The slaughter was on from the opening kickoff of last year’s Territorial Cup.
After freshman DJ Taylor weaved his way to a 100-yard touchdown return to open up the game, Arizona State would score another five touchdowns before Arizona got on the board en route to a 70-7 victory.
In that blowout, the Sun Devils set a record for the most points scored in a single game between the two teams and won their fourth consecutive matchup for the first time since the 1970s.
Although ASU played just four games that season due to COVID-19, that win inspired billboards, t-shirts and the frequent repetition of the final score: 70-7.
The in-state rivals have met 94 times since they first faced off in 1899, with Arizona leading the all-time series 49-44-1. A Territorial Cup victory falls into a category of its own and can often define a season, as the 2020 result would suggest.
“You can feel the electricity,” ASU head coach Herm Edwards said of the rivalry. “Whether we go down there or they come up here. You can just feel it. There’s a different feeling because of the history of it all and how many people are involved in this.”
As ASU prepares for a rematch against Arizona this Saturday, the legacy of last season’s victory undeniably looms large, but sophomore defensive end Michael Matus said the team is doing its best not to dwell on that result.
“I think the main goal is to not let that get into our heads,” Matus said. “I think the best thing we can do is go out there and, like I said, be 1-0 this week. It doesn’t matter what’s happened this year, what happened last year, what happened five years ago, it’s all just about us, this team and what we can accomplish this Saturday.”
Arizona did not swiftly recover from its loss to ASU, as it continued on a 20-game winless stretch between 2019 and its matchup against Cal three weeks ago, but it has shown improvement in recent weeks and sophomore guard LaDarius Henderson said it is not a team to be taken lightly.
“I think they’re a lot better team than their record, and they have some impactful players, and this is a game that we need to — it’s a rivalry game,” Henderson said. “We need to play really good. We need to play our best game.”
Edwards also praised the competitive nature of its opponent under head coach Jedd Fisch, which Henderson said will only amplify the tension that already exists in any rivalry game.
“We know this is a game that’s going to be physical, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a dogfight, no matter what the score is at the end, it’s going to be a physical game,” Henderson said.
The intrinsic intensity that comes with those heightened stakes is also undeniable and is something both Henderson and Matus said immediately struck them as they joined the program.
“Being from out of state, I never really recognized this rivalry from back home until I got here, “ Matus said. “I could tell by the tension in the air when everybody’s warming up that it’s like, ‘Oh, crap. This is serious.’”
Edwards said ASU will also have former players speak to the team throughout the week as it emphasizes the history of the rivalry, and Matus added that former quarterback Brock Osweiler already shared a message with the group.
“He said 10 years from now, we’re going to remember this game more than any other game,” Matus said.
Henderson also noted that, as ASU has an opportunity to win a fifth straight Territorial Cup matchup for the first time since it won nine straight from 1965-1973, it carries the weight of a long history on its shoulders this Saturday.
“I think it means a lot more, not just only for people in this locker room, in this building, but for guys who played five years ago, ten years ago, the Rose Bowl team,” Henderson said. “For a lot of those guys, they didn’t get to experience this and have the opportunity, so for us to be able to accomplish that, it’s kind of like we can accomplish that for us and them too.”
Given that pressure, Matus emphasized the importance of ASU not only starting strong, but sustaining a high level of play throughout the game.
“This a heated rivalry,” Matus said. “The momentum can shift at any moment. I think that’s one of the most important things to keep in mind. Yes, we want to get on them quick, but I think it’s important to stay poised throughout the entirety of the game.”
Matus also said that emotional control is a pivotal part of that effort.
“There’s a lot of football to be played in 60 minutes, and I think it’s important to stay calm, keep those emotions down and just play our football,” Matus said.
Yet while emotional stakes dominate much of the conversation surrounding this game, ASU will also be looking to deliver sharper play on the field than it did in a grueling 24-10 loss to Oregon State. In particular, Edwards said ASU needs to rekindle its passing game, which has produced just 401 total yards over the last three weeks as the team has run thin on healthy wide receivers and sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels has struggled to live up to expectations.
‘This team here, defensively, they’re going to play a lot of man-to-man,” Edwards said. “They bring pressure. They’ve got a good front that can bring pressure. They’ve got some young corners and some safeties that cover well, so we’re going to have to get open, and then Jayden’s going to have to hit them when they get open.”
Defensively, Matus said that it is essential that the Sun Devils contain Arizona’s run game after they allowed Oregon State to rush for 235 yards last week.
“I just think the most important thing, kind of like we’ve all been preaching, is that we need to stop the run,” Matus said. “I think that’s something, again, that we have to prove.”
Edwards also noted that ASU simply has to be “more consistent” overall as it has gone 7-4 this season after many people within the program set expectations that it would be a Rose Bowl-caliber group.
This will also prevent a final opportunity to play at home for many of ASU’s seniors, while Arizona will be looking for a signature win to send off its season, creating a distinct standard for competition on both sides.
“I think everybody can agree, no matter what anybody’s record is going into this game, it’s a hard game,” Matus said. “You can guarantee that both them and us are going to play our best game.”