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Cats Stats: Territorial Cup matchup between Wildcats and Sun Devils, by the numbers

Arizona linebacker Malik Reed drags down a Sun Devil during last year's rivalry game in Tempe. The teams will renew their rivalry series on Friday at Arizona Stadium.

Arizona and Arizona State are set to square off for the 96th time. The history of the Territorial Cup series runs deep.

But when it comes to relevant numbers — our sole focus here at "Cats Stats" — the past doesn’t mean much.

Jedd Fisch has coached in this game only one time. His counterpart, ASU interim coach Shaun Agauno, likely will be one-and-done after Friday. Both teams have changed dramatically since last season.

What matters is what they’ve done this year. Here are 12 sets of statistics germane to this week’s matchup at Arizona Stadium. You’ll probably want to bet the over by the time you’re finished reading this.

Combined wins

Arizona (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12) and ASU (3-8, 2-6) have combined for only seven victories. That’s the lowest total in the series since 2016 — not counting 2020, when the teams played abbreviated schedules because of the pandemic.

What’s the significance of that stat? Well, 2016 was the last time the Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils. Arizona had only two wins entering that game. The Cats had lost all eight of their conference games. Their 56-35 triumph prevented ASU from going to a bowl game.

Run defense

This remains an area of concern for the Wildcats. They’re allowing 213.5 rushing yards per game, the second most in the Pac-12. Even as the overall defensive performance has improved of late, the run defense is still leaky.

Meanwhile, ASU’s Xazavian Valladay ranks second in the league with 1,095 rushing yards. The Wyoming transfer is tied for first with 14 rushing touchdowns. (The player he’s tied with? Oregon QB Bo Nix.)

This is the most critical matchup in this year’s Territorial Cup.

Rushing yards per game

Valladay has 538 more yards than Arizona’s leading rusher, Michael Wiley. Overall, though, the Sun Devils barely outrush the Wildcats. ASU averages 132.9 yards per game, Arizona 131.6.

Adjusting for sacks, ASU averages 151 rushing yards per game ... and Arizona averages 151.1. (They are separated by literally 1 yard.)

The point: Even though Valladay has had a great season, the Sun Devils aren’t a dominant running team. He’s pretty much it. Keep him in check, and you’ve got a chance.

Thanks to a "big three" wide receiving corps that includes freshman Tetairoa McMillan, Arizona ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing.

Passing yards per game

This is where we find significant separation between the two clubs.

Behind Jayden de Laura, Arizona averages 329.2 passing yards per game, third most in the Pac-12. ASU averages 240.6, third fewest.

The Wildcats are fueled by big plays. They have 63 pass plays of 20-plus yards, tied for most in the nation. ASU is tied for 60th with 36.

The Sun Devils have allowed more than 300 passing yards only three times this season. It happened in successive games vs. USC, Washington and Stanford.

Bourguet vs. Jones

ASU made an in-season quarterback change, benching transfer Emory Jones in favor of Marana High School graduate Trenton Bourguet.

Their passing stats, on the surface, aren’t that different. Bourguet has an 8-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and averages 7.2 yards per attempt; Jones has a 7-4 ratio and averages 7.7 yards per attempt.

There are two sizable disparities in their profiles. First, Bourguet has a much higher completion rate (69.7% vs. 62.8%). He’s also much harder to sack.

Bourguet has a P2S% (percentage of pressures turned into sacks) of 9.6%, per Pro Football Focus. Jones is at 23.1%. Bourguet also has the lowest average time to throw (2.33 seconds) of any Pac-12 QB with at least 120 dropbacks.

Defensive TD-INT ratio

We talk about quarterbacks’ touchdown-to-interception ratios all the time. Looking at a defense through that lens also can be informative.

ASU has allowed 14 touchdown throws while intercepting 10 passes. That’s pretty good. Utah and Washington State, who have the stingiest defenses in the Pac-12, have ratios of 14-11.

Arizona has the worst ratio in the league at 22-2. The UA is tied with Michigan State for the fewest interceptions in the country.

Only two teams in the conference have more interceptions than TD passes allowed: USC and Oregon State.

Average per pass attempt allowed

Further evidence that ASU has a significantly better pass defense than Arizona can be found here. The Sun Devils allow 6.8 yards per pass attempt, second lowest in the league. The Wildcats allow 7.7, third most.

Completion percentage against

It also can be found here. ASU opponents have completed 61.1% of their passes, fourth lowest in the Pac-12. UA opponents have completed 68.8%, the highest figure in the conference.

Third-down defense

If you’re a fan of defense, you might want to skip the next two categories.

Arizona ranks 123rd nationally, allowing 46.3%. ASU is 129th at 49.4%.

Some encouraging news for the Wildcats: They’ve been better the past two games (36%).

Red-zone TD percentage allowed

This was one of the areas Fisch targeted for improvement in the offseason, and it just hasn’t happened. The Wildcats rank last nationally, allowing a TD rate of 78.4%.

The Sun Devils aren’t much better. They rank 114th at 68.6%.

Fumble recoveries

ASU has been incredibly unlucky in this area.

Sun Devils opponents have fumbled 14 times, yet ASU has only one recovery. That’s a recovery rate of 7.1%, by far the lowest figure in the country.

Louisiana-Monroe is next at 15.4%. Every other team has a recovery rate of at least 22.2%. Arizona is tied for 27th at 64.3%.

Turnover margin

Fisch also sought improvement here. The Wildcats have been better than a year ago — but not nearly good enough.

Arizona has taken the ball away more, forcing 11 turnovers. But the Wildcats still have a minus-9 margin, tied for 120th in the country.

Arizona is 0-5 when it loses the turnover battle. The Wildcats are 4-2 when they win it or break even.

The Star's Justin Spears and Alec White report from Tempe following Arizona's 91-79 win over ASU and explain how the Wildcats took control after falling behind early.

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at On Twitter: @michaeljlev 

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