Arizona gave unbeaten Washington its toughest test of the season on Saturday night, but in the end the Wildcats still fell a touchdown short. In reviewing the film from that loss, Jedd Fisch saw all the places where that gap could have been narrowed.
“There were some opportunities in that game, that, really, as you watch it, it’s hard to watch sometimes,” Fisch said Monday.
Dwelling on what might have been is over, though, as Arizona has another tough task this week with a visit to No. 9 USC. In addition to facing reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and an explosive Trojans offense, there will be three former Wildcats starters (wide receiver Dorian Singer, defensive lineman Kyon Barrs and cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace) on the other side of the ball.
Fisch discussed that situation, among other topics, in his press conference to open USC week:
On Jayden de Laura’s rehab plan after missing the Washington game: “The plan will be similar, as we talked on Saturday night, that we’ll evaluate Jayden from yesterday’s rehab. This morning he was in treatment. I think I saw him at like 7:20 this morning in the building, getting treatment done. So he was in treatment in all morning. He’ll rest this afternoon, a player day off, and then tomorrow we’ll reassess in the morning to see if he has any ability to practice, if he is capable of being able to drop or we’ll just use tomorrow as another rehab day. And then Noah will take all reps with Brayden Dorman in that case. So we’ll know better tomorrow.”
On if de Laura will start at USC if he’s healthy enough to play: “I think that would be a safe statement to make.”
On how Noah Fifita played in his first start: “I think he played at a good level for a guy that was thrown into a game that was in front of a sellout crowd against a top-10 team. He completed a very high percentage of passes. Did a nice job moving the ball, threw three touchdown passes. Sure he like the interception back. You look around college football, I know ... Duke lost their quarterback. I know that Kansas lost their quarterback. It’s very tough to win in those circumstances, but Noah gave us a chance to do that, and I’m excited about, if Noah is playing this coming week, that he gives us a good chance to win.”
On Fifita going 0 for 5 on passes over 20 yards: “He hasn’t had nearly the same number of reps on those deep passes and Jayden has. Jayden is also very good deep ball thrower, and has always been with us, and that’s why we’ve been so explosive throwing the ball down the field. Noah is a very good deep ball thrower. I think what’s happened is, you get a few reps at it, you don’t know ... what’s the angle they’re going to take? What is the exact departure from the their second level of releases? Are they going to take it high, are they gonna take it flat? What’s the exact speed that they run out? If you’re accustomed to only throwing to the second set of receivers, and now Jayden is always throwing to the first set of receivers and now you’re going in and now you’re throwing to the first set of receivers, the speed’s a little bit different. Is it going to feel a little bit different for him throwing to Malachi Riley or Montana (Lemonious-Craig)? Is it gonna feel different for him going to Kevin Green rather than Jacob Cowing? I think we need to work through that. If he is going to go this week, he’ll have all the reps again with the starting group of receivers, and we should be one week better in that regard.”
On another slow start and being outscored 31-7 in 1st quarter this season: “I think this past game we had seven plays in the first quarter. So we had a 3-and-out and then they had a six and a half minute drive. Then we had a chance to throw a post to Montana and we wound up not having the right angle on the route, not enough trajectory on the ball, or it would have been a touchdown. And then we didn’t have another play in that first quarter. We’ve outscored everyone we played the second, third and fourth quarter. I think a couple of the games we had like a 15-play drive that started (in the) first and ended in the second. And then this past game we had a 13-play drive to start the second quarter that we had a touchdown. So we only had three drives, or four drives, in the first half, we scored on two of them. Unfortunately we didn’t score the first two, which would have been in the first quarter.
“And defensively we have to get off the field, also, so there’s more possessions. We had I think we were 12 minutes to three minutes in time of possession in the first quarter, so that all works together. We haven’t had an interception this year. So those are some times to give you an extra chance at it,and we have to find a way collectively to get a stop and get a score. But two possessions a quarter in the first quarters in the games hasn’t been real good for us.
“I think we ran 77 plays in the game. And when you can do that and only run seven in the first quarter, if means we’re doing 70 (in the second through fourth) quarters, so I think we got a good rhythm going. Noah maybe got some pregame jitters out, or first-game jitters, and if he plays this week then he’ll be a lot more experienced than he was last week.”
On facing former players: “Coming from the NFL you see it all, you do it all the time. So I feel like, personally, I’m not going to be affected by it. You’re accustomed to coaching a team, losing a player to free agency, now you’re playing against that (player). Personally, these are things that happen constantly on Sundays. You have three players on the other team that I think one is starting. Or at least C-Ro started last week, and then there’s other rotations of the other guys that are gonna have to be able to defend and deal with. If that’s the case, then our corners are probably going to have great awareness of Dorian when he comes into the game. I think that our offensive line has gone against Kyon so there’ll be familiar with him when he’s in the game. And then obviously, with C-Ro ... if he’s starting, then our guys will be aware of that as well. I think that the biggest challenge for our team is we don’t need to yuk it up before the game. We don’t need to have a big family party out there. I think our job is to go there and have a businesslike attitude to play good football, and I’m sure Coach Riley is telling his team the same thing. And then after the game, they can FaceTime each other in the locker room.”
On the gameplan against Washington: “We forced them to run the ball, we forced them to check the ball down, and that was exactly what our plan was. We held them to their lowest point total, we held the quarterback to (his) lowest yardage total, and we held the quarterback to no passing touchdowns. Now, you’re gonna have to give some to get some, if you’re going to do that. And if you’re going to do that, then you’re going to have a longer drives, you’re going to be on the field a little bit longer.”
On going for it on 4th and 1 down 14-0: “It’s never easy to go for it on the minus-34 yard line. Those who don’t turn out well if you don’t make it, right? You’re in a situation then where you can go down 21. But I also have great faith in our offensive line and great faith in our runners. I have great faith in the system, what we’re trying to do. Coach (Brennan) Carroll felt really good about the 4th and 1 call, so that was not an easy decision, but it was a decision that I was very confident in making.”
On safety Dalton Johnson and the turnover battle: “Dalton has been with us since I got here. We’ve had him for three years now, and he has really prided himself in getting better every day, every week. He’s gotten a lot stronger in the weight room. You can see that he’s now taking pride in taking the ball away, and that’s something we need to do more of. We’ve turned it over offensively I think twice in three games, one fumble, one interception, since the Mississippi State game and unfortunately we haven’t taken it away. We’ve taken it away once each game. So if you’re going to go three games with two (turnovers) you can go eight turnovers on the year on offense, that’s pretty good. We had an abomination against Mississippi State, but after that, I think we put ourselves in a position where we take great pride in the ball. Dalton has taken great pride of taking the ball from them.”
On wearing red jerseys: “The guys, for a couple of years, have been begging me to have a little color rush mentality. The NFL does it. I know a lot of teams out there do a bunch of different jerseys, I’ve kind of held on to the tradition. I like the jerseys that we wear every week, and the colors of either blue or white, but the guys have been asking for a color rush for a while. We thought that, if we’re gonna do a Red Out and we’re gonna play a top-10 team, our head of equipment, Adam, came to me and said, hey, what do you think about breaking out some red jerseys for these guys for this game? And I said, well, if we sell out and we beat Stanford. Those were the two criteria. I said we need to win two games in a row, so we beat UTEP and Stanford, so we’d be 3-1 going into the game, snd we needed to make sure that we sold out the game before there was any jerseys other than the traditional blue ones that were supposed to be hanging in their lockers. When those two things happened I gave the stamp of approval.”
On how the game plan is different when facing an explosive offense like Washington or USC: “We made a conscious decision this past week against Washington that we said we wanted to hold the ball for over 30 minutes. We held it for like 30 minutes and (nine) seconds. We said we needed to have long drives and make them go the long way. We substituted more than we normally do. We strung out the play clock more than we normally would., and then when we could balance out some tempo we would, but our goal was to try to be on the field as long as we could as an offense, and defensively make them go the long way. The plan worked the way we wanted it to work, and we felt if we held them to 30 points or less that’s what we needed to get done win the game. 31 was what we held them to ... and we said we couldn’t turn it over. We turned it over once, they turned it over once, and we wanted to have less penalties with it. We had eight for 60 and then 12 or 125. So all of it really came down to how we want to play the game. And we executed on that.
“And sure, as the offensive play caller if you’re the offensive coordinator, and not the head coach, you’re always going to push the coach to throw it deeper, go more, try to get more stats. It’s 38-3 against NAU, let’s try to get the 52. It’s 31-10 against UTEP, let’s try to get it to 45. And you don’t take into consideration, like, let’s bleed this clock out. Let’s finish the game. Let’s be healthy going into the next week. That’s been a learning curve for me over the last two years, now that I don’t have a checks and balances, calling the game and also being the head coach. But this was really and important game for us this week to execute.”