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Kevin Sumlin reacts to Utah cancellation, looks ahead to USC in weekly press conference

arizona-wildcats-kevin-sumlin-press-conference-utah-usc-cancellation-covid19-2020-football-pac12 Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have a game scheduled for this Saturday, hosting the USC Trojans at Arizona Stadium. But then again, at this time a week ago it was set to play at Utah, only for that to not happen.

Such appears to be how things are going to go for the rest of the 2020 season, which for the UA still hasn’t begun after the opener against the Utes was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday via Zoom the team he was “nine minutes away from a special teams meeting” when he was first informed just before 10 a.m. that Utah was having an issue. A few hours later the game was off.

“Obviously we were disappointed,” Sumlin said. “Our guys were extremely disappointed, but we’ve moved on. Friday seems like a long time ago right now, the way this year’s been gone. Another weekend of watching everybody else play becomes frustrating. We’ve got a great opportunity at home this weekend, and that’s where we’re at.”

Here’s what else Sumlin discussed in his weekly press conference:

On breaking the news to the team: “We were on the field, getting ready to have lunch and get on a plane and go. What we do on Friday is not a walkthrough. We’re actually practicing. At that point you’re about to eat lunch, get on a bus to the airport and go. There were some extremely frustrated young men, some tears, because they’ve put a lot of work into it. It was a difficult situation on Friday because there’s a lot of effort, a lot of work and effort put into things, with the players, logistics, everything else, and just to go home right after that was deflating.”

On regrouping to play USC: “Like anything else it’s what you do from here on out. We’re playing at home this week against a good football team and we’re still going to have the opportunity to work at your craft and play on national TV at home. That gave our guys something to look forward to in a situation where maybe it didn’t look that good Friday at 10, 11 o’clock in the morning.”

On if the pandemic has forced Arizona to change how it practices: “We did early, just because of what the protocols were. But at a certain point we’ve gotta play football. Everything we’d done has been through our medical team, through Dr. (Stephen) Paul, through Pima County. That’s the reason we brought back guys 25 or 30 at a time over the course of June. Our administration, our medical team has given us the education and the guidance to be in a really safe place. Our players feel good about where that is. As we have ramped up, as we got to the 6-week model and the 4-week model, as you’ve heard me say we really didn’t have training camp, we had fall practice because we had school going on. It’s different than August. Once we got to a certain piece our numbers went up. We stayed on Zoom meetings, just like this, through this time really up until Friday. We had to rotate different people in case something happens. I think what we’ve done has been as good as anybody from a health and standpoint. It’s all been recommended or has been approved through our medical team and administration and the county.”

On getting to watch USC live on TV: “I’d get more out of it by the ability to run it back. Real game time for a coach is one thing, but to be able to watch the video exchange is another thing. We’ve been watching football for six weeks. Our opponent was on, we visited with coaches and players at 8:30 in the morning, knowing that game would be on at 10, giving coaches and players the opportunity to watch it.”

On what he saw from the Trojans: “550-something yards and going up and down the field. If they don’t turn the ball over it’s a different game. They’ve got a young quarterback that is playing at a high level. You’ve got four receivers that are all different but all dangerous. We all know about (Amon-Ra) St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns but the two young guys are bigger guys. They’ve got weapons all over the field, playing three different running backs that are all different, between 200 and 230 (pounds). A line that’s returning a bunch of guys, and eight starting returners on defense. This is a veteran team that’s already played a game and been in a close game, so they should have some confidence. What do you expect from USC? They’ve got those kind of guys, but that being said that game could have gone any way at the end.”

On USC’s defense: “You’ve got eight returning starters on defense, guys that have played a lot of football. I’m very familiar with Todd Orlando. He’s been around, in the Big 12 at Texas. He’s going to be extremely aggressive. Every play it’s zone blitz, it’s four from a side. He’s not going to sit there and just stay in a (defense). It’s still going to be a pressure defense. They’ve got veteran players and a veteran defensive coordinator that’s going to bring it. They faced a young quarterback last week and brought it. They’ve got another young one this week and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

On sloppy play so far in college football: “From what I’ve seen the last five weeks, I haven’t seen this many blocked punts, this many missed field goals, in years. I think because of the time that you had to be able to work, most people are in the 20-hour rule, not in a fall camp mode, a lot of these things are being exposed special teams-wise and from a turnover standpoint because of the time you had, or weren’t allowed, early in fall camp, to play. It’s one of those deals where the preparation time is a little bit different from a whole season standpoint, but now that you’re into a season, it’s really the same time to prepare. What you’ve worked on beforehand might show up in a game.”

On if playing Washington was considered last weekend: “We were not trying to get a game going. I don’t know how you can just flip around and play another college football team in 24 hours, that doesn’t make any sense to me. You haven’t watched any of their video, you’re watching another team … then you get notified you’re not going to play. We’re not going to just turn around and go play Washington in 24 hours, that was never a consideration.”

On if Arizona is experiencing any COVID-19 issues: “We’ve had, over the course of time, we’ve had. But now with our testing protocol, and with the testing that’s been up, four or five times a week, those issues, we don’t have that issue right now. That can change tomorrow. That’s just the world we live in right now. I think, as we’ve said before, and we’ve been transparent this whole time, and our medical team has, too, that what they’ve put together in place, what they’ve done, has given us the opportunity to compete. And it’s also made our players and their parents feel and know that they’re in a safe environment the way we’ve handled things. There’s a lot of people involved in that protocol, a lot of people involved in contact tracing if we’ve had people, just like myself. I think the confidence level with our medical team, with our administration, how we’ve done things is at a high level. If we do have those issues we’ve addressed them immediately. Right now things are going pretty well, but as you’ve seen around the country, that could change. And if it does, it does. But we feel good about where we are.”

On allowing the team to work out on Saturday: “I thought it was important there was an opportunity for guys to work out Saturday. Guys were so disappointed to not go play. Some guys were frustrated, some guys wanted to get some work done at 8:30 in the morning. With the way things work right now for us, the 20-hour rule makes it so we have to give players a day off, and then you have 20 hours during the week to practice. Our day off for the players has been Sundays. In times like this there are rules that you have to follow, no matter what is thrown at you. There’s also a routine factor that becomes important. Once you upset the apple cart one way, what does that look like the next week? Our ability to move on becomes important. I thought it was more important from the captain’s standpoint. Let’s be honest, nobody planned to be here Saturday morning, it’s not like they had a bunch of family in town. In times like this there can be positives that come out of it. Frustration is one thing, but communication level can be better from players to players than just from coaches to players. That’s where leadership, from the top, from us as coaches, and also from within the team can be, not can be, is important. In a situation like this where you put a lot of work into something that’s not happening.”

On what should determine if a game can’t be played, and if that decision should be made earlier in the week: “In most of these situations, in a lot of these situations, it should come down to what medical people deem is the right thing to do, if the game is playable or not. I’ll just leave it that. Obviously we had the worst scenario that could happen, right? These decisions should be medical decisions.”