The Arizona Wildcats will begin preparations for their home opener against San Diego State when they hit the practice field on Monday night. The players have been off since returning home from Las Vegas just after 3 a.m. Sunday, but since landing the UA coaches spent quite a bit of time breaking down their first batch of film of their own team.
The verdict? Some good, some bad from the 24-16 loss to BYU.
“We were certainly very disappointed yesterday watching the tape, in regards to some plays that we felt we left out there,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said Monday at his weekly press conference. “And on the same token, we were very encouraged, watching the tape, of some of the plays that we were able to make.”
Fisch said reviewing the BYU film will help Arizona learn what needs to get fixed, and what’s not broken and shouldn’t get changed. He’s hopeful the Wildcats can learn from the loss, their 13th in a row, and put on a good show for what he’s hoping to be a big crowd at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night.
“I’m very optimistic about what’s it going to look like on Saturday night, and very hopeful that we are sold out,” he said.
Here’s what else Fisch discussed on Monday:
On the offense starting slow: “I think we had one 3-and-out the whole game, that was the second series of the game. The first series, we didn’t convert on the 3rd and 4 ... we threw a ball into the flat that was not a very good call. Then after that, I think we got going on the third series, we went about eight or 10 plays. Missed the field goal on the fourth series, it would have been 6-3. Then we drove down again at the end of the half and kicked a field goal. I felt as if, early on, we were just trying to get a feel for our team. And once I saw how our team was going to perform we became more aggressive.”
On what the offense needs to improve on: “We just had too many drives inside the 40 that didn’t end in points. Yardage wasn’t the problem. We probably left 150 yards on the table. We had the tight ends open many different times in the game, and we have to convert on those, we have to hit those. We had an opportunity—Will (Plummer) was in the game—we had Bryce Wolma open in the flat on a third down conversion, we got to hit that. Gunner (Cruz) was in the game, I think it was Bryce again over the middle, sitting there on 3rd and 7, we got to hit that. So there were some times that, we had Bryce in the end zone twice, once on a corner route, once on a nod route. Two different drives, one of which was an incompletion, one of which was a sack. Those are plays that we got to hit, we got to make those plays. I think offensively, we kind of got into a pretty good rhythm, we just had to make a couple tweaks here or there.
“There’s a couple calls that I would take back, I’d take back a third down call here, I take back a 1st and 10 at the 35-yard line and ask Gunner not to put himself in that position to have to take a shot. But as head coach you’ve got to do those things, too. It’s the play caller’s job to help the player to be in the best possible position on every play. It’s the player’s job to make the play caller right. It’s kind of a combination of the two that you’ve got to work together. If you call a play that’s not very good, live another down, throw it away, find an open checkdown and move on. It’s our job as playcallers to try to put ourselves in a position that those things don’t happen very often. Statistically, I think we’re okay, I’d like to see us better on third down.”
On empty red zone trips: “That was probably the most disappointing statistic of the night, not scoring in the red zone when you have opportunities. First of all, I mean, we didn’t make all of our field goals. We missed on too many plays. I think there was an opportunity to hit Tayvian. There was an opportunity to hit Bryce twice. There was a corner route that we threw, to Berryhill, that he barely stepped out on. We could have gotten him the ball earlier, and he would have been in bounds there and then we would have been 1st and goal on the 1, probably. Those three sequences really hurt us, and we have to get better in the red area. We’ll practice the red area tonight and everyday this week to make sure that we continue to improve there so those things hopefully don’t happen again.”
On the run game: “We were very efficient running it. A lot of times you have 3rd and 1 where we run the ball for a yard and half, that’s an efficient run, even though you only got a yard and a half. We had that a couple times, two 4th and 1s that we quarterback sneaked, so that’s going to not help your yards per carry, but I think that the running backs played extremely well.”
On the offensive line: “I think there were some times that we could have improved in our pass protection. I think we can’t cut in the hole, the running backs were cutting Mike linebackers through the holes, and you wind up feeling somebody falling at your feet. There were some times that we didn’t win on a pass protection, whatever position group that was, whether it be the center, the guard or the tackle, there was a time that something might have occurred and we had some seepage. Sometimes pass protection looks like that because the ball is being held too long, sometimes they win. I thought for the most part, the offensive line battled pretty good, played pretty good football. Certainly room to improve. We need to block better, for sure. And we will, but we need you also get the ball out and help them.”
On when to go for it on 4th down: “None of it’s really analytics, it’s just kind of how the game goes. How do you feel about your team. I mean I kind of know the analytics. I don’t have a chart or a sheet or a research study regarding like what we should do and how we should do it when it comes to that type of deal, other than a 2-point chart and an end-of-the-game time management chart. The rest of it just kind of comes down to what you think and what you feel, and a lot of it comes down to experience, and how these games go. I’ve only been a head coach for, I guess, three games total, but coached in a lot of games, and I’ve certainly seen how those things work. And in that case I felt really good about us being able to convert.”
On WR Stanley Berryhill: “He earned his number, I would say, he really did. We talk to him all throughout camp about the importance of,, if you’re going to try to change your number, wear number 1, we really want you to do everything right and really try to participate in the manner that you can affect the game. I thought what Stanley was able to do on Saturday night was effect the game in a very positive way. Even in the 2-minute drive at the end of the game, you can see the first couple of catches, I believe, were his. He was able to stay in bounds, break a tackle, get us 15 yards, get us 18 yards. I think he ended up with 12 (catches) for 102, which was his career high in receptions and in yardage. But as I told him, I said now we got to get you some touchdowns. We’re excited about where Stanley Berryhill can take us.”
On improving from one game to the next: “I would think that we would improve from this week to next week, next week to the following week. All of us will get better. All of us will look to see what we can call better, what we can do better. Gunner started one game in his life. If he can maintain that he’s gonna have a heck of a career. So we’re gonna do everything we can to help him get to that point. I don’t expect us to just be able to go out there and, nor do I really want us to go out there and throw it 45 times a game. Each opportunity he has, hopefully what he’ll do is, he will be smarter with the ball, and we’ll get the ball out faster and we’ll know what to call better and receivers will play better and the line will play better and everyone will just improve. And if we continue to improve, we’ll have a chance.
“I hope our team makes a leap from game one to game two. When you look back on that game I mean, I think we only had three or four penalties in the whole game. We turned it over one time, we were pretty assignment sound. We went down 21-3, we fought back to make it a 1-score game with the ball. So I think our team improved throughout the game. I think what will happen is we’ll just improve even more next week and then more the next week and more the next week. If we continue to know how not to lose games, we’ll start winning a lot more of them.”
On CB Treydan Stukes: “He knocked down a slant. I thought it was a really good play. Pass breakups are big. To play man coverage you’re going to be out there and make those plays. Stukes, he’s one of our better corners. He’s a top-3 corner for us, and those guys are able to just be intermingled. It was his opportunity to be out there on the island. We’ve talked to our guys that, when you play corner in man coverage, you’re on an island. It’s your job to stop the slant, stop the go. Those are the two routes that corners really have to handle if they’re going to play man coverage. And I thought we made a great play on that.”
On the defense: “The number one thing that was outstanding was how they ran to the ball. There’s so many good clips of three, four, five, six, seven players sprinting out of the pile running to the sideline. The play that the ball was popped up in the air—hopefully, that next time hopefully lands inbounds and not out of bounds, it could have been a fumble recovery—there was eight of our players surrounding that one BYU player. That happened numerous times. JB Brown, turned, left the stack one time and made an unbelievable play about 10 yards down the field right down the pipe to help with a tackle. I think the biggest thing that showed up for us was the fact that our guys ran to the football on every chance they had, which shows great effort, but it also shows you that there’s going to be an opportunity to create some takeaways.
“The other part of it that showed up was the ability to create some negative tackles for losses. That we need, tackles for loss is a huge part of the Don Brown system. You need to be able to get sacks. We hit the quarterback a bunch, but when you get more sacks. Obviously the run safety was a huge one, to be able to split the A gap and make that tackle. Both Tre Mason and Rashie Hodge were able to combine in on that.”
On what the defense can do better at: “We can’t give up explosive plays, but every time you end a game you’re gonna say that about the defense, right? Unless you can keep every single play to under six yards, or whatever it is, you’re going to say there’s going to be one or two plays that are explosive, you just hope they don’t turn into touchdowns. There was a 40-something yard scramble that really hurt us, I think we had a chance there, I think Kenny Hebert had a chance to make a sack on that. And then the touchdown that we let up, whatever that was, 67 yards, we should have had two guys on him. We wound up having a safety on the other side there. We’ve got to just improve some of those situations, but for the most part I thought our communication was good. I thought we we eliminated the tight end, which was a big part of of their game plan moving forward, we believed.”
On rotating players in at various positions: “I think (Michael) Wiley had 45 plays and Drake (Anderson) had 43. So, those two guys were in full rotation. We didn’t play anyone else at running back, other than those two guys. I would assume as we continue on, those two will get more reps. At the other positions, yeah, I mean we’ll rotate when need be. I do believe, part of coming from the NFL, you’re used to only carrying 53 players, 46 of them active on game day, you’re not used to a ton of rotation during the course of the game. There’s a comfort level of having five wideouts and three running backs, three tight ends. I know we played only Wolma and Lines in this game, but we’ll continue to look through that and see if we can get a few more guys on the field there.”
On K Lucas Havrisik: “I’m not too worried about Lucas. I told him just keep doing what you’re doing, e know you know how to make kicks, we know you made many kicks before. And as long as you just go on out there and stick with your routine, don’t overthink things and make the kick.”
On the importance of having a big crowd for the home opener: “I think that is a huge part of college football. You turn on the game last night, Florida State was down 38 to 20 (to Notre Dame), they had a full house that place went wild and crazy, and next email it’s 38 all going into overtime. And it was because of that energy and enthusiasm that they brought over it Doak Campbell Stadium.
“I believe that you saw the fan base come out (in) full force on Saturday night, I think we had over 54,000 people at the game, that was pretty awesome to see, and you could hear the Arizona crowd when we got that safety, that return, that touchdown, that 2-point play. And you could feel that shift (in) momentum. Now it’s up to us to take that thing on Saturday night, and make it absolutely an intimidating environment. An incredible environment, and we need to match the intensity of some of the other stadiums and programs across the country when it comes to a homefield advantage.”