ARIZONA FOOTBALL

‘I just showed them the billboard’: Jedd Fisch motivates Arizona for ASU rivalry

Nov 24, 2023, 7:15 AM

No pity for the Kitty 7-0 billboard from Arizona State fans...

No pity for the Kitty 7-0 billboard from Arizona State fans (@Evil_Sparky/X)

(@Evil_Sparky/X)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Coaches will do anything they can to motivate new players for a rivalry game.

Speeches, videos, bringing back former players — anything to get them to understand the importance of beating their rival.

Arizona coach Jedd Fisch’s tactic for Saturday’s game at Arizona State is simple.

“I just showed them the billboard,” he said this week.

The billboard was put up by Arizona State fans on Interstate 10 between Tempe and Tucson after the Sun Devils’ 70-7 blowout in 2020.

The sign with “No pity for the kitty” bracketed by the score of the game is no longer there — Fisch showed the team a picture — but the memory is a reminder to Wildcats fans how far the program has come.

Coach Kevin Sumlin was fired shortly after the beatdown in Tucson and Fisch was hired as his replacement, inheriting a 12-game losing streak that would stretch to a school-record 20. Arizona finished that season 1-11, but Fisch still managed to pull in a stellar recruiting class that would become the foundation for the Wildcats’ rapid rise.

After going 5-7 last season, Arizona (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) is in the midst of the program’s best season in years. The Wildcats have beaten four ranked teams in a season for the first time since 1989 and head to Tempe on a five-game Pac-12 winning streak, longest since 1998.

Arizona is up to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 after being ranked for the first time since 2017 and can earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game with a win and a loss by No. 6 Oregon to No. 15 Oregon State on Friday night.

“There’s no concern, at all, in my mind about the emotions of our team for this game,” Fisch said. “We’re playing our bitter rival. It is a duel in the desert. It is two teams in the state of Arizona going at it.”

While Arizona will move on to play its first bowl game since 2017, the Territorial Cup is all the Sun Devils (3-8, 2-6) have left.

Arizona State has been decimated by injuries in coach Kenny Dillingham’s first season and head into the rivalry game on a six-game losing streak after being blown out 49-13 by Oregon last weekend.

“I told our guys, there’s two seasons when you play at ASU,” Dillingham said. “There’s the first 11 games, and that’s one season. And then there’s the team down south week.”

Arizona State aiming to stop the pass

Arizona State’s biggest task defensively will be stopping Noah Fifita and Arizona’s passing game.

The Sun Devils were picked apart by Oregon’s Bo Nix, who had six touchdown passes in the first half and 404 yards for the game.

Fifita has been superb since Jayden de Laura went down with an injury, enough so that he kept the job when de Laura returned. He’s thrown for 1,988 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions while leading the Wildcats to five straight wins.

Arizona also has one of the nation’s best receiving duos in Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing.

McMillan, who could end up being an NFL first-round draft pick, has 69 catches for 976 yards and nine touchdowns. Cowing, a transfer from UTEP two years ago, has 74 catches for 539 yards and 10 TDs.

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‘I just showed them the billboard’: Jedd Fisch motivates Arizona for ASU rivalry