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Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin discusses Utah, playing without fans, and Election Day in season-opening press conference

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arizona-wildcats-kevin-sumlin-press-conference-utah-utes-voting-coronavirus-preseason-injuries-2020 Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After months of stops and starts, uncertainty and upheaval, the Arizona Wildcats are now only a few days away from finally beginning the 2020 college football season. And based on coach Kevin Sumlin’s mood during his Monday press conference, he can’t wait to get through those last few sleeps and get back to what he does for a living.

“I’m a football coach, we’re playing football,” Sumlin said via Zoom. “That’s what I’m excited about, just being honest. And the kids are more excited about it than anyone. Fans, no fans, whatever. That’s what they do. To play football is a big deal, and that’s why everybody is excited. We’re excited to play. No matter what. Where, when, what, these guys want to play football. I’m excited about where these guys are right now.”

Sumlin said many of his players have been hearing from old high school teammates who have been able to play for the past several weeks, which has only enhanced their anticipation of Saturday’s opener at Utah.

“Don’t discount this, their friends and other guys are talking to them, and they can’t wait to play this weekend,” he said. “Can’t wait.”

Here’s what else Sumlin discussed in his first weekly presser:

On Utah: “Kyle (Whittingham)’s done this a long time. He’s been really good at what he does, and defensively, their ID is who they are. We’ve got a pretty good feel for who he is, and what the mentality is. Kind of like any other coach. What they want to be and what they want to do, that’s what we’ve prepared for.

On not knowing who Utah’s starting quarterback will be: “They’re going to have a good player, they’ve always had good players. We’re preparing for both.”

On Arizona’s special teams: “Between our kicker and our punter, a year later into this thing we feel a lot better than we felt last year. Our coverage units have been really good. The longest return we gave up last year was against Utah. We’ve had time, we understand it and we get it.”

On injuries to WR Jaden Mitchell and RB Frank Brown Jr.: “Jaden’s out for the year, he’s got a knee injury, so he’s done for the year. Frank had an MCL injury but… it’s probably a 2-3 week deal.”

On the possibility of the game being canceled, or moved to Tucson, due to Utah’s rising COVID-19 cases: “I haven’t talked to our team about anything about that. Basically, we’re getting tested six times a week and then day of. And we’ll figure it out from there. If that community is safe, we’re going to do it. If not, we’re not. That’s how we’ve approached it since Day 1.”

On not releasing a depth chart yet: “It’s college football, it’s not pro football. We don’t talk about injuries, we don’t talk about anything. We don’t have to. I’ve done this for a long time, I’ve never talked about injuries, I’ve never talked about depth charts. Since I’ve been here, you guys gave me a hard time about or, or, or. There will probably be a depth chart out tomorrow.”

On having Election Day off: “I think what is important is, we are part of a national movement for our student-athletes for Tuesday, for Election Day, for them to have time. It’s important that people understand that … everybody’s not voting in Pima County. We’ve got guys all over the place. How that works, what that looks like, becomes extremely important to our young people. As I said six months ago, the frustration of social injustice, the frustration of what’s going on, everything that’s going on in the country … hey look, vote. So we’re going to give you guys that day to figure that out. I think our team has done a great job of voter education, and just looking at what you really want to do. If you want something to happen, guess what, here’s a way to do it.”

On Election Day will impact game-week preparations: “We had our Monday practice last night. Today it’s Tuesday (practice). We’re giving everybody off on Tuesday, Nov. 3 and then we come back. In the grand scheme of things, we’re playing football, it’s a big deal, but guess what? For what you want, if you want certain things to happen in this country, then you need to vote.”

On changes to a road trip itinerary and pre-game preparations due to COVID restrictions: “We do a lot here before we leave. Our players feel safe about our testing program, about who gets on a plane, who’s tested before we get on the plane, and when we get there what’s going to happen. A couple things are a little bit different. We’re not going to leave the hotel. We’ll be in that space for 24-48 hours. For us, and for our players right now, our players feel good about where they are with our testing program, our coaches feel good about that. Our testing program is as good as anybody’s in the country.”

On wide receiver Boobie Curry: “Boobie has grown up. He’s getting better. He’s still young, we’ve got young players. I think he’s worked his tail off to try and be where he is right now. He’s strong, he’s working on other things in his game. He could play for a lot of different people. People forget, what, he was committed to Florida State. He’s a really good player. He continues to work at the things that he—I’m not going to give his weaknesses right here for Coach Kyle—but he is what he is. He’s big, strong, fast and athletic, and you can always win with those guys.”

On how team captains were selected: “We had a team vote this year, who the captains are. They were picked by their peers. As I met with them last week I said, listen, some of you guys might think are leaders, some of you guys don’t, but they picked you. And that gave you a mandate that you guys are leaders. Those guys are our guys, as picked by the team, through this whole pandemic, this whole different season, here’s who your teammates think are leaders.”

On playing without fans (but with piped-in crowd noise): “We actually practiced, had our game script, with the noise, whatever that is. Ambient noise is, I think, the term. It wasn’t bad. We’re working through that. We want fans. It’s hard for people not to come to the game, for people not to be there, all of that stuff. The fact that we’re actually playing football, and have a chance to play football, that outweighs the other piece.”

On which coaches will be up in the booth: “We’ve been working through that. On defense Andy Buh is going to be upstairs. On offense Theron Aych will be upstairs, and then there will be some other people up there.”

On having an extended sideline: “You go from the 15 to the 15. The ability to be at the 15-yard line on both sides gives you a lot of flexibility. I think that shouldn’t change after this. So you’ve got 10 more yards on either side, which is big for substitution, everything else. Because of that spread … you’ve got a lot of room to get up and down the sideline instead of getting a penalty. I think it’s a great rule change, the spacing and everything else that comes with that, I think that’s great.”