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Jedd Fisch: Arizona football must have ‘tunnel vision’ in order to beat ASU, take back Territorial Cup

arizona-wildcats-football-jedd-fisch-asu-sun-devils-territorial-cup-2021-focus-rivalry-billboard Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Jedd Fisch normally spends a good chunk of his Monday press conferences breaking down what he saw on film from the previous game, going into detail about things Arizona did right and wrong and how the team can build off those observations.

He spent about two minutes of his most recent presser talking about the 44-18 loss at Washington State, which may still have been longer than he spoke to his players about that fog-filled night. And not just because it was one of the UA’s worst performances of the year.

“I didn’t spend a lot of time with our team on it, because it’s all about the Territorial Cup from this point,” Fisch said. “Well, actually from yesterday forward. We said we’ll discuss the Washington State game in the offseason. And we will spend all of our focus on playing the football game Saturday at 2 p.m.”

It’s Hate Week in and around the UA football program, with Arizona (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) set to wrap up the 2021 season Saturday in Tempe against ASU (7-4, 5-3). Fisch has no qualms emphasizing the bad blood surrounding the Territorial Cup rivalry, which has seen the Sun Devils win the last five meetings including last year’s 70-7 blowout at Arizona Stadium.

In case you forgot, or managed to wipe it from your memory, that game saw ASU return the opening kickoff for a touchdown and never looked back.

“There’s an obvious animosity toward one another,” Fisch said. “When it’s 63-7 and you call a pass on 4th and 4, there’s something to that. So, we remember.”

So do we:

About a week later, Sun Devil backers paid for a billboard along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix to troll the UA about the lopsided score. Fisch called that move a “unique” one, but said it’s all in good fun and compared it to how Ohio State doesn’t use the letter “M” in anything ahead of the Michigan game or Michigan players and coaches can’t wear red in the team rooms.

“We’ll drive by it, remind ourselves of it, and do everything we can for it not to ever happen again,” Fisch said. “Those are the things that you want to just avoid at all costs.”

Fisch said he got his first real explanation of the rivalry during a breakfast with Tedy Bruschi shortly after being hired in December. He’s gotten dozens of others since then.

“They always remind you at the end of that phone call, now, don’t forget about this game, the Territorial Cup, and it’s a huge part of tradition,” he said. “I think it’s clearly in the forefront of everybody’s mind since I arrived here. Not just the outcome of the season prior, but the importance of the game. The amount of in-state players we have, the amount of players that are from that area, you know, the Scottsdale-Phoenix-Tempe area.”

As of now, Fisch said the plan is to have every player on the team travel to Tempe, with “every single player that’s capable of playing” suiting up for the finale. He expects offensive linemen Josh Donovan and Donovan Laie and wide receiver Jamarye Joiner, all of whom missed the Washington State game, to be able to play, as well as Viper Christian Young, who was injured against Wazzu.

Two that won’t be in action are linebacker Jerry Roberts, who had surgery Sunday to repair a broken leg suffered on the first defensive snap against Wazzu, and wide receiver Tayvian Cunningham, who is also done for the season with an undisclosed injury.

My hope and my goal is, as I said to our team, everybody will travel to the game,” Fisch said. “But if you’re late to a class, you can take your name off the list. If you’re late to treatment, you can take your name off the list. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, take your name off the list, because if you’re not focused 1,000 percent on doing things right this week, we’re not going to have a chance. So we’ve got to be completely focused and completely avoid all the outside noise and have complete tunnel vision. In order for us to accomplish our goals moving forward, we have to have incredible tunnel vision for these six days, and that’s what we’re emphasizing.”

To further that notion, a media lid has been put on the team until after the Territorial Cup. Normally Fisch does a second press conference later in the week, while select players and assistant coaches speak to reporters on Tuesdays.