The Arizona Wildcats have lost their last nine games, the longest skid in program history, but coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday it’s not fair to put that on his entire team.
“There’s a lot of guys that played Saturday night that have lost two games,” he said during his weekly Zoom conference. “It’s a different football team. The losing streak, for me, is different. I’m the common denominator in there. There’s a hell of a lot of players who were playing Saturday night that had nothing to do with last year. I mean, a lot of them. We can lump it all into everything but you (can) just lump that on me, because in the end my name is on it.”
Sumlin spent a good portion of his presser taking the blame—along with his coaching staff—for not putting the Wildcats in position to be successful last Saturday at Washington, where they fell behind 37-0 before falling 44-27.
“As we met yesterday as coaches, we’ve got to give our players a better chance,” he said. “We’ve got to coach better.”
Here’s what else Sumlin discussed at the outset of preparations for a trip to UCLA next weekend. (The full interview can be watched at the bottom of the story.)
On the overall vibe of the team after the Washington game: “Everybody’s disappointed. Nobody’s happy—coaches, players, trainers, doctors, anybody who was there. We’ll have that discussion today with the team. There’s nobody in this building that’s happy. Expectations going into that weekend were to get better, and that didn’t happen. There were a number of reasons across the board. As coaches we didn’t adjust quick enough. That was a completely different gameplan offensively than (Washington) had utilized the week before, by coming out and throwing it as much as they threw it, in empty sets and moving around a bunch. We didn’t adjust quick enough there and we didn’t adjust quick enough offensively, to not really their scheme but from a protection standpoint.
“Our players, based on analytics and the things that we use to measure player load and speeds, they’re still playing hard. They’re still running fast, even in the fourth quarter (they were) running by guys, and I know personnel was different for Washington at that point. We’ve got to be better as coaches.”
On what he gleaned from his film review of the Washington game: “If you watch the film, then Washington is pretty good. It wasn’t a lot of blitzes, wasn’t a lot of different things, it was man on man. And I said it right after the game, we got whipped up front. When you are able to do that with a 4-man rush and not blitz, sparingly bring five, then there’s a lot of guys in coverage. And push the pocket into Grant’s lap, basically. And when that wasn’t the case they hit him. He got rattled early. We didn’t do enough as coaches to help him be better. It was a physical game up front where we got whipped up front, on both sides, number one, but number two, third down conversions: they were about 60 percent on third down, maybe more, and we were 2 or 3 of 12. We couldn’t stay on the field on offense, and they continued to make third down conversions, even 3rd and eight and more. That’s a recipe for disaster against a football team like that, that has that much talent.
“We couldn’t get open, either, early. Man-to-man coverage with a four-man rush. It’s not always on the line, it’s not always on the quarterback. That’s why you saw us go to a bunch of bunch sets to try and force them into some zone. We’ve got to continue to be better against man-to-man coverage, because we’re going to see it. We’re going to see it until we prove we can handle it.”
On Grant Gunnell’s demeanor during the game: “He hasn’t been through that. In high school, with the success he’s had, and here really, he hasn’t been through a situation like that where he’s pushed, pestered, hit, sacked, sack-fumbled. There’s two ways to handle that as a coach. Do you pull him out and put somebody else in to get him settled down, or do you let him play through it? That’s what we did, we let him play through it, he was different. He’s got to be better as a leader on the field. That discussion has already happened.”
On shifting players on the offensive line: “Last year, everybody was on us about moving guys around every week. Now, we’ve got to fix the problem. How to fix the problem is not getting our best five players on the field at one time, on the offensive line, I’ve said this for a long time. It’s not the best five individual players, it’s the best five that play together, that communicate. Joe Tiller was a line coach and he used to say, ‘you’re not looking for five pennies you’re looking for a nickel.’ Paiton (Fears), early in the game, he was frustrated, gave up a couple things. Donovan (Laie), inside there, got the hold and the sack-fumble. There were issues across the board. What we have to do is continue to grow as an offensive line. Just moving (positions) from side to side and what hand is down and what you see can change and stunt your growth. I think you saw what we did in that situation is just go with our backup and go with the backups at different times. And then we’ve got to communicate a little better up front. We have to adjust and also give our guys a plan where, in situations like that, schematically it’s good but maybe physically there’s been mismatches or matchup problems and matchup issues, we need to recognize that quicker and have answers.”
On the safeties: “Jaxen Turner has had his moments. He has really come on. He’s nursing a little bit of an injury but he’s played through it. He’s made some really good plays, he’s got a couple of penalties that are questionable, but he’s been aggressive. For the most part he’s having a season that we thought he would have. He’s got a little nagging injury but he’s playing through it. It was a heck of a play he made when they tried the 2-point conversion with the kicker, among other plays that he’s made all year. We’ve got to continue to develop at the other (safety) position. The two long runs got out because of a missed tackle from the safety position, they got to the second or what we call the third level. We’ve got some guys who have not been available maybe the first week or so. I think you saw a couple of those guys in the game at the end. We’re going to get the best guys on the field.”
On LB Anthony Pandy struggling with his new role as defensive leader: “To Pandy’s defense, he’s never had to do that. Now you’re looking at everybody else telling them what to do and making changes, and it slows you down. Saturday night is no excuse, but he didn’t practice really until Thursday or Friday. He was down a little bit in his reps. The lack of practice for him last week I think hurt him. He’s a very prideful guy. He’s fine now, I look forward to him bouncing back and be better this week.”
On UCLA’s offense: “The first thing that jumps out at you is (Demetric) Felton’s performance Saturday. The thing about Chip (Kelly) is, and we’ve got to be prepared again, he jumped into what we called an unbalanced set or loaded set and Oregon had a hard time stopping it. Even with (quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson) out, we’ve got to be prepared for both of them. Chase Griffin is a quarterback, we’re very familiar with him, from where he’s from and know what kind of competitor he is. Felton had a heck of a day. Offensively they had guys out but they were able to utilize the running game and stay in the game. They’ve got talent there, even though (Griffin) is young, and who knows what the status of DTR is.”
On the Bruins defense: “Defensively the first stat that jumps out at you is they lead the league in sacks. And coming off a night like … two nights ago, that’s the first thing that got my attention. They’ve done a good job on third downs, too, I think they’re in the top three or four in our league. They’re getting you behind the chains with sacks. They’re playing well on third down, getting off the field and getting their offense the ball.”
On the travel experience in the COVID era: “It an awful experience based on the outcome. Our administration has done a great job, not a good job a great job, of eliminating or avoiding some of the things you see around the country. Knock on wood, things can change daily. Our players are used to protocol, and spacing on the plane. We did our security check here at the building, so once we got on the bus we were all together. Once we got on the bus everybody that was tested, everybody was available, we were all negative. Then bus to plane, then plane to bus to the hotel. It’s hard on these guys, because families usually travel, families usually have time to see their sons Friday night or Saturday during the day. Nobody’s allowed at the hotel. Nobody’s allowed to leave, nobody’s allowed to get in there. A lot of problems and issues you’ve seen with other teams are on the road trip.”
On if UCLA dealing with COVID issues affects Arizona’s preparation: “It doesn’t. You’ve seen across our league, you’ve had games canceled on Friday. We’re one of them. For our players and for our coaches, hey listen, that’s who we’re playing. Today we’ll watch our video of Washington, make our corrections, and then start installing the gameplan with the players this afternoon and get on the field tonight (to prepare) for UCLA.”
On not being prepared for Washington’s fake punt: “In those situations you either leave your defense on the field for what we would call punt safe or you would have a punt return unit that is composed of a lot of different positions who are specific to punt return. In that situation, backed up early in the game, we put the punt return unit on the field and they got the first down. Those guys are wide receivers, linebackers, DBs, instead of D-linemen that are used to playing the run. In that situation I just felt like a return was the right thing based on down and distance, based on location on the field, and that was the mistake. They took advantage of that, (but) that didn’t hurt us. What hurt us was the 3rd and 10 on the next series that they picked up. They got the yard, but we still got them to 3rd and 10 on the next series and gave up a big play and the touchdown.”