On the heels of a much needed 65-41 win over Northern Arizona, the Arizona Wildcats will now face their biggest test of the 2019 season to date when they welcome the undefeated Texas Tech Red Raiders to Arizona Stadium on Saturday night.
The Wildcats (1-1) have looked mostly solid on offense in their first two games of the new year—averaging over 50 points and 600 yards—but desperately need to improve on the other side of the football after allowing more than 40 points and 400 yards to both Hawaii and NAU.
Those poor defensive numbers have upped the scrutiny surrounding embattled defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, and his unit will need to perform this weekend if Arizona has any chance of beating a Texas Tech team who has looked impressive on offense so far this season.
The Red Raiders averaged more than 40 points and 550 yards per game in their two wins against Montana State and UTEP.
In preparation for what should be a high scoring affair on Saturday (Vegas has set the over/under at 74), several Wildcats met with the media earlier this week to discuss what they’ve seen from the Red Raiders on film, the team’s defensive struggles and what they have to do to be over .500 going into Pac-12 play.
Here’s the best of what they said:
Arizona running back J.J. Taylor on what he’s seen from Texas Tech on film: “They’re very fast. They fly to the ball. The secondary’s very, very fast and very physical as well. Overall they look very good and very talented.”
Taylor on sharing more of the touches at running back so far this season: “It’s good, you know, it’s an opportunity for all of us to get in the game and show what we can do. But it’s also good for practice purposes, because it really pushes all of us to our limits, and we all hold high expectations for each other. You see other players run, and you learn a lot from them. And also, they learn a lot from you and you guys start to pick up on certain things. It just makes you a better athlete.”
Taylor on if the offense will feel more pressure to score this weekend with the way the defense has been struggling: “No, we’ve all really worked our whole lives for this. It’s something that we’ve been doing since we were children and it’s just another game we have to go out and dominate.”
Arizona linebacker Tony Fields on preparing to face the Red Raiders: “They’re a passing team and that’s what’s been beating us so far so we’re just focusing this week in practice on that. I’m going to do my best to make sure my guys are more locked in on the passing game and on seven on seven aspects of practice.”
Fields on putting pressure on sophomore quarterback Alan Bowman: “It’s going to be really important because obviously they’re a passing team. The more pressure you put on the quarterback, the harder it is to get the ball off and that affects everything. If we get pressure on him early I feel like that can affect the whole game.”
Fields on if he’s surprised at the team’s defensive struggles so far: “I think we’re all a bit surprised right now. We’re just getting started, though. so that’s the blessing in it. We still have a lot of time to fix our little bumps and bruises we have in our defense, and we can progress and do better. We just need to be more disciplined, we need to be more sound, and we need to execute. Once we do that, I feel like will be a great defense.”
Arizona cornerback Lorenzo Burns on facing Texas Tech: “They’re a good team. Overall, their offense is pretty potent and as everybody knows they’re quick. A lot of up-tempo, quick screens, tall, lanky receivers. But at the end of the day, we just have to come out and play like it’s our last game of the year and play as one unit and we should be fine.”
Burns on how the defense can respond after struggling against NAU: “I know what people see at the end of day—41 points to NAU—but there’s a lot more that goes into it. We have to get better, of course. Each week, we’ve got to get better. I just think that towards the second half, we just got a little complacent. That’s an easy fix, and we’re just going to go up from there.”
Burns on the skepticism currently surrounding the Wildcats’ defense: “We’re just going to keep working. We try to ignore all the white noise outside, just stay focused on what we have to do each week. You know, we’re the ones on the field. So, like I said we just need to stay focused and within each other and keep pushing each other to get better each week.”
Burns on if he’s heard of the calls for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to be fired: “I’m not on social media, so I haven’t heard anything about the fans and Coach Yates. I just know that we got Coach Yates’ back and he’s got ours.”
Arizona wide receiver Drew Dixon: “It’s gonna be a great matchup. They got big guys, tall corners, long. They’re going to give us a good game, but I think it will be a good game for us before we go into the conference games.’
Dixon on how much film he has watched of Texas Tech: ‘Hours. Preparation is going to help you win a game. ... I’ve been watching since after the game against NAU. ... Just knowing who I’m going to be going against, how they play on certain downs. ... All tall guys.”
Arizona safety Tristan Cooper on Texas Tech game: It gives us a game to establish ourselves. We’re not respected. I understand we lost to Hawaii, shouldn’t have lost to Hawaii, we beat NAU but we gave up 40 points so a lot of people don’t respect us I understand it, but we’re gonna have to make them feel it this game. I pray that everything goes to plan and we have great game plan and players do we gotta do, and we come out with the W.”
Cooper on the key to improving defensively: “I think we just gotta go out there as a whole and be more confident in ourselves and talk to each other. You know, no blown assignments, people need to trust in their technique. And I just feel like, once we get our chemistry together, and we start doing what the coaches tell us and we start trusting in the process, everything will be good.”
Cooper on the issues defensively: “Little things. Sometimes people will have their eyes in the backfield. And there’s this plays I’m in man-to-man and I’m looking in the backfield. Once we fix all those things, people stay in their gaps, people hit the right gaps, we’re going to be okay.”
Cooper on the fans who want defensive coordinator Marcel Yates fired: “I’ve told a lot of my teammates if you let words bother you in this type of stage, you’re in for a rough life. Before the game, I was like, you know, it’s just funny. There’s a lot of outside noise and it’s just the same people that are talking mess about us today are going to be on our bandwagon after we beat Texas Tech You can’t please everybody. If you try to be a people pleaser, you’re going to be miserable. So I don’t really care, honestly. I mean, if it happens, if he gets fired, he gets fired. But I know he’s gonna find another job and hopefully he doesn’t get fired because we like him a lot.”