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Jedd Fisch sees ‘plenty of opportunities’ for improvement after Arizona’s loss to San Diego State

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jedd-fisch-arizona-wildcats-quarterback-nau-preview-weekly-press-conference-2021-sdsu-tackling Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Jedd Fisch watched the film of Saturday’s loss to San Diego State as soon after it was over, then a few more times on Sunday morning. But no matter how many viewings he sat through, one thing didn’t change: his opinion of Arizona’s performance in its home opener.

“There were a lot of things that went wrong on Saturday night,” Fisch said Monday. “I was very disappointed that we couldn’t get things going. I hold myself very much accountable for all the defeats, and make sure that the players get the accolades for the victories, as they should.”

Fisch said Arizona missed 16 tackles against SDSU, up from six against BYU, and also cited Arizona’s poor blocking and pass protection on offense in addition to quarterback Gunner Cruz’s decision-making. All of that means the Wildcats will go back to the fundamentals during what he said will be a “very serious week of practice” leading up to next Saturday’s game against NAU, arguably the team’s best shot to end a losing streak that now stands at 14.

“I can’t wait to get our first victory, and get that cloud lifted, and then from that point on go ahead and just play ball, and I know that that’s what we’re going to do,” Fisch said.

Here’s what else Fisch said on Monday:

On his hopes for a good crowd for the NAU game: “We’re excited about getting back into our home stadium. Very hopeful that we can recreate the buzz and energy that we had in the Zona Zoo. I know there’s 50,000 people that can find a way to get here, and it certainly would be worth it. It is a great thing to do, go watch a football game, it’s a great thing to do live. I know we’re working some of the kinks out that occurred last week, but we are going to again reach out to all the students, all the fraternities, sororities, dormitories on campus, off campus, and encourage them to come back out and come be a part of our game, come watch us play. Why wouldn’t you want to do that. So we’re going to build it the right way, we’re going to build it with energy, enthusiasm. We’re going to follow the path that guys like Barry Alvarez did before us, guys like Frank Beamer did, guys like Steve Spurrier did at South Carolina, guys like Matt Campbell did at Iowa State, and build an incredible gameday environment, gameday atmosphere. And when you do that, recruits start wanting to be a part of it and start winning ball games.”

On who will start at quarterback: “I’m going to start Will (Plummer) and see how that goes. Give Jordan some opportunities as well during the week of practice. Plan on playing Will at this point, I thought he did a very nice job when he got in there, thought he’s handled himself extremely well throughout the entire process here. The training camp competitions, spring ball competition. The times that he had a chance to go play. He went in there, he was tough. He was the lead blocker for Drake (Anderson) on what could have been a touchdown to bring it to 16 points. Unfortunately we had an offensive holding on that call. He dropped his shoulder on a scramble, which I would have preferred him not to do, but he certainly showed a toughness. He made a couple of nice live field throws to BJ (Casteel). Threw a nice ball day to Tayvian (Cunningham), both in the end zone and also down the field.”

On whether Arizona’s passing issues were more on the QB or the offensive line: “I watched the game ... Saturday evening. I came back in here and watched it, graded it. Then watched the game on Sunday a couple of times, and had those discussions. Could (the quarterback) have gotten the ball off on time, and then therefore not gotten hit? Could we have run a better route, which therefore would have allowed him to get it out before he got hit? Unfortunately early in the game we had opportunities that we missed. And therefore, resulted in hits, therefore result in scrambles, therefore result in negative plays, throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage, some things that we just never should have done. That to me is what I look for. I think the quarterback position’s about decision-making, timing and accuracy. Did he make a good decision? Well, if it took too long, then no. Was he accurate? The ball behind Alex Lines, yeah that resulted in the interception. Could he have caught it? Maybe. The decision-making was good, the timing was okay, but the accuracy was off.”

On how many options he wants a QB to have on a play: “I think less options are better for young quarterbacks. More options become complicated and confusing. Less options are certainly better early in a game where you’re going against a team that is known to bring Cover Zero blitz 60 times and had four turnovers the week before.”

On the pass protection: “We need to be better pass protection-wise, that’s 100% fact. We will focus in on the fundamentals and pass projection once again. They (San Diego State) are very good defensive line, they caused some issues, but we need to improve. We will improve there, and then hopefully that won’t happen, the quarterback will get a little bit more time, and the quarterback has to be nice and quick-twitch there.”

On how many touches Stanley Berryhill III should get: “I would probably like to see him targeted at least 10 times in the game. And then opportunities outside of that are always nice to get him. I think that there’s a place for a playmaker to be able to find spots on your call sheet to incorporate him. But also, there’s a place for him just to continue to do his job at the highest level of what we asked him to do, and make sure that he continues to do that.”

On falling behind and not being able to bounce back: “There was also a lot of things that, unfortunately, we weren’t able to fix at the time. The fourth play of the game, we had two guys available to make a tackle, we didn’t make a tackle, they rip off a 60-yard run (and) it’s 7-0. We go three and out, it’s 3rd and 2, we have a sprint out available, we don’t hit the hitch or the corner, we’re late, we don’t scramble for the two yards. We punt. We have two guys available to make a tackle on the tight end, neither guy is there to make the tackle, the tight end goes for 70 yards or 83 yards, whatever it might have been. It’s 14-0. We go 3-and-out, we punt, it gets blocked. An easy four by four look, we wind up completely missing on our gap, and we have a guy run right through and block it for a touchdown. We come back to make it 21-7 and we sack him twice the next series, and it’s now third and long, we get the ball back. We have the 10-yard run, I think Drake had a 10- or 11-yard run and we wind up having a 3rd and 6 where we missed. We had a slant, we don’t throw the outside lane and we don’t convert. And then the game continued to kind of spiral out of the way, we couldn’t get out of our own way. We had 3rd and 11, 3rd and 13, 3rd and 12, 3rd and 14, 3rd and 17. We had a 4th and 1, we false started. We had a touchdown called back because of holding. So I would say there was plenty of things that we can fix, plenty of opportunities that we have to make ourselves a better football team.”

On the play calling: “We need to call better ball plays, we need to coach better, prepare better, play better, execute better. I call the plays, we had a poor offensive performance. I have to do a better job in our preparation to make sure that there’s certain plays that are available, we got to hit on them. There are certain plays that we need to be able to make. And there are obviously better plays that can be called at times as well.”

On the tackling: “The tackling was bad. We missed 16 tackles. The week before we missed six. We have to go back to fundamentals, we go back to working on tackling. We do a tackling drill every single day. But you got to make tackles. You’ve got to block, you’ve got to tackle. Neither one of them we did very well. Once we start improving in that aspect of the fundamentals, then hopefully we’ll be able to improve in all aspects of our game. We will have a very serious week of practice this week. We will be padded up, ready to roll, and we will come out on Saturday night with a sense of pride. And I believe that our guys are going to be extremely excited to go out and play as they have been so far this season.”

On his postgame routine, and if it differs after wins or losses: “I do like to watch the game after the game is played at least one time through. I’m probably tired after a game, is probably the best way to describe it. I’m not one that, I know some guys can go out and have a good celebration after a win, or be pretty down after defeat. I’m pretty tired. During the week, I don’t sleep very much in order to be able to be as prepared as I can for the game. So after the game I like to just be with my wife and kids. Of course, they’re night games, so I usually would just go to bed after I watch it. And then Sunday morning, I come in and get to work. That’s really what I believe in, I believe that’s what this whole process is going to be about. We’re building something, brick by brick, and we understand the undertaking that we have all chosen to be a part of, and are extremely excited about it. And it comes with being able to turn (around) a program. And that’s what we’re most excited about, and as I mentioned, on Saturday night, I had a great conversation with Steve Kerr regarding that. I reached out to some other people I know that have gone through this process, and I can’t wait.”

On Tayvian Cunningham: “Tayvian’s made some big football plays for our team. He got us in a situation that was first and goal at the 9-yard line against BYU, down a touchdown, and he got a touchdown pass last week, caught another 50-yard gain.”

On what led to making a change at kicker: “Competition is the central theme of our program, and everybody is constantly competing. Everybody is constantly competing to get better, do their job well, and execute. When we went back and watched the film, and then we watched the way we kicked during the week. There were some times that Loop stepped in and kicked on Tuesday and Wednesday and kicked the ball really well. We felt like it was an opportunity to give Tyler that chance, give Lucas (Havrisik) a little bit of a, call it a breather, take a step back and make sure he feels good, his body feels good. Focus in on kickoffs and that’s what he did. We had that conversation. I talked to Lucas about it, and he totally understood and was supportive. Not happy, not excited, but supportive.”

On Jamarye Joiner’s status for NAU: “I believe that he should be healthier, one more week healthy. He was ready to go. We had him scheduled for five, a maximum (of) 10 plays. I believe that he’ll be scheduled up for a little bit more than that and then we’ll see. But he’s got to also beat out the other guys. For him to play that means that BJ (Casteel) is not going to play or that means that Tayvian’s not going to play or that means that Boobie Curry is not going to play, and those guys have all been playing for every play in training camp, every play in spring. Jamarye coming back will just help our depth right now, and then we’ll hopefully find some plays that can get him in the game.”

On the health of the offensive line: “Everybody will be up. We’ll have 100 percent attendance, unless something happens in the course of the week in practice. We expect everybody on the depth chart, everybody can be available, and be prepared to start as it was last week. The depth chart should be exactly the same.”