TEMPE—Arizona has won nine games for just the seventh time in school history, getting there thanks to a dominant 59-23 win over ASU on Saturday to retain the Territorial Cup. It will get a chance to reach 10 victories for only the fourth time when it plays in a yet-to-be determined bowl sometime next month.

Jedd Fisch has won as many games this season as his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, did in three years on the job. And while there were only six victories in Fisch’s first two seasons, he said he believed before he was every hired that a season like the current one was very possible.

“When Dave (Heeke) and Dr. Robbins interviewed me for the job, I didn’t say that I wanted to like just win five games or four games,” Fisch said. “I had high aspirations for what we were going to do here. If I didn’t think we could win nine games, I wouldn’t have moved my family here. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to win. And if our guys can continue to believe and trust the process and keep getting better, I think we can not just do that one year, I think we can do it each year.”

Our game recap can be found here. Below is what Fisch, running back Michael Wiley and safety Gunner Maldonado had to say about the victory:

Fisch on the win: “I thought it was a really, really dominant performance by our program, by our team, by our seniors. To see our seniors do that was pretty awesome. There’s about 13 guys that were on the team in 2020 that are still remaining, to be able to have them walk out with a win like today was a great one.”

On the connection between Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan: “It’s something. They kind of know where each other are at all times. I guess it’s not hard to know we’re Noah is, he’s in the pocket, but Noah knows where T-Mac is at all times. He’s running around, and whether we’re scrambling whether we’re on time, I think that, as Noah said, he’s been doing this since eighth grade together. So clearly, there’s something to that. When we recruited them …that was a huge part of it, their relationship. And we felt like if we continue to stay strong with T-Mac all the way through, in the end he was gonna play with his buddy. And I think it’s worked out well for him.”

On why the passing game was so effective: b”We got good looks. We got the looks we wanted. It’s been pretty effective all year. I just felt like we had some opportunities and some plays that we wanted to hit on, and we got the defense that we wanted when we called it, so we executed well. We had good protection. Noah did a great job dealing with some of the free rushers that did come up in his face. He was able to manipulate a defender on a screen. He was able to get the ball to Mike Wiley versus Cover Zero blitz. The same screen that Mike scored on last week he scored on this week versus the same defense. Just kind of hit on some things that were really, really good, and that was really the difference in probably a 300-yard day and a 500-yard day.”

On the key to Arizona’s culture: “I just know that if you have great players that believe in what you’re asking them to do, and you have great high-character kids that are believing in what you’re asking them to do. Just watching the guy from the sideline, how much joy they have, and watching them play and how much joy they have. And I think if you play with joy, you’re gonna win. And that’s where I think our culture has really been about family, about joy. And they played for one another. And that’s really the biggest thing for our program was we want to recruit players that are high character, recruit players that love the game of football, and love each other. And we’re a very close-knit team, with coaches and players like. And I think from that you could see they love playing for one another, which is probably the biggest part of our culture.”

On adjusting to ASU’s run-heavy attack: “I think really ASU adjusted, too. They played with a tight end at quarterback that first drive, and that was hard to tackle, so we had to make some adjustments with who we were gonna have in the game and what fronts we were going to play against that. You can’t really just play traditional over/under fronts with your standard 4-down group. So we went to a 5-down group, went to more of a run-heavy defense, we brought the safety down to about nine yards depth rather than 14 or 15, to add him into the running game. And then we started getting them to play a little bit more traditional. And then when they out (Jaden) Rashada in it was more traditional offense, and I thought our guys did a great job there.”

On Johnny Nansen and the defense: “I can’t believe he’s not one of the 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, the best assistant coach. I don’t know if anyone statistically has made nearly the jump that he made. He has done just a fantastic job of getting our defense better every single week, as has the entire staff. From the back end, the emphasis from Coach Richardson and Coach Cecil and Coach Akina to getting the ball and getting out the ball, the amount of coverage, the design we’re doing there. And then the way the front’s playing will Coach Kaufusi, who’s done a great job with the D-line, and then Coach Nansen coaching the backers. It’s just been a it’s been a heck of a job by Coach Nansen, hats off to him. I’m not sure if 15 guys have done a better job than he’s done.”

On how Fifita has managed to get better each week: “I think our whole team has just gotten better every week. I think Noah has done a fantastic job. But I also know that I think we have two great quarterbacks. And if either quarterback were playing in this game, we’ve managed to be in a situation where Noah got super hot, with a super odd hand, and was able to just continue to just move the ball up and down and up and down. And that’s enabled us to be able to have this 6-game win streak. And it’s been a lot of fun.”

On Fifita’s composure as a redshirt freshman: “I think that’s where he separates himself, is his poise. He certainly has shown throughout his career as a high school quarterback, and then last year, every opportunity he had in practice. He just plays with incredible composure in the pocket, poise in the pocket, balance in the pocket. Really when he comes off the field he barely ever (smiles), I can’t ever get him to smile. Finally, we’re up 59-23 with three minutes and 17 seconds left, I said you are now cleared to smile. And finally he did. It was hard to get him to smile, he’s so locked into the game.”

On Heeke saying he wants to keep Fisch as coach for as long as possible: “Yeah, that sounds good to me. That’s up to Dave. It sounds good. I’m certainly all for it.”

Wiley on Fifita and T-Mac: “That’s just them, that’s their connection. It’s special as you can see.”

On how far the program has come since 2020: “To be able to come in, and the program was already kind of going downhill, and to see it basically at the bottom point, losing 70-7, and then losing to NAU, and to come from back to go 5-7 last year, and then this year. I want to say I believed it from the jump, but you know …”

On which bowl game he’d like to play in: “Alamo or Vegas, I’m just happy to go to a game.”

On playing in the Alamo Bowl to finish his career in his home state of Texas: “It would mean a lot. To do that with my brothers. Of course I’m playing in that game.”

On the moment he truly felt the program had turned around: “That’s hard to say, there was a lot of them. This year it was that Washington game. The first half we were kind of messing around with them, we didn’t know if we could beat them or not. The second half … we kind of found our identity there.”

Maldonado on winning the Territorial Cup in Tempe for the first time since 2011: “It feels amazing, I grew up coming to this game.”

On the message to the defense after giving up the opening touchdown: “Stick to it, play hard, play our brand of football.”

On ASU going heavy with the run game and no quarterback: “We were expecting that, we didn’t know how much. We practiced it. We had our hands full for a little bit.”

On Fisch: “The last couple of years with him, he’s been preaching the same stuff since Day 1, it really hasn’t changed much.”


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