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What to watch for in Arizona football’s Spring Game

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 14 Arizona Spring Game Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats wrap up their first spring under coach Jedd Fisch with the Spring Game on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

The roughly 90-minute scrimmage begins at 12:07 p.m. PT and is airing on the Pac-12 Network, with former Wildcat greats Tedy Bruschi and Rob Gronkowski serving as honorary coaches while UA basketball coaches Adia Barnes and Tommy Lloyd will be their respective captains.

Here’s what to be on the watch for during the Spring Game:

Who’s on Team Red, who’s on Team Blue?

During the tail end of Thursday’s practice, Arizona’s players were broken up into two squads. Team Red, which will be “coached” by Gronk, did a walkthrough outside that included quarterback Gunner Cruz throwing deep to receiver Thomas Reid on a trick play, while inside Team Blue—which Bruschi will command—ran through its own plays.

How were the teams picked? “Arbitrarily,” Fisch said.

“I went through the roster and I went one here, two here, one here, two here, one here, two here, all the way across,” he added, noting that each team will have roughly the same number of first- and second-team members on it.

Several players have taken to Twitter to share which side they’re on, with wide receiver Jamarye Joiner, defensive tackle Kyon Barrs and viper Christian Young among those using the #TeamGronk tag.

The coaches have also been split up, with passing game coordinator Jimmie Dougherty and defensive coordinator Don Brown calling the plays for Gronk’s team and offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll and cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker doing so for Team Bruschi.

And there’s more than bragging rights on the line. The winning squad apparently will be able to dine from food trucks afterward, while the losing squad gets hot dogs.

“I want a big man’s meal that day,” said defensive end JB Brown, who is on Team Bruschi.

Who makes that last push before the summer?

Fisch said the Spring Game marks the end of the first half of Arizona’s preparation for the 2021 season, with summer weight training and player-run practices counting as the third quarter and then preseason camp counting as the fourth quarter. And like any team, taking momentum into halftime is always a good thing.

Asked how much of his offensive playbook would be unveiled on Saturday, Fisch said “not very much,” adding that those who have attended any of the practices will have seen more variety than what will be on display inside the stadium.

That doesn’t mean players won’t be trying to make that last attempt to impress before breaking camp. That figures to be particularly the case for QBs Cruz and Will Plummer, whom Fisch said earlier this week have been going back in forth in their battle for the starting job but that “not much” separation existed between them.

The QB competition wasn’t going to be completed in the spring anyway, not with South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud yet to join the team. He is in town for the Spring Game, having attended Thursday’s practice.

Back in the stadium with fans

Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke announced in his Wildcat Wednesday newsletter that all 5,000 tickets made available for the Spring Game had been claimed, though it remains to seen if everyone who claimed seats will show up. Still, it will mark the first time fans have been inside Arizona Stadium for a game since November 2019.

The UA’s three home games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season didn’t include the general public, with family allowed just for the opener against USC before additional restrictions were put in place.

Brown, who opted out of last season because of “a lot of not knowing” about how safe it would be to play, will be seeing the closest thing to game action since recording two tackles for loss in the 2019 Territorial Cup at ASU.

“I can’t wait,” Brown said. “It’s a great atmosphere already. I was walking in today and some random person came up to me and was talking to me about the game. We’re getting buzz around the city, like when I’m grabbing food and I’ve got my gear on people are bringing up the game. I feel like Coach Fisch did a great job getting the city to come in. I’m excited, I’m ready to go.”

Commissioner Fisch

With his assistants calling plays and each team having an honorary coach, what’s the actual head coach to do during the Spring Game? Schmoozing? Working the crowd?

“I don’t know if I’ll be mingling, per se,” he said. “I think more on the field watching, and listening. Trying to help the quarterbacks along and making sure they understand what we’re trying to get done. Maybe help the officials with spotting a bit, that’s an important role.”

Fisch said he’s also going to do his best to keep “balance and equity,” ensuring the game stays competitive throughout.

“Might have to make some trades in the middle of the game,” he said. “As the commissioner of this Spring Game I have the privilege.”