TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – The billboard reminds everyone who drives Interstate-10 between Phoenix and Tucson of last year’s Territorial Cup.
The brown and gold billboard, put up by fans in the State of Arizona, reads: “NO PITE FOR THE KITTY,” with 70-7 on each side.
No need for callbacks as Arizona and Arizona State prepare to renew their rivalry on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
The 70-7 victory was the Sun Devils’ zenith in a streak that began in 1899. It represented a low point for the Wildcats, which led to a change of coach.
“We’re going to miss it, remember it and do whatever we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Arizona first-year coach Jedd Fisch. “These are the things you just want to avoid at all costs.”
Arizona State (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) has already won its third bowl game in four seasons under Herm Edwards, but even a victory on Saturday might not be enough to save the coach’s job.
The former NFL coach and assistant was hired to take the Sun Devils to the upper echelon of the Pac-12 and beyond.
It didn’t happen.
The goals of becoming a top 15 team nationally and playing in top level bowls were not met. The program is also under investigation for recruitment violations during the pandemic under Edwards.
The Sun Devils have been unruly and uninspired at times this season, including back-to-back losses to Utah and Washington State in which they have allowed 56 straight points in two halves.
“If you watch the conference, compare (Arizona State’s season) to everyone in the conference, what does that look like? Edwards said. “That’s what Pac-12 is, I said that when I was first involved in it, it’s interesting how it all turns out at the end.”
Last year’s loss to Arizona Stadium proved to be the last straw in Kevin Sumlin’s tenure as coach. He was fired less than 24 hours after the debacle took Arizona’s losing streak to 12 games over two seasons.
The Wildcats then turned to Fisch, the longtime college and professional football assistant who had coached the New England Patriots quarterback the year before.
Progress has been slow under Fisch.
The Wildcats (1-10, 1-7) lost their first eight games before knocking down COVID-exhausted California 10-3 to end a 20-game losing streak. Arizona kept the Pac-12 champion North Utah close until the fourth quarter of a 38-29 loss, but was beaten 44-18 by Washington State in its final game.
Beating Arizona State on Saturday could change the focus of the program, in the field, in recruiting and in the community.
“I think it’s clearly on everyone’s minds since I got here,” said Fisch. “Not just the result of the previous season, but the importance of the game.”
Officials working for Saturday’s game may want to warm their flag-throwing arms.
Arizona State is the fourth worst of 130 FBS teams to have committed penalties with 98 for 874 yards. Arizona is just behind its rivals at 93 for 749 yards.
Turnover always plays a huge role, especially in rivalry games. This will probably be the case on Saturday.
Arizona and Arizona State are tied for eighth nationally with 21 turnovers. Arizona threw 17 interceptions, tied for most in the FBS, and the Sun Devils are tied for third nationally with 18 fumbles lost.
Arizona State is good at picking up the ball on defense with 18 turnovers – 13 interceptions – but Arizona is the third worst in the country with six takeaways.
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