Saturday’s 27-point home loss to Oregon exposed many of the same flaws that have plagued Arizona this season, particularly with turnovers and run defense. Fixing those areas, if possible, will be key for the Wildcats to have any chance of pulling off an upset at Washington, which is heavily favored.
But at 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play, the UA is still far ahead of where it was a year ago and has shown the ability to be competitive when it doesn’t make mistakes.
“We know that there’s going to be some lumps that we have to take, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity this week to go play Washington and see how much better we can get,” coach Jedd Fisch said Monday.
Here’s what else Fisch discussed at his press conference to open Washington week:
How the offense looked vs. Oregon: “The first six possessions, which was what we had at half, we scored on the three of the six, fumbled the ball on the 7-yard line, missed a ball down the sideline to T-Mac and missed a ball on 3rd and 11 to Dorian (Singer). Other than that I think that that we moved the ball pretty much the way we wanted to in that first half. Pretty happy with overall kind of how we moved the ball, disappointed that we didn’t score. I think that we probably were in a position to be able to get 20 or 27 points there in the first half and didn’t, only ended up with 13. And then in the second half drove down the first drive, had Jacob Cowing on a choice route, which he ran a beautiful route, was wide open there and we wound up getting the ball tipped up in the air and picked. And that’s kind of when the game went sideways, I think. That was disappointing offensively. Overall we can be much better than that. I expect us to be able to finish those drives in the end zone and not turn the ball over twice instead of 15.”
On the defensive performance: “Really, what we got from (Oregon) was kind of what everybody’s gotten from them. Washington State let up 624 yards against them, I70 yards rushing. Stanford 515 yards, 351 yards rushing, BYU 439 yards, 212 yards rushing. And we let up 550 yards, 300 yards rushing. They are what they are. They’re a very, very good outfit right now and are playing a very, very high level, and we are doing everything we can to build our program to be able to have the years of sustained success that they have right now. They have certainly had years upon years of recruiting very, very good players, very, very big players, very, very strong players and have done a great job year in and year out of continuing to be in the top 10, I believe, in recruiting. We’re going to continue to build our program up in that same regard.”
On why the defense continues to struggle: “I’m gonna first give credit to Oregon’s offense on this one. They had a very good scheme, they ran the ball very well. And they threw the ball when they needed to in the perimeter. I think their quarterback was 13 or 14 at halftime or something like that. When you look at how I played against San Diego State, how we played against Colorado, defensively, how we played against North Dakota State against the pass, were all pretty good. Even against Mississippi State I thought we played pretty good on defense. In the end, though, (Oregon) moved the ball better than we could stop them really, this past week. And really Cal as well, but I think it was two different types of game. This one was more along the lines of they got better angles on it than we had. We didn’t find a way to get into the gaps the way we wanted to. We weren’t able to take them out of rhythm, and when you can’t take a team out of rhythm you might end up putting yourself in a position where you’re always behind the 8-ball. It was 2nd and 2 to 3rd and 1, it’s 2nd and 3. Or 1st and 10, first and 10, so you can kind of call what you want. And when you can call what you want, as a play caller you have a big advantage over the defense.”
On Jayden de Laura completing only 57.1 percent of his throws: “We started rushing passes. We started kind of half rolling or we didn’t need to half roll. We hurried on some balls that we threw to the running backs which were really unnecessary hurries. We’ve had a ball fly to Dorian, we overstrided and pushed up in the pocket and took a huge almost crowhop into the throw rather than throwing with the balance that he normally throws with. We could certainly definitely point to fundamentally he wasn’t as sharp as normal. I think the rush started affecting him a little bit more than it needed to. I’m looking forward to him bouncing back and having a great a great game this week.”
On not putting pressure on the offense to score every time: “I think what it comes down to is that—I talked our offense about this yesterday—is that the expectation is to score every time. And when you’re an offensive player you only should be able to only worry about and only control the offense. So it does not matter what’s going on on the other side of the ball, and it does not matter if (the opponents) score they or if they don’t. On our offense, we expect to be able to move the ball and score, and we’re going to do everything we can to not raise the anxiety level of having to score, and just talked to him about if you are doing your job and executing, not turning the ball over, then you should be able to move the football. I think our skill players have proven that they can do that.”
On how the game would have gone differently had Arizona not fumbled on its first drive: “I don’t know. I don’t know. We did score a field on the second possession, if it was 10-0 instead of 3-0, or 14-0, I don’t know. I don’t know what that would have looked like, I don’t know what it felt like. I know that we had a raucous fan base that would have loved it. I know the stadium would have been going crazy for it. But unfortunately, that happens sometimes, we put the ball on the ground. And what we talked to our team about is, when that does happen, when you play complimentary football, and our defense did, they got to stop right after we put the ball on the ground and we got the ball back. And what we need to do is then we need to score and then get another stop and score it again, find a way to get to scores. We haven’t done that this year. I know we did it last week, but for the most part, San Diego State we did it, last week we did it. But there’s times, like the Cal game would have been a great situation, where it’s 24-21 at halftime and we have the ball to make it a 10-point game, to try to find a way to get to the double-digit lead.”
On the choice to rush to the line for the play that resulted in the fumble: “We probably speed break six to eight plays a game, and we’ve done that (with) the Rams. You see the Packers do it, you can see the 49ers do it. You can see the Bengals do it. We’ve done it, every game we do it. I remember back in 2012 when Gus Malzahn was at Arkansas State and I went and visited with him, and he was talking about their speed breaks, which they still do today (at UCF). It’s a way to have a different tempo of breaking a huddle where you don’t have to go on the line of scrimmage fast, but you’re still able to play fast. It gives you some alignment issues, we were in an unbalanced formation when we broke the huddle, Jordan Morgan was on the right side, not the left side. And we had a wonderful opportunity to run the ball and on that play but the exchange wasn’t clean.”
On his assessment of the first half of the season: “I’m excited about the build. We’ve talked about trusting the process of getting better. Last year at the halfway point we were 0-6, this year we’re 3-3. We’ve had some really good games. We’ve played good football. I went back and looked, last year we were 101st in (total) offense, this year we’re (32nd). Last year we were (70th) in passing this year we’re 10th. Last year we were (119th) in third down, this year we’re 25th. Our red zone offense is far better. We’re giving up less explosive plays then we gave up. We have more ... takeaways at the halfway point this year than we had all of last year. I believe that we’re going in the right direction. We have a lot of recruits that want to be a part of our program. We have a lot of people that want to be here. We’re also, and I’ve said it from the beginning. we’re also at the very, very beginning stages of where we want to take it. We want to build this program into a championship-level program, into a program that we see Oregon at right now. or Utah. To get there, it has to take consistent recruiting classes, consistent development of your current roster. Players need to stay, player need to get bigger, better, stronger. Coaches need to stay, you need consistency. I went back and looked at Lance Leipold at Kansas, he’s had the same offensive and defensive coordinator for 13 years. When you want to have consistency you need it from your staff you need it from your players, and then I believe that we’re going to be able to have the type of program that all of us can remember they had during the late 90s and also that run there from 2012 to 2015.”
On how he feels the team is performing: “Actually, I’m happy with the way our team is playing right now. I think our team’s happy with the way they’re playing. You gonna always try to win every game you play, but we just played a team that’s 5-1, played a team that has had dominant performances against everybody that played against this year (other than Georgia). We felt really good about the way we played against Colorado. We lost to Colorado 34-0, we came back and we beat him 43-20 the next year. We lost to San Diego State 38-14, we came back and beat them 38-20. We played the FCS national champions, who haven’t lost since, and beat them at the end of the game. We put up 31 points against Cal, where a year ago we put up 10. So I think that our team is getting better. I would guess that we’re playing, we’re starting more freshmen than any team in the country. And I think that that’s going to show in the future and how good we can become.”
On the difficulties of recruiting linemen: “I would say finding big is hard. You have to find big, I think creating big once they get here is not very easy to do. So you need to find the body types, both up on the offensive line and defensive line, guys in the trenches, that are built a certain way in high school, like Big Jonah. Big Jonah is Big Jonah, and had that body type that he came out of high school (with) gives us the best chance to have an elite offensive lineman. Jordan Morgan very similar to that. On the defensive side, the Jacob Kongaika’s, the Ta’ita’is, those guys that are the young freshmen that are just built a certain way. Ta’tai’ (Uiagalelei) is a D-end playing at 260 pounds. Those are the guys that you can continue to build, because you not only need size but you need flexibility, wiggle, athleticism that go along with it. So it’s always gonna be a big challenge. I really like all of our young O-line and D lineman, and I think that we have an outstanding group tha that wants to come in here and help us immediately.”
On why West Coast linemen seem to be getting smaller: “I made a comment, I forget (when) it was a year ago or two years ago, maybe. You can certainly see how the health on the west coast has affected the size of some of the high school players. And I think that’s a real thing. I think it’s a real thing. The food that’s served in the cafeteria, the opportunities, what kids are eating nowadays on the west coast in California and whatnot. They are they’re not as big as they once were. And you go look at the Southeastern Conference, they’re still serving good food, I guess, down there.”
On DJ Williams: “I think he’s in better shape, first and foremost, so he can play a lot more of the game. That’s a tough situation when you don’t have a spring and then you just joined here and you’re trying to finish and graduate at another school and get here and miss all of spring football and summer conditioning. I think DJ and Jonah (Coleman) are both really improving. It was nice to see two explosive runs of plus 40 yards. I that’s the first time we’ve had that since I’ve been here, that I can remember the same game that we’ve been to runs over 40 yards. I thought DJ’s was a great run. I thought Jonah’s is at the end of the half was a great run. So I’m excited about the backs, in DJ, Mike, Jonah. We’re probably a couple of weeks away from Speedy coming back. When we can get all four of those guys back into rotation I really hope our run game can you know can go from that 135 yards a game back up to about 160.”
On the status of RB Michael Wiley, who missed the second half vs. Oregon: “Mike practice limited yesterday. We’ll have to see where he’s at. I’m hopeful on Mike.”