More than five years after leaving the UA for an NFL career, Earl Mitchell returns to campus...
Cats, Devils Eye Territorial Cup
The Wildcats will wrap up the regular season and host the Sun Devils of ASU in the Territorial Cup game on Nov. 23. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. MT, and the game will air nationally on ESPN. The game will be a Red Out, and fans are asked to wear red.
First-year head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham have their programs bowl-eligible, but both put postseason travel plans on the backburner as they get their first taste of the nation's oldest rivalry trophy game when Arizona and Arizona State University square off in Arizona Stadium on Nov. 23.
Past coaching history aside, the two ball coaches know their first clash as rivals is significant: The winner gets state bragging rights, something that pays dividends on the recruiting trail and invigorates the fans and alumni for the next 365 days – or until they meet again.
Arizona boasts a potent and balanced offense, led by the nation's leading rusher entering the week (Ka'Deem Carey, 1,585 yards), a 3,000-yard passer (Matt Scott, 3,008 yards) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Austin Hill, 1,119 yards). The Sun Devils counter with the conference's second-ranked total defense spearheaded by a relentless pass rush that leads the nation at more than four sacks per game. However, ASU has its own share of playmakers on offense and scores 36 points per game.
Is another shootout in store at Arizona Stadium, where high-scoring affairs have become the norm? Or will the defenses dictate the pace of play against a pair of spread offenses that prefer the breakneck style of play-calling?
Who will be the unheralded star that makes an impact the way so many have over the years in this storied rivalry series? Can Arizona cap one of its most successful home slates in program history with its most significant victory of the season? Or will the Sun Devils return the favor and steal a win in gut-wrenching fashion the way the Wildcats did a season ago in Tempe?
It will be an extremely intense series of late, with each of the last three games being decided on the game's final play. It also will be Thanksgiving weekend, but only one school can claim an early holiday present: The Territorial Cup.
The Territorial Championship Cup was first presented to Tempe Normal School after its 11-2 victory over Arizona at Tucson's Carrillo Gardens field downtown on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 30, 1899. That makes it the oldest rivalry trophy game in America (Comparisons: Michigan-Minnesota/Little Brown Jug/1909; Indiana-Purdue/Old Oaken Bucket/1925).
The game will be a Red out, and Arizona fans are encouraged to wear red, and the team will wear red uniforms and red helmets.
The Wildcats last wore red helmets during the 1980 season. Since then, the Cats have worn blue or white helmets with the exception of Sept. 29, 2012 vs. Oregon State, when the UA debuted its copper helmets. This season, Rodriguez has allowed the senior class to choose the uniform and helmet combination each week.
The UA BookStores at the Student Union Memorial Center will carry special edition red helmet t-shirts this week, while supplies last. Value packs will be available for the ASU game, and the price of a game ticket will include a concessions voucher good for one hot dog, bag of peanuts or popcorn, and drink.
Friday's game marks the final home game for 21 seniors that have helped produce a winning 26-23 record over the last four seasons and a 34-28 mark over the last five years.
The group is set to make its third bowl appearance over the last four years, and for those players that were around to redshirt in 2008, they will make their fourth postseason trip in their five-year career. The last time a Wildcat senior class achieved that feat was in 1994 when Arizona participated in bowl games in 1990 and then 1992-94.
The seniors who will be honored on the field in Senior Day ceremonies before Friday's game are: Dominique Austin (DL), Addison Bachman (OL), Trace Biskin (OL), John Bonano (PK), Dan Buckner (WR), Lamar De Rego (DL), Kyle Dugandzic (P), Chris Merrill (DL), Terrence Miller (WR), Willie Mobley (DL), Greg Nwoko (RB/LB), Kyle Quinn (OL), Drew Robinson (TE), Jaime Salazar (PK), Matt Scott (QB), Elliot Taylor (RB), Taimi Tutogi (FB/DL), Christian Upshaw (DL), Jowyn Ward (DL/OL), Mark Watley (DB) and Shane Zink (OL).
Last week, Arizona locked up a bowl bid as it earned a satisfying, hard-fought win in rainy Salt Lake City, knocking the Utes from bowl contention for the first time since 2002 with a 34-24 come-from-behind victory.
The Cats had been shutout in the first quarter on the road all season, but John Bonano's 44-yard field goal put the visitor's up a field goal late in the initial quarter. Utah wrestled the lead away on a fake field goal flipped backwards through the holder's legs and into the hands of kicker Colem Petersen who ran around right-end for a three-yard touchdown. Carey and Scott found paydirt for a pair of scores in a span of 1:23 to reclaim a 17-7 lead.
After a Utah touchdown cut the lead to only three points, the Cats were poised to tack on more before half, but a redzone turnover in the final minute kept it a 17-14 hafltime score. The Utes scored the first 10 points of the second half to claim a touchdown advantage before Daniel Jenkins' tied the game with a two-yard rushing touchdown.
The Utes sensed momentum was slipping away and tried a fake punt on their next drive, but reserve running back Kylan Butler sniffed it out and made a key fourth down tackle. Four plays later, Hill turned a third-and-seven conversion into an 18-yard touchdown for the go-ahead score. The Cats defense stiffened and did not allow a fourth quarter point, while Bonano's 24-yard field goal capped a run of 17-unanswered points in the final stanza to seal to the 34-24 victory - Rodriguez's first on the road as the UA coach.
The key was a dominant rushing attacked that rolled up 310 yards against a physical defensive front, led by All-America candidate Star Lotulelei, that had not yielded more than 171 rushing yards in a game all season. The Wildcats superlative stars – Carey, Scott and Hill – each did their part. Carey topped 200 yards (204) for the second game in a row, Scott returned from a missed start to pass for 160 yards and run for 74 yards, and Hill tallied six catches – each for first downs – for 96 yards.
Arizona is ranked No. 24 in this week's BCS Standings, though the Wildcats are unranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll. The Wildcats were ranked No. 22 in the BCS standings at the beginning of this month following a 36-33 victory over USC on Oct. 27. Previously, Arizona was last ranked in the BCS Standings heading into the final week of the regular season in 2010 (No. 23 before losing to Arizona State).
Up Next: Arizona's regular season schedule concludes on Friday. At 7-4, the Wildcats are guaranteed one of the Pac-12's bowl slots and will await an official invitation in the coming weeks.