The Arizona Wildcats were blasted by the San Diego State Aztecs 38-14 on Saturday to drop to 0-2 in the Jedd Fisch era and extend their losing streak to 14 games.
The honeymoon period is over
There wasn’t much pressure on Arizona to win this game, but they at least needed to be competitive. That’s what Fisch’s first season is all about, right? Not necessarily winning, but showing that the program is at least making progress.
The BYU game felt like a step in the right direction. The SDSU game felt like two steps back.
Not only did the attendance figure (39,097) fall well short of Fisch’s 50,000+ expectation, the fans who managed to make it into the stadium probably wish they stayed home.
If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought Kevin Sumlin was still roaming the sidelines. The Wildcats allowed a 55-yard rushing touchdown just 98 seconds into the game, setting the tone for one of those blowouts that were commonplace under the previous coaching staff.
It’s hard to pick out anything the Wildcats did well. Punt, maybe? The things they hung their hat on against BYU—tackling, running to the ball—certainly didn’t carry over to this game. Arizona didn’t even convert a third down until early in the fourth quarter.
The only silver lining—if there is one—is that the Wildcats didn’t totally mail it in like they often did under Sumlin. Will Plummer threw his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and the defense only allowed three second-half points.
The caveat, of course, is that the game was well out of reach by then, so how much does it actually matter?
Plummer put it best when he was asked about his milestone moment: “Naturally it’s exciting...but same time, we were all still pretty pissed that we were losing by that many points.”
Fisch built up a lot of goodwill in the offseason, but more blowout losses like this and it won’t be long before it’s all gone.
Arizona Stadium was just as unprepared as the team
The ZonaZoo was brimming well before kickoff—the line to enter it wrapped all the way to Highland Avenue!— but the rest of Arizona Stadium was sparsely populated until midway through the first quarter. (And then it cleared out in the second half when the game was out of hand.)
Don’t blame the fans. Blame the athletic department for being wholly unprepared for this game. Issues with paperless tickets and a shortage of metal detectors meant long lines of frustrated fans were trying to pile their way in as the action got underway.
The UA acknowledged its mistakes after the game, releasing this statement: “Thank you to the fans for coming out and for your excellent support tonight. We appreciate your patience through some extra security measures entering Arizona Stadium. We acknowledge the delays and will work to alleviate them moving forward!”
Here’s how some fans responded:
It was absolutely terrible. 45 plus minute wait times. No semblance of order - lines full of people jamming in or cutting. Running out of things and overall terrible experience. You begged for people to come and you absolutely did not deliver.— Paul Bentz (@prbentz) September 12, 2021
Horrible game experience and horrible product on the field. I can’t imagine too many fans going in the future— DesertCats 97 (@Spf3308) September 12, 2021
Tw security gates ONLY? 40 minutes to get through? Please advise about your refund policy given these totally inefficient methods— AZCATJOHN (@azcatjohn) September 12, 2021
Arrived at 6:15 and waited an hour!! Never seen this in 20 years of going to games! Everyone was cutting, old people were struggling to stay in line and keep going! 2 metal detectors at the gate. Major apologies and changes are necessary! I want my paper tickets! #stupid— Tracey Rowley (@TraceyRowley2) September 12, 2021
Arizona has a QB controversy
Gunner Cruz got the start and looked timid all game, completing just 10 of 19 passes for 70 yards, a touchdown and an interception. San Diego State’s pass rush—one of its strengths—overwhelmed Arizona’s offensive line, neutralizing the Wildcats’ deep and intermediate passing game. Without that threat, SDSU crowded the box, swarmed the underneath routes and shut down the ground game, holding Michael Wiley and Drake Anderson to just 14 yards on 10 carries.
Even though the Cruz-led offense only produced seven points in its first 11 drives, Plummer didn’t enter the game until late in the third quarter. He wasn’t much better—he went 8 for 17 for 109 yards and a touchdown—but he at least was willing to sling the ball around. He beat double coverage to complete a 54-yard pass to Tayvian Cunningham, the highlight play of the night.
Because of that and Cruz’s struggles, Arizona is back to square one at the quarterback position, with Fisch saying he is “completely unsure” what the plan will be next Saturday against NAU.
“One of the two of them will start, I know that,” he said. “I took Gunner out for a few reasons. I didn’t just take Gunner out because we weren’t moving the ball. Donovan Laie got hurt, Jordan Morgan got taken out of the game. We didn’t have our left tackle, we didn’t have our left guard, the game was a little bit out of hand, but not completely. He was getting hit pretty good back there, and we weren’t doing a good enough job to help him, so I wanted to see if we could get a spark, change it up a little bit, a different dynamic with Will. He came in and he came in slinging, and I appreciate that. He made a nice red zone throw for a touchdown, made a great throw to Tayvian (Cunningham). So we’ll have to look at the two quarterbacks and see which one gives us the best chance.”
NAU comes to Tucson at the perfect time
Barring a massive upset, Arizona will finally snap its FBS-worst 14-game losing streak next week when it hosts the Lumberjacks. While the new coaching staff has tried to distance itself from the past, it’s hard to completely let go of it until the Wildcats actually feel what it’s like to win again.
“We’ve been on this losing streak for a while and it’s getting really tiring,” Plummer said. “We know that nobody’s out here feeling sorry for us, so we’re going to come to work on Monday and we’re going to try to get a win next weekend.”
Fisch’s message to his team and the fanbase in the meantime?
“If anybody thought this was gonna be easy, they’re out of their minds. That’s not what this is. This is a process. We’re trying to build something that’s really special here. ... We had Steve Kerr talk to our team before the game, and he talked about the time when hw arrived in year one, after coming in being last in the Pac-10 the year before, and how they had a battle to get through 11-17 before they were able to get 20 wins for 25 straight seasons. It’s a process, and these guys have the ability, no matter if they’re a senior or a freshman, to change the culture around here.
“And next week is another week and that’s the beautiful thing about football—you watch the game film, you make your corrections, and then we’d better have a great week of practice and come out with our hair on fire. We’re gonna absolutely have the best week of practice we can possibly put together, it’s gonna be hard, it’s going to be physical, and we’re going to get ourselves right, and then we’re going to come out with a mentality of getting off the schneid and win a football game.”