Shortly after Arizona pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the day in college football deep into the night, Arizona coach Jedd Fisch sent this message to his players: “People are gonna to start recognizing who the Arizona Wildcats are.”
How you like them now after beating No. 11 Oregon State 27-24 at Arizona Stadium?
The Cats have gone from an acquired taste to a top 25 killer after its consecutive victory over a top 25 team, a first for the program since 2014 when the program won the Pac-12 South title.
“He’s done a good job,” OSU coach Jonathon Smith said of Fisch and his program. “He took on a program that was a little bit down and have gone to work. They play hard for him. He has a good scheme. I respect that.”
It has shown in the last month, maybe beyond — even in defeat.
Saturday night, Arizona was beyond impressive. As Fisch said, it was resilient.
It took a lead, lost it, recovered, and then eventually found a way to win it.
In Noah Fifita they trust, although no reason was given why Fisch decided to stay with his surging quarterback when asked. Does he really have to anymore? Fifita has been the model of consistency, and what else do you need in a quarterback? Right?
“Noah did a fantastic job leading the offense,” Fisch said. “He made some huge plays for us at times when we needed big time plays, and he made them.”
Heck, everyone did. As Fisch said, they won it in several phases. But more on that later.
“No Flinch” Fifita worked his cool hand/arm magic to get UA through it. Poised beyond his years, he’s stabilized the troops and made them believers in part because they handled the Beavers.
“There’s no flinch in Noah,” Fisch said. “And really, I think I learned that when he was at Servite (High School). And when you talk to these guys, you talk to Jacob (Cowing), you talk to T-Mac (Tetaoira McMillan), you talk to Keyan (Burnett), ‘What’s he like? What kind of quarterback are we getting?’ The biggest thing you learn from is that you’re gonna get the same guy every day, and that gives you poise and that gives you confidence and that gives you the ability to go out there and really not flinch. I think he showed that tonight.”
Again, it’s a calmness and steadiness that a program needs in what has been a slow build. And here the Cats are, possibly back in the top 25 for the first time in um, seemingly forever, and stunning teams with impressive play.
It has started with their QB. Where did he get his poise?
“My dad kind of raised me in these situations to be able to be cool,” he said. “And then depending on my faith, my confidence and my coaches and my preparation. So that’s kind of where I find my voice. Just kind of going back to the confidence that my coaches have in me. If they trust me, why not trust them. Coach Fisch has trusted me since he got to Arizona.”
And, well, here Arizona is at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. If Colorado had been the story of the early part of the season in the conference, it’s clear Arizona has been the up-and-coming story the last few weeks.
It’s coincided with an injury to then-starting QB Jayden de Laura and has transformed into what we’re seeing now. Nothing crazy on the field, just consistency. Again, stability.
“It’s definitely been a blessing. I don’t take that lightly, being able to be in this role, a leadership role and a quarterback role and just have people trust me,” said Fifita when asked about the last few games. “The last few weeks (have) been great. I think the trust part is probably the best part about it. Play calling hasn’t changed. Confidence and belief in my teammates (haven’t) wavered, and so that’s what you go for. The wins are great but being able to win the locker room and being able to have relationships with those guys, that’s the best part.”
It’s allowed for all the other pieces to fall into place. Arizona’s running game – behind Jonah Coleman, Michael Wiley, DJ Williams, et al – was superb. The passing game was excellent behind Cowing & Company. And the defense was again up to the task.
Arguably it was the most complete game for Arizona this season, likely many seasons. Sure, last week was very good, but Saturday it had to be.
Arizona limited OSU to 24 points and 407 yards, both below the team’s season average.
“We talked about the last three weeks we’ve kind of been going against pretty similar defenses … spread concepts and the open formations and this was the total opposite,” said Fisch, who said the bye week helped prepare for the difference. “Our defense had to respond to that and to hold down 10 points in the first half, two scores in the second half I just thought all and all we put a really good physical defense against their offense.”
It’s giving people something to talk about.