TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The billboard serves as a reminder of last year’s Territorial Cup to anyone who drives Interstate-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.
The maroon-and-gold billboard, put up by Arizona State fans, reads: “NO PITY FOR THE KITTY,” with 70-7 on each side.
No need for reminders needed as Arizona and Arizona State get ready to renew their rivalry Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
The 70-7 win was the Sun Devils’ zenith in a series that started in 1899. It represented a nadir for the Wildcats, one that led to a coaching change.
“We’ll drive by it, remind ourselves of it, and do everything we can for it not to ever happen again,” Arizona first-year coach Jedd Fisch said. “Those are the things that you want to just avoid at all costs.”
Arizona State (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) has already locked up its third bowl game in four seasons under Herm Edwards, but even a win on Saturday may 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 hasn’t happened.
The goals of becoming a top-15 team nationally and playing in top-tier bowls have not been reached. The program also is being investigated for recruiting violations during the pandemic under Edwards.
The Sun Devils have been undisciplined and uninspired at times this season, including consecutive losses to Utah and Washington State in which they gave up a combined 56 straight points in two halves.
“If you look at the conference, compare (Arizona State’s season) to everyone else in the conference, what does it look like?” Edwards said. “That is what the Pac-12 is all about, I said it when I was first involved in it, it is interesting how it all shakes out in the end.”
Last year’s loss at Arizona Stadium turned out to be the final straw in Kevin Sumlin’s tenure as coach. He was fired less than 24 hours after the debacle stretched Arizona’s losing streak to 12 games over two seasons.
The Wildcats then turned to Fisch, the longtime college and pro football assistant who had been the New England Patriots quarterbacks coach the previous year.
Progress has been slow under Fisch.
The Wildcats (1-10, 1-7) lost their first eight games before knocking off COVID protocol-depleted California 10-3 to end a 20-game losing streak. Arizona kept Pac-12 North champion Utah close until the fourth quarter of a 38-29 loss, but was blown out 44-18 by Washington State in its last game.
Beating Arizona State on Saturday could change the direction of the program, on the field, in recruiting and in the community.
“I think it’s clearly in the forefront of everybody’s mind since I arrived here,” Fisch said. “Not just the outcome of the season prior, but the importance of the game.”
The officials working Saturday’s game may want to warm up their flag-throwing arms.
Arizona State is the fourth-worst of 130 FBS teams in committing penalties with 98 for 874 yards. Arizona is right behind their rivals with 93 for 749 yards.
Turnovers always play a huge role, particularly in rivalry games. That likely will be the case on Saturday.
Arizona and Arizona State are tied for eighth nationally with 21 turnovers. Arizona has thrown 17 interceptions, tied for most in the FBS, and the Sun Devils are tied for third nationally with 18 lost fumbles.
Arizona State is good at taking the ball away on defense with 18 turnovers — 13 interceptions — but Arizona is third-worst nationally with six takeaways.
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