Arizona held its spring football game on Saturday. In terms of understanding how good—or not—the team will be, it was not exactly a great tell.
Not all football practices are created equal, and one in front of fans and broadcast on television figures to be less revealing than most. Add in that Arizona was playing against Arizona and, well, it would be unwise to read too much into the performances on the field.
Afterward, head coach Jedd Fisch summed things up rather nicely.
“I know we have a long, long way to go, but I think we had some playmakers out there today which was fun to see,” he said. “And then we just have to just get better here in the next four or five months.”
There’s still plenty of time before it counts, with practices that will undoubtedly reveal more about the team to come.
Yet, one thing about this year’s spring game that stuck out, especially when compared to last year’s, was that it was kinda sorta actually about football. Save for one gimmick play, a “touchdown” pass to women’s basketball star Sam Thomas, it appeared most of what Arizona ran is the kind of stuff you would see on Saturdays in the fall.
It’s almost as if Arizona football believes it is ready to focus on the players and talent on the field rather than try to distract from it.
And why not?
Although the Wildcats are coming off a 1-win season, optimism abounds, and it’s not in a hey, it can’t get any worse kind of way. No, there is a strong belief that better days are not only ahead, but in the near future.
The program has welcomed in a recruiting class that ranks in the top 25 nationally and third in the Pac-12. It brought in a handful of impact transfers, including the likely starting QB in Jayden de Laura. It’s all being added to a roster that, if we’re being honest, was probably a bit more talented than its record.
There were many games last season where Arizona was within one score in the fourth quarter, and there were a couple where its own miscues likely cost the team victory. They were also abysmal in the red zone, which if you haven’t heard (you probably have) has been a major point of emphasis this season.
Arizona was able to show off some of its red zone reinforcements, with Keyan Burnett, A.J. Jones and Tetairoa McMillan all catching touchdown passes.
That is what Fisch and his staff wanted to show fans. Yes there were water guns and water balloons, alumni in the house and and other fun things, all of which are great when trying to convince people Tucson is the place for them. But in terms of takeaways, the focus was largely on the football.
How many flea-flickers do you remember? End-around passes? Did you often see a play and think, “that was fun, but it will never happen a game.’”
A little, perhaps. But not nearly as much as in 2021. It was a scrimmage, yes, but the product on the field actually resembled football.
Of course, this begs the question of how much we can actually take away from what transpired Saturday afternoon. In terms of statistics, not much. Quarterbacks couldn’t be hit, which prevented them from being sacked some and perhaps robbed them of a chance to escape pressure and make plays. The play in the trenches was not as physical as you’d expect (or hope) during an actual game, and the play-calling wasn’t exactly imaginative. There’s also the fact that every good play for the Wildcats came at the expense of the Wildcats.
But one thing that was obvious was yes, there is far more talent on the roster than there was this time last year. You could just see it. The possible depth chart shows it.
The quarterback room is more talented but, perhaps most important, experienced. The depth at receiver is obscene, with a beautiful mix of size and speed. There are plenty of good running backs to choose from as well. Offensive line is again a question mark, but there’s reason to believe they’ll be improved, too.
On the other side of the ball, USC transfer Hunter Echols continued his torrid camp and appears like someone who could make an impact when it comes to rushing the quarterback. The Wildcats’ secondary has talented returners along with exciting newcomers, all of which could flourish in a new scheme.
This was all on display Saturday, front and center. All eyes were on the football because the football portends to be better. Everyone within the program knows it, and they want the rest of us to see it.