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What Arizona players said about Utah, preparing for game without fans

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arizona-wildcats-football-starting-quarterback-khalil-tate-grant-gunnell-oregon-state-sumlin Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats will open the shortened 2020 season on the road against the defending Pac-12 South champion Utah Utes. on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MST on ESPN2.

Here’s what UA’s team captains had to say about Utah and the surreal experience of playing a game without fans:

Arizona cornerback Lorenzo Burns on Utah having so many question marks on offense, including at quarterback: “You just have to prepare for everybody. That goes with any team. Somebody can get hurt during the week of practice or somebody get hurt the week before the game. You never know. Somebody might test positive (for COVID-19) the day before the game and they’re out the next day. So the way we’re approaching things, we’re prepared for everything—what quarterback may play, what running back may play. First, second string, it doesn’t matter.”

Burns on Utah’s style of play: “I just know for the past few years that I’ve been here, Utah always tries to be the most physical team in the Pac-12. They’re known for having their D-line, but at the end of the day everybody has to step out and play ball. It doesn’t matter what type of football they’re trying to play. In my personal opinion, anybody can get beat any Saturday. So the style of offense they run, everybody knows they try to run the ball every game. They had (running back) Zach Moss last year, but he’s gone now. But they’re a good team. Everybody knows that they’re a good team, defensively and offensively. At the end of the day, you have to step on the field every Saturday and just believe in yourself.”

Arizona QB Grant Gunnell on Utah’s defense: “Throughout the years that (Kyle) Whittingham’s been there, you see that they play the same technique with their [defensive backs] and stuff like that. He’s going to dial up some different blitzes, a few different fronts, but should be a lot of man and when try to be prepared and know where to go with the ball when we see different looks and have answers for every different look they give us.”

Arizona TE Bryce Wolma on what makes Utah’s defense so good: “I just think they’re, one, really well-coached on defense. They have a really simple game plan, but they can do that because they have guys that fit their role so well. Up front, they’re always big and physical and on the outside they have guys that just run press and man you up and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to beat you.’ With the extended time off, we’ve had a lot of time to look at their film over the last couple years and what they played against us, all those kind of things. So I think we have a pretty good game plan going in, but I just think they’re such a big and physical team, especially in the front seven, that it presents a lot of challenges.”

Burns on playing without fans: “It can be a bittersweet thing, a positive and a negative. Sometimes you can hear the roar of the crowd and it can get you going. But at the same time, it kind of brings a certain type of calmness to you, because now you don’t have all those distractions in the stands. Personally speaking for our team, I know we’re excited, we’re going to create our own energy out there. We’re going to boost each other up and get each other ready to go. We’re already ready to play.”

Gunnell on playing without fans: “I haven’t felt any difference in the preparation for a road game. I think on Saturday we had the crowd noise playing and the music and stuff like that and just getting prepared for that. I think it might be an advantage for us, not having those all those fans screaming in our ears when we’re trying to get the play call or the signals. ... It kind of takes a little pressure off you when you don’t have all the fans. You can kind of get your thoughts quicker.”

Arizona LB Jalen Harris on how Arizona is preparing for a game without fans: “(At practice) there’s music, fan noise, announcers. We’re practicing like it’s a real game and we have people there. ... I think (having fans) is very helpful on the defensive end because when we’re at home and they’re loud, it kind of messes with the offense and so they have to change how they snap the ball and how they communicate. When you’re on defense you could pick up on those things and they end up helping you.”

Harris on if his parents will be at his game at Utah or his brother Jason’s Colorado game: “I don’t know what they plan on. I think they’re just planning on watching from home. They’re gonna support both of us and I’m wishing him luck, and told him that he’s gonna be nervous at first—it’s a football game, I’m still nervous every game—but just to calm down and take it slow and make sure he knows what he’s doing.”

Gunnell on his pregame routine: “I like to take a nap before the games and make sure I’m rested. And I have one song I like to listen to before the game, it’s Hey Ya by Outkast. It kind of relaxes my mind. I don’t know why. It’s just the one song I’ve liked my whole life.”

Burns on his best memory of Arizona’s previous matchups with Utah: “There’s been so many moments, it’s hard to pick one. We haven’t beat them yet, so I’m waiting for that victory. I think that’s going to be a very cherishable moment. But the year we almost beat them when Brandon Dawkins was still here (2017) and they were ranked and they had Darren Carrington, (a transfer) from Oregon. Just being close to beating them, that gives you a lot of motivation.”