behavior, but they can also have teams playing their best. If both teams channel their emotions in the right way, this could be one of the most evenly matched and back-and-forth Territorial Cups we’ve seen in a while. But if one side lets emotion get the better of it, it could mean an embarrassing loss.

QB questions. Will Anu Solomon play for UA? Will Taylor Kelly be effective? Both teams have quarterback issues entering this game. Solomon is expected to be a game-time decision due to ankle and leg injuries after missing half of last week’s game against Utah. If he does play, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be 100 percent or close to it. Kelly, on the other hand, says he’s closer to 100 percent for his sixth game back after missing six weeks due to a broken foot. The results could tell the true story. The senior has mostly struggled since returning, throwing interceptions in all but one game, holding onto the ball too long and missing his spots amid flashes of his old self. As with any game, quarterback play will pivotal in this one.

Turnovers. After piling up nine interceptions through the last three games, ASU suddenly leads the Pac-12 with 13 this season. The Sun Devils rank second in the conference in turnover margin and last week scored 35 of their 52 points after a turnover. UA isn’t far behind in the Pac-12, ranking third in turnover margin at plus 10 to ASU’s plus 12. ASU’s Damarious Randall has an interception in three straight games.

WHAT TO KNOW

— Arizona holds a 47-39-1 all-time edge in the Territorial Cup, but ASU has been closing the gap lately with wins in three of the last four. The visiting team has won eight of the last 14 games, including four of the last five.

— Only once in the 87 meetings between ASU and UA have both teams entered the game with nine or more wins. That happened in 1975, before both joined the Pac-12. Further, ASU and UA have not faced each other while both were ranked in the Top 25 since 1986.

— Some would argue both these teams should have four losses. ASU beat USC on a Hail Mary and squeaked by Utah in overtime. Arizona beat Cal on a Hail Mary and escaped Washington on a last-second field goal after a fumble. More on both teams’ wild journeys to this point here.

KEY PLAYERS

Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU — Strong doesn’t seem the type to be rusty after missing one game, but his performance will be worth watching to see how the Wildcats try to counter his physical style and big-play ability.

Marcus Hardison, DE, ASU — Until he slows down, he stays here. Hardison has been on another level the last four games, totaling 15 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions. Look for him to be a disruptive force again this week.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona — Wilson ran over Utah last week for 218 yards and could be problematic for ASU to contain. If Wilson gets going on the ground, UA’s offense should open up everywhere else.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona — Wright leads the nation in tackles for loss and ranks fifth in sacks. He could be a problem for ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who’s still struggling to play to his ability after a six-week injury absence, and ASU’s run game.

Jaelen Strong (left) and Nick Wilson could be game-breakers on offense.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Possibly the Pac-12 South title. Both teams need Stanford to beat UCLA to make this game for the South crown and a spot in the Pac-12 title game. But if UCLA, the favorite, holds up, this game offers the winner its 10th victory of the season and probably a shot at a College Football Playoff Selection Committee bowl game, such as the Fiesta Bowl.

INJURY REPORT

ASU — Out: DT Jaxon Hood (personal reasons), DB Ezekiel Bishop (knee). DL Corey Smith (hip), DL Marcus Washington (knee). Questionable: WR Jaelen Strong (concussion). Probable: S Jordan Simone (stinger), LB Laiu Moeakiola (shoulder). Arizona — Out: LB DeAndre’ Miller (shoulder). Doubtful: LS Chase Gorham (abdomen). Questionable: QB Anu Solomon (ankle), RB Adonis Smith (concussion).

OUTLOOK

The quarterback position is the most important one on the field, and Arizona’s will almost certainly be less than 100 percent. Solomon could still be effective, but ASU’s heavy pressure figures to make it tough on ailing quarterback. His health could be the difference.

PREDICTION

ASU 41, Arizona 31

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