Graham Pleased With Total Team Effort in Win

In arguably the biggest Duel in the Desert showdown in years, Arizona State wasted very little time staking its claim to the Territorial Cup over rival Arizona for a second consecutive season as the Sun Devils jumped out to a 27-0 lead in the first half before coasting to a 58-21 win over the Wildcats in Tempe on Saturday night.

For the second consecutive week, #12 Arizona State (10-2, 8-1) delivered on the big stage. After defeating UCLA last weekend in the Rose Bowl to clinch their first Pac-12 South championship, the Sun Devils returned home to cap off a 10 win regular season with a resounding win over rival Arizona (7-5, 4-5).

"We've taken care of business two years straight," said Head Coach Todd Graham afterwards. "This is the fan's football team. I'm their coach so I should represent what they're about and that's why it's so important for us to win this game.

"Also for these seniors. I can tell you that this is the closest that I've been to a group of seniors and I've been pretty close to my players. I've worked very closely with them and I'm just proud of the young men that they are."

The strength of the Arizona State offense was on full display Saturday, where even despite playing without senior running back Marion Grice, the Sun Devils still managed to rack up 478 yards of offense and was a perfect 6-6 in the red zone. Sophomore D.J. Foster, who started at tailback in place of Grice, rushed for a career-high 124 yards two touchdowns to lead the attack.

The Scottsdale native also recorded two catches for 26 yards and was voted the Bob Moran Most Valuable Player of the Territorial Cup.

"At the end of the day, I think D.J. Foster came here because as a young boy I think he grew up wanting to be a Sun Devil," said Graham. "He blindly trusted us and I think he'd tell you that was a pretty good decision he made. He's a great fit for our program and not because he's a great tailback and a very versatile, dynamic wide receiver, but he's an incredible person and a great leader. He's a leader on this football team with these guys and we didn't have any doubt at all that he would step up big time tonight."

"Him signing with us that first year was huge for us. That's a lot bigger subject talking about in-state recruiting and the history behind all the great players that used to come to Arizona State and we're working hard to mend that. I think that what we're showing is that there is a great alternative and not just to stay at home to stay at home, but this is one heck of a program that we're building here and all your dreams can come true right here."

Helping pace the Arizona State rushing attack was tight end De'Marieya Nelson who entered the game with only rushing attempt through the team's first 11 games of the season. On Saturday though, the junior stepped up big in short yardage situations for the Sun Devils, collecting 35 yards on eight carries and two rushing touchdowns.

ASU's 58 point scoring outburst marks the most points scored in the rivalry by either team and the most points since the Sun Devils defeated the Wildcats 56-14 in 1996 on their way to their last Rose Bowl appearance.

"Am I surprised that we scored 58 points? No, I'm not," quipped Graham. "We've got a great system that if we don't have negative yardage plays, we're going to score points. That's something that I've said all along. How you do that is the guys up front are doing a heck of a good job blocking and we've got good people. We've got more than one good player. We've got a bunch of good players out there."

Taylor Kelly kept the Sun Devils balanced offensively, completing 13-25 passes for 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Jaelen Strong recorded his seventh 100+ yard receiving game of the season as he hauled in four catches for 142 yards, including a 61 yard touchdown in late in the third quarter to put ASU ahead 44-21 after the Wildcats had pulled within 16 and appeared to be gaining momentum in the second half.

But the offense was only half the story on Saturday as the Sun Devil defense submitted yet another strong effort. Arizona State applied pressure on Wildcat senior quarterback B.J. Denker throughout the game, starting with a tackle for a loss and a sack on Arizona 's opening offensive drive.

The Sun Devil secondary forced three interceptions, including a 61 yard Damarious Randall return for a touchdown. Randall led the ASU defense with 12 tackles and a forced fumble. ASU forced four turnovers on the night and stopped the Wildcats another four times on fourth and short situations, dominating the line of scrimmage.

"Our secondary has played tremendous and not many people have noticed," Graham commented. "The play of our secondary with Darby and Irabor and Damarious Randall's play was phenomenal tonight. I'm proud of how our guys have bought in to class, character, and toughness. And how we get there is discipline. We're a very disciplined team. I love how they care about each other, how they communicate. They're just really mature and it's really fun to sit there and watch them play.

"I think it was a total team effort. It's hard to sit in here and dominate like that and talk about one group or another. I can tell you that the groups we're going to be talking about are the offensive and defensive lines. That's what makes it work. And how smart our players are. That's one of the things that I'm so impressed with. They made some really good adjustments in the game and our players were making adjustments.

The Sun Devils once again benefitted from the consistent play of their special teams as freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez started the first half scoring spree with a pair of field goals on the team's first two offensive drives of the night. Gonzalez connected on all three of his field goal attempts on the night (38, 21, and 23 yards) while setting the school record for most consecutive field goals made with 18, which was previously set by Thomas Weber in 2007.

For the season, Gonzalez has made good on 22-25 field goal attempts (88%).

With the win, Arizona State finishes the regular season undefeated at home (7-0) for the first time since 2004 and improves to 11-2 at Sun Devil Stadium under Graham. It also sets the stage for ASU to host #8 Stanford (10-2, 7-2) next Saturday in the Pac-12 Conference Championship game for the right to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's day and avenge its 42-28 defeat to the Cardinal from earlier this season.

"Obviously we're playing a great football team," remarked Graham. "There's not a guy in this league that I respect more than Coach Shaw and Coach Mason with the job that he does with their defense. We're two programs that I think are like-minded with how we try to do things. We're two really good defensive football teams.

"The advantage to playing at home, you can't put a price tag on that. It's huge. There's no question that we play our best football out here and our guys operate pretty special out here. Obviously it's going to take a major effort to beat Stanford. They are the defending Pac-12 champions and we've got tremendous respect for that and we need everybody in these seats, standing up and making this a great home field advantage for us."


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