Freshman QB, No. 15 Arizona focus on ASU, still in Pac-12 hunt

Field Level Media

November 22, 2023 at 2:36 am.

No. 15 Arizona continues to ride its surprising surge seeking a sixth consecutive victory when it plays the Territorial Cup rivalry game at Arizona State on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.

The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2) haven’t won six in a row since they won their 2013 bowl game against Boston College and then ripped off five consecutive victories to begin the 2014 regular season.

Four victories in the current winning streak came against ranked teams, including last Saturday’s 42-18 victory against then-No. 22 Utah.

“Our guys, they play confidently,” said third-year Arizona coach Jedd Fisch, whose is making a run for national coach of the year honors after his team was picked to finish eighth in the conference in a preseason media poll.

The Sun Devils (3-8, 2-6) are coming off a 49-13 loss to Oregon, but they have posted conference wins over Washington State (38-27) and UCLA (17-7) in the past month.

This will be the first Arizona-ASU game for Kenny Dillingham as the Sun Devils’ head coach, although he has experience in the Territorial Cup as an assistant coach and student at ASU.

“I told our guys today, we’ve got to play with a passion and intensity and fire in our belly to go out there to win the football game,” Dillingham said in his Monday press conference. “But you also have to play with a poise and composure.”

Poise and composure describe the play of Arizona redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita, who has started the past seven games, stepping in for an injured Jayden de Laura and not relinquishing the job.

Fifita has completed 187 of 254 passes for 1,988 yards, with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. His passing efficiency rating of 159.6 is 15th nationally.

The Wildcats have plenty of skill around him including wide receivers Tetairoa McMillan (69 catches for 976 yards and nine TDs) and Jacob Cowing (74 for 539 and 10). Running back Jonah Coleman has 834 rushing yards and is averaging 7.1 per carry.

Arizona State has dealt with health issues at quarterback almost all season and there’s a chance Jaden Rashada could return from injury for the season finale. The freshman has played in only two games but still leads ASU in touchdown passes with three.

Otherwise, Trenton Bourguet figures to get the call again. He is 151 of 248 for 1,586 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Bourguet threw for 376 yards against the Wildcats last season, but Arizona ended a five-game losing streak in the series with a 38-35 victory.

It’s a big turnaround from just a few years ago, when ASU humbled Arizona 70-7 in Tucson in 2020. Some ASU fans celebrated by purchasing space on a billboard along Interstate 10 between the schools, with the score of the game bookending the message: “No pity for the kitty.”

Although only a handful of players remain from that Arizona team, and the soon-to-be-fired Kevin Sumlin was still the coach, the loss still resonates with Arizona. Fisch was asked Monday about how he explains the heated rivalry to new players.

“I showed them a billboard,” he said.

By late Friday night, Arizona will know if it will be playing for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game against Washington. The door will be open if Oregon State wins at Oregon.