After beating San Diego State to open the season, Arizona coach Jedd Fisch admitted there were things that still needed to be improved on, but that it was a lot more fun to coach off a loss than a win.
A week later, after the Wildcats’ first setback of 2022, he said learning from failure is just as important.
“The plan for sure is that we take the last game and use it to our advantage,” Fisch said Monday. “Losing gives you a lot of lessons, right? What do they say, you win or you learn?”
Arizona (1-1) will try to use what it’s learned about itself to get back on the winning track Saturday night at home against defending FCS champion North Dakota State (2-0).
Here’s what else Fisch discussed at his weekly presser:
On what he saw on film against Mississippi State: “Looking at the film, I thought there was a lot of good things that our team did. I thought we were in a good spot opening drive, we were very sharp, crisp. Really second drive we were in a good spot, we wound up hitting that screen that got called back where Jayden kinda, I guess his butt hit the ground while the ball was coming out. Defensively, first drive we had to figure out how often they were going to run the ball. And then I thought there was a really good stretch in the third quarter that our defense played really good. Schematically, we looked at a bunch of things. We’re continuing to evolve, get to know our players, get to see what our young players can do. Without a doubt we’re playing a lot of young players. I think we had a few hundred reps of true freshmen in the game. Certainly trying to figure out exactly what they do best and put our guys in position there.”
On getting Jayden de Laura to run more: “He didn’t run at all. He didn’t scramble (forward) at all. So there would have been about three or four opportunities, I think. What happens is, he scrambles around so often and makes plays, then all of a sudden it’s like there’s some times that it’s okay to know when to say when, and also know when to use your feet to your advantage. At the end of the half is a great example of knowing when to say when, just throw it away. You’ve got a shot at the end zone, you’ve got a shot at two guys on the flat, you have nine seconds and a time out. You just got to know when to say when, you have plenty of time to do whatever you want, other than take a sack. There was a couple of third downs that we could have scrambled forward and we didn’t. We talked about it and we’ll get it better.”
On the offensive line struggling: “We didn’t run the ball well enough, clearly. We’re very disappointed in the fact that we couldn’t get some of the runs off that we wanted to. I think it was like 11 pressures out of the 50 pass attempts, which is really the same percentage that we had the week before, about 20 percent. It just didn’t feel the same. We weren’t in as good of a rhythm. So we will just improve in all areas, coaching, playing, the whole thing. I think the fact of the matter is that it was a situation where we played against a good team, and we played against a good defensive front. We’re a good team and we’re a good offensive front and we have to continue to improve and get better than that in that regard.”
On using Jamarye Joiner as a Wildcat quarterback, and when to do so: “We were in a great situation on the 1st and 10 on the plus-28. We said that the first time we crossed the 30, after we scored a touchdown going fast, that we were going to get to that. That was the plan throughout the week. Had a great shot of hitting Jamarye right up the A-gap, wound up having a mental mistake up front and leaving the 3-technique. Should have never left the 3-technique, and I think tomorrow probably would have a great chance to hit his head on the goalpost there.”
On some bad snaps, including one that went over de Laura’s head: “I think what happened was there was a couple of times that Josh (Baker) was over the ball for a long time. And I think when that happens sometimes your arm starts shaking a little bit. The one that went over (de Laura’s) head was after a TV timeout and he was holding the ball for about, I think it was like 11 seconds before the ball got snapped. There was a couple other snaps that were just a little bit skewed. We just have to get better at that. We can’t have snaps that can cause negative plays.”
On how the snap being off can affect a play: “It can mess up a run because of how quickly you have to exchange the ball. I think for the most part Jayden was able to handle any snap when it came down to the passing game. But in the running game ... the one that was super high, the one that went from a 1st and 10 to a 2nd and (18), was certainly a situation where that was a run that was called, instead he had to cover it up.”
On he and de Laura talking a lot on the sidelines: “Jayden and I have been together all of two games. And as we’re continuing to learn one another, we had many conversations the week before prior, the week before as well. There’s going to be time in between every series that I’m going to talk to Jayden about what he likes, what he doesn’t like, where he’s comfortable. The defense that Mississippi State presents is a interesting challenge because of all the cloud coverages that they present, and how they kind of, for lack of a better term, run an umbrella-like defense so there’s no real shots down the field, based upon how they cloud the corners. So because of that, we had to talk about what intermediate routes we felt most comfortable with at each possession, and then talk about there’s times you get frustrated. It’s 25-17, you’re driving down and you have a 65-yard drive and you’re on the 30-yard line going in and the ball gets tipped up in the air and picked. How do you handle that and you come back and now it’s 32-17. Or how do we handle three possessions in a row where where we didn’t get a point, or we only got a field goal. We’re always going to talk.”
On de Laura’s relationship with his receivers: “It seems pretty good to me in regards to we don’t have many mental mistakes. He does a very good job of, if we’re at the line of scrimmage and going no-huddle, he does a great job communicating what he wants. And when we’re huddling he’s done a great job of getting them all up in the huddle and bring them out of the huddle pretty quickly. As I said on Saturday evening, one ... illegal formation when we were down 15-10 and we hit Dorian Singer over the middle, which would have been a first down on the 36-yard line, that was on me. Other than that I think he’s done a good job there with the receivers and continuing to build that relationship up knowing that he’s only played with them for two games as well.”
On de Laura’s 3 interceptions: “Mississippi State’s a very good defense. We had opportunities. Jayden extended plays and found guys. Jayden extended plays and probably could have ran or thrown it away and then we wouldn’t be having much of a conversation about the turnovers, because really the only one that occurred, let’s call it by the football gods, was a tipped ball. The defensive end that tipped the ball up, and that’s just the way it works sometimes. The other two were scramble plays, that I think he looked back on both he would throw the ball away on one of them and run on the other. The one to T-Mac on the sideline he could have easily scrambled ahead for 8 or 9 yards and we would have been right there on the 28-yard line again. And then the one on the 2nd down and 19 where it was like the longest play of all time. Just throw it away and live another down.”
On his reaction during ‘the longest play of all time’ and knowing they can happen: “Sometimes it’s a ‘no, no, yes,’ and sometimes it’s a ‘yes, yes, no,’ and it’s everything in between. There’s times that he goes out there and scrambles and we’re backed up on 3rd and 10 on the 6-yard line and he’s in the middle of the end zone, they bring the corner (in) and he spins around and makes a play and converts a 16-yard gain. You live with those plays because of the fact that he’s so gifted as an athlete. It’s our job to continue to help him playing within the parameters of the system and help him understand like there’s times you don’t have to do that. There’s times you can just hit a guy in rhythm. You don’t have to worry about skipping the first or second read. And then there’s also times that you can use your legs to your advantage. You’re a 200-pound guy that’s fast. So take advantage of that as well.”
On Michael Wiley’s improved play: “First I’d give credit to our strength program. I think he’s gotten, I know he’s gotten a lot stronger in the offseason. And he’s gotten a lot faster in the offseason. I also think that Coach (Scottie) Graham is feeling more and more comfortable in his second year of coaching, that he’s done a great job of really getting Michael to feel (good) using his stiff arm more. He’s certainly running more powerfully. He’s able to stick his foot in the ground and stay in bounds. That 34-yard run as well as the screen were both great balance, and he’s working really hard at that.”
On the status of DL Tia Savea, who was injured in the second quarter: “He’s gonna probably take it all the way to game time, like we had to do last Saturday. Work him out two hours prior and make a decision on whether he could play.”
On the cut block that led to Savea’s injury: “I think it is a legal play. As long as you get cut within the tackle box, you can do that. I’ve certainly coached that for a lot of years, so I’m not going to comment on that.”
On WR Jacob Cowing having 3 drops: “There was a couple of drops were unfortunate, the timing. I don’t know necessarily why. He doesn’t drop the ball. I’m not worried about Jacob dropping the ball. So we just have to move past it and chalk it up as an anomaly.”
On getting 5 takeaways in 2 games: “A huge point of emphasis was made, as you guys all know, has been taking the ball away. We have to protect the ball better as well on offense. Unfortunately we’ve taken it away five time and given it away five times. But defensively, our players have done a great job embracing the mentality that Coach (Johnny) Nansen and the defensive staff have put in, really through our culture and through our rules and through our football goals of attack and protect the ball. They’ve done a great job of attacking the ball in every moment. There’s times that we look to try to get the ball out that we haven’t but you can see great strip attempts and opportunities there. So we’re going to continue to emphasize that and hopefully continue to take the ball away.”
On the turnover sword: “I think it’s fun. I guess whenever it started, four years ago maybe with the turnover chain and then turned into the turnover throne and then the turnover crown. It’s a it’s a fun gimmick that seems as if a lot of teams have started to incorporate. I appreciate that our guys find something to get excited about. And it’s a way for them to celebrate with the fans, and celebrate with themselves and I think it’s fun. It seems to have worked so far. So hopefully we can continue that tradition of getting the ball away.”
On CB Christian Roland-Wallace’s play against MSU: “I thought he did very well. There’s going to be plays that are made always, in a situation where you’re going against a really good receiver, probably a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, something that certainly people are talking about in that conversation. He’s going to challenge you, he’s going to put the ball in a great location. There’s the back shoulder throw, there’s the over the top row, there’s the comeback, and when you go against the team like Mississippi State who’s probably I think ranked number one nationally throwing the ball, you’re gonna have some challenges. I thought he did a very nice job.”
On allowing only one play over 20 yards in 2 games: “Well, I love it. One of the biggest points of winning and losing is explosive play differential. And if our defense can continue to play with keeping everything in front of them, rallying and tackling, it shows me that we’re playing great team defense. And our goal has been to have 11 guys swarm the ball at every opportunity and that’s what kind of prevents the explosive plays from occurring. So our players, our coaches, have certainly bought into that part of our culture and part of our football goals.”