Fresh off its last bye of the 2019 season, the Arizona Wildcats head into the stretch run knowing they must win two of their final three games in order to earn a bowl invitation.
Much, much easier said than done.
Arizona’s next two games are against the Pac-12’s top teams, Oregon and Utah, who combined are 16-2 overall and 11-1 in league play. They’re both ranked in the top 10 in the latest Associated Press poll and each figure to be in a similar spot in the next College Football Playoff rankings when they’re unveiled Tuesday night.
After that is the Territorial Cup. And while ASU has lost three straight that game is on the road, where Arizona hasn’t won since 2011.
Facing Oregon this Saturday night on the road and then hosting Utah on Nov. 23 gives Arizona a chance to play spoiler, but that’s not what coach Kevin Sumlin said the team’s focus is on.
“We’re trying to get to postseason play, that’s what’s important,” he said Monday during his weekly press conference. “For this team to do that we’ve got to go through some pretty good castles to try to get there. If we do it we’re going to earn it.”
Here’s what else Sumlin discussed Monday:
On the mood coming out of the bye: “I think it’s great. It’s about as good as it can be right now. Last practice last Thursday, our guys had energy. Most of the coaches, including me, left to go recruiting for the weekend. Lot of guys got out of here this weekend, got home, and got back today. I liked where we were last Thursday.”
On if Arizona’s losing streak was a topic of discussion on the recruiting trail: “Nobody talked about being in a little bit of a slump. You look at everybody in this league, and you’ve got two teams, in Utah and Oregon, and everybody else is 4-5, 5-4. I think the perspective of the student athletes is they want to best opportunity to play. We’ve been on TV enough that people see our strengths, and guys see some things they know they can help with. We played a bunch of young guys, a bunch of first-year guys this year. They’re not just playing, they’re significant players in this program. I know there are a lot of guys that we’ve been in contact with that … see that as an opportunity. They can have an impact on this program and want to be a part of it.”
On what communication issues he identified related to Chuck Cecil’s debut as defensive coordinator: “Chuck went upstairs for the second half to see things a little bit better. I think the results were a little bit different in the second half than the first half. I thought the communication was a lot better in the second half than it was in the first half. I think he’s comfortable there.”
On what Cecil brings to the team: “He’s got energy. He’s got passion. He loves the University of Arizona. He’s a legend here. And because of that, he has a tremendous amount of pride in what he’s doing right now. I think our players feel that.”
On finding a permanent defensive coordinator: “We’re still evaluating everything. We’re going to do what we need to do and make decisions based on what’s best for this football team. Chuck is our guy right now, we’ll see what we do after that. We’re just trying to win this week. That’s not coach speak, that’s where we are. Right now we’re talking about trying to beat Oregon this week, which is a pretty dang good football team.”
On the team’s health coming out of the bye: “We ended the game with one lineman that we started the year with, maybe two. We lost two starters, Cody Creason was out. If you look at it, the way the game ended, we were down to our eight and ninth and 10th linemen. I don’t know what program could be strong enough to do that. Healthwise, it’s given us a chance—now, I don’t know if all those guys will be back—but it’s given us a better chance this weekend than certainly we (would have had) last weekend.”
On using redshirt-eligible players the rest of the way: “There’s a number of players right now that we practiced in the past week that can play the rest of the season and postseason that we made a decision on. The decision on (offensive lineman) Jordan Morgan is Jordan Morgan is going. He’s ready to go. He’s been practicing the whole time, so he’s going to play the rest of the season. Not play, he’s probably going to end up starting, based on where we are right now. What we have available.
“There’s a number of players that can contribute and help us and maintain redshirts, or not, based on these last weeks of the season, and trying to get to postseason play and not hurt them. That’s where I think this rule, the management of it … I think the rule is a really good situation for a lot of players.”
On Jordan Morgan, who is from Marana: “He’s extremely athletic. He’s an elite athlete. That’s why he was recruited the way he was recruited. There towards the end he was about the highest-recruited guy in the state. There’s a reason for that. He’s a really, really good athlete and he’s smart. But when you’re in the trenches, the challenge is how strong are you, particularly when you’re 17, 18 years old and going against 21-year-olds, and in this league, 23-, 25-year-olds. He’s had enough opportunities to get to that place. He likes to play the game, he wants to compete.”
On the quarterback rotation continuing and who will start: “I told them last Monday, we’re going to go through this week and next week, and whoever performs the best is going to go run out there first. That’s where we are. Whoever’s performed the best last week and this week is going to be the guy that goes out there first.”
On safety Scottie Young Jr.’s recent struggles: “I think he started off the year rough. You guys forget about Hawaii, right? They attacked him and then he kind of bounced back up through the middle of the season and then he struggled the last few weeks. We’ve got to put him in a better position to be successful. We put him in a position at Hawaii that was tough for him. Then you saw us move a couple guys … inside as coverage guys, and get him back as more of a middle field player in zone coverage. We’ve got to do a better job of putting him in position to be successful.”
On facing a team that’s in the playoff hunt: “They’re going to play like crazy because they’re wanting to get into the playoffs. They’re right there. They lead the league in interceptions, they lead the league in turnover margin, they’re 1 or 2 in defense, total defense, they’re 1 or 2 in scoring defense. They’re a good football team. The place will be rocking, they’ll try to make some statements to try and get to the playoffs.”
On trying to play the spoiler: “I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’d rather be on the other side and try to play that angle. You guys ask me all the time if last year’s game means (anything), no one is bringing that up right now. Which is funny.”