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Kevin Sumlin discusses Washington, defending the run, inclement weather, USC takeaways and more in weekly presser

arizona-wildcats-kevin-sumlin-washington-huskies-press-conference-covid19-gunnell-pac12-interview Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On to the next one.

Less than 48 hours after coming up short of a major upset against USC, the Arizona Wildcats have shifted their focus to this Saturday’s trip to Seattle, where they haven’t won since 2007.

In addition to playing on the road, the Washington Huskies will present Arizona with a completely different style of opponent compared to USC. Washington ran it 51 times for 267 yards in its 27-21 home win over Oregon State.

Here’s what coach Kevin Sumlin discussed at his weekly press conference:

On QB Grant Gunnell and K Lucas Havrisik rebounding from early mistakes vs. USC: “(Grant) struggled the first series. No one wants to come out of the game with a turnover. That was a two-way street, he clutched the ball on a double move route, in or out, really an option-type route. A little anticipation, not on the same page with Jamarye (Joiner) that first series. To come back and play the way he did, I thought, he put us in a position to have a chance to win. Just like Lucas missing the first field goal. The first game of the year, guys came out and didn’t have the kind of success that we wanted as a team. The good part is that, mentally and physically, both those guys rebounded and put us in position to have a chance to win at the end of the game.”

On walk-on LB Rourke Freeburg’s performance vs. USC: “I think people were reasonably surprised. Rourke, he works his tail off. Has been primarily a three- or four-core special teams player since we’ve been here. Really kind of an unsung guy. What he’s doing at that outside linebacker position, putting an edge on the defense, he made some negative yardage plays Saturday. He’s not as big as you want, but he’s been a tough guy since we’ve been here. He’s been a great scout team player and really has made a name for himself on special teams. Playing 40-50 snaps out there Saturday I think he showed that he’s a Division I football player because of the plays that he made, the edges that he set. Didn’t do it all the time, but that’s football. They schemed it and got some bigger people over there on him, but he held up. For the most part he played winning football for his position for a guy that that’s his first start and starting against USC.”

On why Arizona wasn’t more aggressive with blitzes on USC’s final drive: “You have to cover them. And we ran out of people on the back. If you can get there, you’ll get there. Philosophically what we were doing was working during the game. Switch it up, blitz it on certain downs, but play coverage. Make the quarterback throw the ball and making him be accurate. Philosophically in that situation it really wasn’t much different than the rest of the game until you got inside the 15-, 10-yard line when we did bring the house on Kedon (Slovis). You’re down DBs, you’re down corners, you’re down safeties. We’re trying to play with five or six DBs and they weren’t available, you become concerned. And make them earn it, and they did. They got it.”

On spreading the ball around more on offense: “It really depends a little bit on the defense. We’d like to have Jamarye touch it more, we’d like to have Boobie Curry touch it more. All our guys on the perimeter, there’s only one football. Boobie’s a guy that can touch it more. You’ve seen what Tayvian (Cunningham) can do as a deep threat and a kickoff return guy. All those guys want the ball, believe me. Every one of those guys think they can be effective and we think they can effective. We’re not in that he’s got to touch the ball that many times piece before the game, we see how the game plays out. We wanted Michael Wiley to get some more runs in the game, but Gary was going great and he was healthy and he wanted to go. That’s part of it as well.”

On defending the run against Washington: “It’s been an emphasis since we made the defensive change. I think it was apparent Saturday that we’re better. It’s going to be a challenge this week because this is one of the top run offenses in our league. They’re under center probably 80 percent of the time. Two backs with one tight end that moves into a fullback position, some old-school football. Some I-formation, some offset I, 13 personnel, which is three tight ends, and they’re going to run it. They’ve got three running backs that present some issues. That’s kind of their MO right now. Running and a field position game is really important. We’ve worked at and emphasized our run defense. We gave up some big plays in the second half with some of the run fits from the safeties with the change of personnel. It’s going to be a big deal this weekend, and not just the run but the play action that comes off of it, to make sure there’s eye discipline in the back.”

On Washington’s defense: “Coach (Jimmy) Lake has done a really good job, they’re always good on defense, they’re one of the top defenses in the league. They’re always sound, they run to the ball. They’ve been great. They’ve always been solid up front. One of the top defenses in the league, particularly against the run. We’ve got our hands full this week playing a Washington team that really kind of took over in the second half of the football game they played last week. That’s who they are. They want to play good run defense, they want to get you behind the chains and make you play a field position game. They really haven’t changed that much. We’ve got to be able to handle things.”

On Jalen Harris’ play at OLB: “It was a real battle. He was a step away. He hit the quarterback a number of times. Their left tackle is a pro, it was a battle all day. We want to get him loose, he likes his position. At 260 (pounds) he did some other things in the run game that he might not have been able to do at 235 or 240. I thought he pressured the quarterback. That can be frustrating to do that all day and not get a sack. The first series of the second quarter the ball gets out but he almost got a strip sack. There’s some things that I think Jalen learned. There’s things that I know that he can take away from Saturday. Playing against a quality player like that, it’s going to help us down the road.”

On the status of injured WRs Drew Dixon, Brian Casteel and Dyelan Miller: “I would say that I know that Drew and [Brian] will be playing this weekend. Dyelan still is questionable.”

On grad transfer defensive linemen Aaron Blackwell and Roy Lopez: “I think you see the difference that those guys make with their size, their strength and their experience. They’ve been in real football games before. It’s more than just a depth situation, those guys were holding the point. In a game like this, with a really tight football game like that, we really held some of the young D-linemen out. They ran more plays in the second half then they did in the first half. We got a little worn defense. I think our defensive rotation up front is going to include … some of the young D-lineman that you haven’t seen, just because of the nature of (Washington’s) offense. I would look to see this weekend some of the other new guys that are in this program play. Certainly, those two guys made a difference for our football team.”

On the atmosphere in an empty Arizona Stadium: “That’s where we are. I think our guys are used to it. Our players, they were used to it. I think more importantly, (for) our administration to get families in the stands was more emotional than any of that. These guys, with COVID, haven’t been home, and their parents haven’t seen them. We couldn’t have parents at the hotel. Some guys have kids, some guys are married. We couldn’t do that and expose the rest of the team. I know it’s awful for our fans. We want fans, but I thought that the big step was to have the families there.”

On the potential for playing in inclement weather in Seattle: “We have wet ball drills, we do that all the time. What’s more important is what that ball looks like between the center—which you saw last night on (Sunday) Night Football—and the quarterback, our receivers and our specialists. We sprinkle those in all the time with wet balls.”

On punter Tyler Loop’s debut: “I thought our punter, for his first game, for his first true action in a game, if you had told me he was going to average 45.3 we’d take that every week. That becomes important in a game like this also.”

On WR Ma’jon Wright’s back-shoulder catch on Arizona’s last scoring drive: “Ma’jon is really talented. I think you saw the play he made, his first college catch wasn’t easy. Not just to make that play in a man-to-man situation but to get his foot down and make it look that easy, you can see what kind of talent he is.”

On the potential for late opponent switches due to COVID outbreaks: “I personally think there’s an amount of time that’s necessary to be able to play another opponent. Not just from a coaching standpoint but for some other issues, logistics. When you go on these road games … when our game was canceled the first week our (equipment) truck was somewhere past the Grand Canyon. Our shoulder pads leave Thursday night or Friday morning headed to the game that you’re supposed to be playing. I think it was a little bit different with the logistics between Cal and UCLA. For us, the two biggest travel pieces, the longest, are Seattle and Salt Lake City. We’ve got stuff on the truck Thursday night. It’s not just the game, but the equipment and a lot of different logistics. Finding hotel rooms, changing the plane, what are you going to eat, how are you going to feed these guys?

“Our guys are working around the clock right now, particularly analysts and GAs. They’re working a week ahead on the next opponent. We actually have discussed every scenario. With COVID we have a play-calling plan on both sides, on defense and offense, and special teams. Our guys are breaking down every game from last weekend. And getting it in our software so we have that data if something happens. Those guys are not just working on next week’s opponent … but now they’re working on every opponent, between now an Wednesday … so if something like that happens, which is not the optimum thing, but if it’s something that we have to do to play in the right amount of time we’d have that information.”