Arizona is 1-0 for the first time since 2017, and a win Saturday against Mississippi State would give the Wildcats their first 2-0 start in seven years.
The 38-20 win at San Diego State has already started to draw some national attention to the program, with The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy now projecting Arizona to make a bowl game.
The UA hasn’t arrived, though, says coach Jedd Fisch. Far from it.
“We’re just trying to get this better today than we were yesterday,” Fisch said Monday. “We want to do everything we can to make our last game our worst game and continue to try to build this program to where we can sustain playing a competitive football game week in and week out. That’s our goal, and whether that be in the red zone or with takeaways or with penalties, whether that be with points. We know that the ultimate goal is to score more than the other team, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to prepare.”
Here’s what else Fisch said during his weekly presser:
On his review of the SDSU game: “What showed up to me the most on Saturday, and really from the film, and the TV copy, and being on the sideline, was that our players bought into our culture for the game on Saturday. We talk all the time about trusting the process. We talk about playing with passion, loving and your teammates, embracing the grind and play the next play. And I kept hearing our guys say ‘next play, next play.’ I kept seeing our guys pick each other up.”
On being conditioned for the heat: “I felt like the weather was the weather, it was hot out there. And if you listen to our players’ quotes they all talked about embracing the grind all summer long to help prepare them for the game itself. The preparation is critical, trust in the process of getting better is critical. So I feel like they did all of that. Players really produced, the new players and players that have been here, a combination of both, really produced at a high level.”
On what made QB Jayden de Laura to WR Jacob Cowing connection work so well: “They were very efficient. It’s probably the first thing that stands out. They were very much in command of the offense. They looked very comfortable out there. They played confidently, fast. And when you can play confidently and fast it gives you your best chance. If you’re processing or thinking through every call, or where’s everybody at, or what am I supposed to do versus this coverage, it’s going to slow you down and it’s going to be an extra half a second and that’s when the pass rush is going to affect you.”
On de Laura’s leadership: “He loves the game of football and he loves to compete. So he has an infectious personality out there. You can clearly see players were excited to be playing with him and playing around him. He certainly was very prepared to play in this game, and now we’ll just continue his preparation. The more prepared you are, the more people will listen to you and the more people will follow you. And I thought it was pretty evident that people were excited about him being behind center.”
On shaking off the interception: “Next play mentality is what we’ve continued to preach all training camp long, all summer long. We practice saying it, we practice saying it on the practice field. If we threw an interception in practice, the very first thing you should hear all of our offensive players say to the quarterback is next play. Next play. In the same regard if you throw a touchdown pass. We tried to work very hard at that, living in the moment, the mindfulness behind living in the moment, I think he showed it. Interceptions are based on a lot of different things, it’s not just based upon what throw or what route. There’s a lot of things that have to happen for an interception to occur. They made a good play on the ball. Probably shouldn’t have happened on our side of it, but he knew that he was able to go back out there. Felt very confident that we could drag the ball down.”
On rotating running backs all game: “I feel really strongly that we have four very good backs that are very capable of playing and helping us win a game. We didn’t as a coaching staff want to have three of about the sideline until one got tired, so to speak. So Coach (Scottie) Graham did a great job of making sure that every chance we had to get someone fresh in the game he did it. There’s some times when you go tempo you can’t always do that. The amount of touches that each guy had was pretty close to what our goal was going to be for this game. And I think what we were able to do is, throughout the game, keep giving them a fresh body that they had to tackle.”
On if this is what he expected from leading rusher DJ Williams: “I think DJ is gonna get better. He came, what, three days prior to start of training camp? So he didn’t have the summer conditioning program. He didn’t have the summer strength program. So he’s still doing a lot of extra in order for himself to be in the best shape of his life that he can be in for us. He’s a big body that plays with a good low center of gravity. We did see that in his time that Auburn when he was rushing the football.”
On the improved strength of the RBs: “All those guys, you could see the benefit of our strength and conditioning program and Coach (Tyler) Owens and his staff. Michael Wiley was breaking tackles more than he was a year ago. Jonah (Coleman) brought his weight down to 215 pounds. He was not letting the first guy tackle him very often. It was pretty cool to see those guys, and really a credit to coach Owens and his staff.”
On offensive lineman Sam Langi playing three positions: “Sam has, all training camp, shown the ability to play guard and tackle. We’ve used him as a utility man in that regard. Brennan (Carroll) has done a great job of making sure that, not just the starting five were getting the reps at the starting five positions, that we’ve been able to move guys, almost all of them, around. So they’re getting reps at other positions, so therefore we’re able to be successful if you do have an injury, which we all know in the game of football is going to happen. Sam wasn’t uncomfortable being out there. He was playing some tackle, then playing guard. The second half of the game he was playing a lot of guard, and I felt he did a really nice job.”
On the offensive line: “They did a really, really nice job. We gave up one sack. It was a smart sack, (Jayden) could have thrown the ball away and we would have been no sacks, but we wanted the 40 seconds to run off the clock at that point in time. I think Jayden’s intelligence showed up there, his football awareness showed up there. There was, I think like 5:13 on the clock, and we wind up taking a sack there and now it’s 4:30 rather than 5:12. So that was the only sack in the game. We ran the ball for 170 yards against a really, really good defense, and the team that was giving up (82.2) yards per game rushing a year ago. The other part of it that showed up with our offensive line that I was so impressed with was their preparation. Those guys understood what was coming their way. They were outstanding communicators. I think that was recognized by the other team, they made a comment regarding the preparation of the offensive line, and that’s a tip of the cap to Brennan Carroll, Luke McNitt, our analyst, as well as all of our players on the offensive line.”
On what went wrong on the blocked punt: “We were too far back. Our personal projector (Josh Donovan) was too deep into the end zone. That’s on coaching, that’s on us. We need to do a better job there making sure that when you’re on the 1-yard line and you only have 11 yards (to punt) it’s different than when you’re on the 4-yard line and you have 14 yards or 5-yard line you have 15 yards. When you only have 11, which is the least you can possibly have, you just need to be further up. We just need to do a better job execution and coaching that, and that’s on us. We’ve got that fixed.”
On why defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen got a game ball after the SDSU win: “He got his players to play with great passion. Clearly, statistically, it wasn’t hard to make that decision. We held the team to under 100 yards passing. We held the team that scored 38 points against us a year ago to 13. We held a team that rushed the ball for 270 yards against us to 170. And he got his players to play really hard. And it was his first game as a play caller thought that he did a really, really good job, as did the whole defensive staff.”
On the defensive line: “I thought the front did a fantastic job of mixing it up. It was pretty cool to see all the new faces. There’s a lot of guys that weren’t on this team last year that the defensive coaches had to get ready.”
On freshmen Sterling Lane and Jacob Manu playing ahead of others on the defensive depth chart: “They moved up. They had a really good week of practice. They did a great job with the scout team the week prior to, the four days or so before the game. They kept showing up. They kept showing up in conditioning, they kept showing up in the weight room, running fast, being strong, being physical and being instinctive. And when we saw that we felt like that they were maturing faster than maybe we’d thought, and therefore we had a chance to play some more young freshmen. That’s what we want to do, we want to develop the players that arrive and we want to keep building off the foundation of the older guys.”
On the improved play in the red zone: “Our defense held them to 25 percent touchdowns, our offense scored 80 percent of the time on touchdown. So that was one week. We need to absolutely get better next week, or this week coming up, in the red zone. We have to do it again. And then we have to do it again. And at the end of the season we’ll evaluate how we’ve done in the red zone. How we’ve done in turnovers, how we’ve done in penalties, just like we did at the end of last season, but right now it’s just a building process.”
On Mississippi State’s passing attack: “I haven’t seen much about their offense right now other than what I already know. I know (Will Rogers) threw five touchdown passes. I know that he was an outstanding quarterback a season ago. I know he’s a very good passer. I know Mike Leach is always gonna have very good passers. There’s nothing really surprising in terms of the fact that he’s producing a 400-yard passer, that’s what he does. They throw the ball a lot. And the key to be good in that offense is being accurate. And that’s what they look for, that’s what they found. And I’m sure it’ll be a great challenge for us.”
On the expected crowd for the home opener: “I hope all of our fans come, I hope Tucson comes. I would certainly expect a great turnout and expect our fans to continue to support us and even load up the stadium this go around. It’s it’s a great opportunity to watch good football. Obviously we know we have a great opponent coming in town from the Southeastern Conference, Mike Leach coming in town, so you know they’re going to be extremely well prepared and an extremely good football team. And our guys are excited about that. And I hope our fans are. I hope that we make this an incredible home field advantage, and we certainly are built for it. I know there’s not too much other things on Saturday night at eight o’clock, so might as well be here to watch us.”
On if playing an SEC team makes this a bigger game: “Not really. I’m really focusing on us, and how can we get better. Keep getting better each day. And then we’ll see if Saturday we can play better than we did last Saturday regardless of who the opponent is.”