Arizona has no game to prepare for this week, getting a bye after an 0-4 start that couldn’t come at a better time.
The Wildcats, losers of 16 in a row, fell by 22 at Oregon in their last outing but arguably played their best game since the season opener against BYU in Las Vegas. If you’re into moral victories, that is.
“There was enough things to like in how we played in certain areas, but we lost by 22 points,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said Monday.
Fisch spoke reporters shortly after yet another review of the offensive film from the Oregon game, which saw the Wildcats run for a season-high 202 yards but also throw five interceptions that led to 17 points for the opponent. That loss, like the ones to BYU, San Diego State and NAU, are in the past, Fisch said, something the bye provides.
“It gives us an opportunity to flush away the four games, and be able to use this as an 8-game restart,” he said. “All Pac-12 games ahead of us. We’ve got all the Pac-12 South games are still ahead of us. And it gives us an opportunity to look at what we do well, and what we don’t.”
Here’s what else Fisch had to say Monday:
On what Jordan McCloud did well: “He had a good control and demeanor throughout the game, he was able to get to, not just his primary read, but he was able to do progress. There was a couple times where the tight end was taken away and he got to (Stanley) Berryhill on a curl route, there was a time where he found the flat, he found the halfbacks, he was able to check the ball down. He was able to get out of trouble with his feet, which is another big part of it, he was able to make plays with his feet. He got us a (first) down when we ran a quarterback design run up the left sideline. He scrambled forward a couple of times and got us a first down. And he made some really good throws in the game. He obviously had some good throws throughout the game to the running backs, and really to Bryce (Wolma) on the keeper was an excellent touchdown pass. So he did a lot of good things, but as I reminded him when I saw him this morning, you you can’t shy away from the fact that we had five interceptions.”
On the interceptions: “Each interception was kind of a different entity. And those interceptions came in all different areas. The first interception, you don’t lob a screen pass, you have to see the runner, that’s the one thing you have to see. We had four guys out in front with one guy on defense left. And that was the guy that intercepted the ball. Our offensive line was out there, their job is to get their hands on the defensive player. The ball was lobbed up there to a point where they couldn’t even see it. That’s a terrible turnover to start a game. We had a turnover where formationally only we were not in the right spots. Then once you see that you have to not make a bad play worse. And that was the second turnover, it was 2nd and 11 on the 11-yard line. He tried to scramble around, I think he threw it up to Stanley. He needs to throw that out of bounds or throw it to the flat which was uncovered when he scrambled. A couple of the other interceptions, the ones in the fourth quarter, the one that went for a pick-6, you can’t do that, you can leave it in the hole. You have to just throw it to Boobie, who is the guy with the ball should have gone to. The final one, check the ball down there’s no reason with 52 seconds left to force a throw. And then the interception that ended up resulting the safety that we got was, he had Stacey he’s just got to see it.”
On where McCloud can improve: “I do believe that with repetition will come decision-making, and that he doesn’t need to play hero ball, and he doesn’t need to be Superman out there. I think the mistakes he made are correctable. And I think part of it becomes through experience in our system. And the other part of is the way the team responded to him throughout the game, and the way the team rallied. Even with, what was it, three intersections going into the fourth quarter, it’s still a 5-point game. And when you look at the amount of progress we made in regards to holding on to the football, making first downs with his feet ... the things that he did do well gave us confidence that we can build off of that. And I will take on the responsibility of really doing a better job of encouraging him to respect the football, and to really understand that the most important thing you can do is not turn it over. And that’s why I was so confident at the end of the game to name him to start moving forward is that so much of the game he did control, we can do a better job of helping him.”
On McCloud’s coachability: “One of the the biggest issues with Jordan has been timing, and we haven’t had a lot of time with him, and trying to learn him and learn what what is best for Jordan. I think that Jordans a guy that likes honesty. I think he’s somebody that wants to hear the truth, and wants to be held accountable, and he has a very calming demeanor about him. Like he’ll kind of give me the, you know, ‘I know, I know what you’re saying, I got you’ type mentality. And he does it in a manner of like, I need to be able to work through it myself a little bit too. He does have experience, and I think he wants to be corrected, he wants to be coached really hard, but with him the demeanor is more of ‘hey man this is what can’t happen, what can happen and let’s do a little bit more of that.’”
On having run-pass balance: “I’d like to land more similar to where we were on Saturday evening. It’s a weird deal because we were down 21-3 against BYU and threw a bunch of screens that got us back into the game. And we had two 2-minute drives, which really skew some of those stats. And then we’re go down 21-0 against San Diego State, and we weren’t blocking it very well front, so turned into a pass fest, which stinks. And then the NAU game, that was just a weird football game, we had a lot of negative runs early in the game, so we thought passing was better, then we started running the ball better. But if we could build our team from the inside out and really use the size and physicality of our offensive line ... I think we ended up out at 35 passes and 53 runs, if you were to take the penalties and plays that are not gradable out, that would be a pretty nice formula. And it allowed us to stay in the football game ... up until there was 12 minutes left in the fourth. It’s five points, then it’s eight points, and even then we’re able to really run the football throughout the game.”
On why Arizona was able to run the ball better: “Confidence was one (reason), I felt like our offensive line believed they could run, you know, they believed they could run the football. We were to able to come off the ball and have some early movement, which gives you some more confidence. I thought our runners ran extremely hard. Michael (Wiley) and Drake (Anderson) had the majority of all the carries, there was a couple plays that (Stevie) Rocker caught a flat route and Jalen John and a couple, but those two guys really ran with a sense of purpose and didn’t want to get tackled by the first hitter, and they started seeing the holes a little bit better. I mentioned on Saturday evening, the more experience you have running a zone-running scheme, the better you do when it comes to being able to read and react. And then if you even look back at the NAU game which, we started that second half we started hitting some pretty explosive runs. I think we just need to build off of it and start seeing more normal fronts and run the ball better.”
On missed opportunities on offense: “We have to find a way to not give the ball away in critical situations, and find ways that when we are in situations that we can score, to score. I think we can all point to the games that we have played this season where we’ve had opportunities to score and haven’t. And that again showed up on Saturday evening.”
On allowing big plays on defense: “We have to eliminate the explosive plays, especially early in the game. They’re never good, explosive plays are never good. They happen, it’s the way the game works, but we need to be able to be a little sharper early. (Oregon) hit us on a pass versus a 2-deep zone, where our team has defended that pass numerous times during training camp against us. Oregon executed extremely well, had a guy open, and then we didn’t make a tackle to finish that. And then they hit a couple of runs, in the C gap one time, in the A gap one time, which were pretty explosive runs.”
On the defensive line play against Oregon and overall this season: “Two safeties is a rarity in one season. And the fact that we were able to get that done is a credit to the push from up front. Guys like Mo (Diallo), Tre ... JB, Kyon Barrs is really coming along up front in the interior side of things, and then, Jalen Harris and Kenny (Hebert) both showed up on the edge. Jalen really does a nice job, he made a couple plays in the zone-running game, spread running game, which was exceptional, where he actually had to kind of be in what Coach Brown calls the pup technique where he’s kind of sitting at the edge of the tackle, but then also falls back and makes a tackle on the runner. Jalen has been really a workhorse for us. He’s done a great job defensively, and that’s a credit to him, why he wears the No. 1, and why he has been named a captain.”
On how defensive coordinator Don Brown is feeling after getting knocked down on the sideline: “He’s fine, sore. He’s sore. He got hit pretty hard, that’s a tough one. That’s kind of the things you fear, your back’s towards to play, and you really have no idea that it’s coming. It was a late hit, it was a 15-yard late head. Luckily, kind of, he went into Tre (Mason). So Tre was actually kind of protecting him.”
On if Brown will somehow use that as a teachable moment for his defense: “I used it as a teachable moment, I told her operations guys to make sure you stand in front of Don Brown during the game.”
On special teams miscues: “We had another missed field goal. We wanted to do continue to work on that at that point in time in the game. There was only a few minutes left, we were down by three scores, we were not going to come back to win the game but what we did want to do is find another way to improve the battery, which would be our field goal block team ... and we did not execute that. And then we had a return, down eight points, which was a 65-yard return, which would have put us at 1st and 10 on the plus-35 yard line down one score with 11 and a half minutes left in the game, and that got called back because we did not execute the detail. We talked about having our right foot be on the 10-yard line, and our right foot was on the 9-yard line. We talked about being two yards behind the thrower, and we were a yard in front of the thrower. And when that happens, a 65-yard gain gets called back.”
On controlling the clock: “I’m proud of a lot of the aspects of the game,that we were able to control, our number one goal is to control a football game, when you have 38 minutes time of possession, you’re in good control of the game. We had 96 gradeable snaps in the game, which again puts you in a good position. However, when you turn the ball over five times, you are not in control.”
On the schedule for the bye week: “We’ll be on the field with our players Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. We’ll be practicing it 4:45 today, and then at 4:15 tomorrow and 4:15 Wednesday. And then coaches will be on the road recruiting Thursday and Friday, players will get a lift it in (on Thursday) then have a day or two to themselves, and then someday we’ll be back at it, preparing for UCLA.
“We’ll have a major, let’s call it fundamentals practice tonight, where we’re not really working worrying as much on scheme as we are about technique. And I think all of our players can benefit from that. And then the next couple of days will be the rough and rowdy, we’ll be able to add some training camp-like practices where we can find a way to be physical, and work on tackling and blocking and all those things. And then there’s also a place that recharge is good. We’ve been going at it pretty hard. And I want our players to have that opportunity to be able to kind of take that weekend, decompress themselves, be smart, make wise decisions. And then move forward.”