The ink barely had dried on Oregon 48, Arizona 28 when two Wildcats moved on to what’s next and put it in the proper context.
First UA coach Rich Rodriguez said it. Then linebacker Tony Fields II repeated it.
The biggest game of the year.
The Territorial Cup always is, right? No matter the stakes, Arizona-Arizona State is always the most significant, intense and emotional game for both teams. Even though nothing but bragging rights and bowl position are on the line Saturday for the Wildcats (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) and Sun Devils (6-5, 5-3), that still holds true.
Which begs the question: Can Arizona channel its emotions in a positive direction?
The Wildcats did so in last year’s rivalry game. Coming in with an eight-game losing streak, Arizona took out its frustrations on ASU. The Wildcats played with energy and passion and pummeled the Sun Devils 56-35.
Arizona did not play with poise in Eugene. The Wildcats were guilty of two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and two personal fouls (although the second was offsetting and didn’t count toward the overall penalty total). They got caught up in smack talk at the expense of carrying out their assignments.
Receiver Tony Ellison couldn’t figure out why tempers escalated against Oregon.
“It’s been the same every week,” he said. “I don’t know why this game was so much more chippy.”
Ellison was confident it wouldn’t happen again, no matter how toxic Tempe might be.
“We’re going to get it all together and be OK,” he said.
Worth noting: ASU is the least-penalized team in the Pac-12, averaging four fouls per game. That figure ranks sixth in the nation.
Not just run defense
Run defense has become a major problem over the past two months. But it isn’t the only one on that side of the ball.
Arizona’s secondary has suffered numerous breakdowns over the past several weeks.
It started against pass-happy Washington State, which accumulated 602 yards through the air (offset by four interceptions).
It continued against USC. Sam Darnold completed 20 of 26 passes — 76.9 percent, his second-best mark of the season — for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona shut out Oregon State in the first half but surrendered four TD passes in the second. Beavers quarterback Darell Garretson entered the game with one TD pass the entire season.
He failed to throw one Saturday against ASU.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert completed 14 of 21 passes for 235 yards — a nifty 11.2 yards per attempt.
Herbert, playing his first game since Sept. 30, picked on just about everyone. Usually reliable junior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles had a particularly rough game.
In the second quarter, Flannigan-Fowles got caught peeking into the backfield and allowed tight end Jacob Breeland to slip past him for a 40-yard touchdown
Later in the quarter, on third-and-16 from the Arizona 43, Flannigan-Fowles and fellow safety Troy Young trailed Johnny Johnson III on a pass into the end zone. The ball fell incomplete. But neither Flannigan-Fowles nor Young got his head around, so when Johnson came back for the ball, he drew a pass-interference penalty. The Ducks scored on the next play.
In the third quarter, on third-and-14, tight end Cam McCormick won a jump ball against Flannigan-Fowles for a 35-yard gain. It was a seven-point game at the time. The drive ended with a field goal, bumping Oregon’s lead to 10.
“We did not play the ball well at all,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We have not played the ball well for a few weeks. He (Herbert) throws the ball up there, and we’re spinning in circles, letting them catch it. Or we’re getting run by.”
Arizona ranks last in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 287.3 yards per game. The Wildcats lead the conference with 17 interceptions.
Back to El Paso?
Several bowl projections published Sunday have the Wildcats playing in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
One ESPN writer projects Arizona to face Boston College in El Paso. Another has the UA facing Louisville — which would pit Khalil Tate against 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. That’s also SI.com’s prediction.
SB Nation and CollegeFootballNews.com project an Arizona-Wake Forest matchup.
The Wildcats have not played in the Sun Bowl game since 1992. They did play at the stadium earlier this season, defeating UTEP 63-16.
Arizona’s bowl fate will depend in part on the outcome of the Territorial Cup and other Pac-12 games this upcoming weekend. The Wildcats remain in play for the Holiday Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl.
All bowl matchups will be announced Dec. 3.
- Arizona rushed for 171 yards against Oregon, just the second time this season the Wildcats failed to run for 200 or more. Their average entering the game was 347.7 yards.
- Arizona’s longest play from scrimmage was Nick Wilson‘s 20-yard TD run. The Wildcats entered Saturday with 12 touchdowns of 50-plus yards, 27 touchdowns of 20-plus yards and an average of 28.8 yards per TD.
- Arizona’s average of 4.1 yards per play was its lowest of the season.
- Senior tailback Zach Green‘s 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave him 10 for the year, tying him for 10th in Arizona annals for a single season.
- Ellison tied his career high with a team-high six receptions.
- Arizona State is 4-2 at home, 2-3 on the road. ASU has won the past two meetings at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona won the two before that.