From 1-11 to bowl-eligible in under two years, Arizona’s turnaround has been pretty impressive. But there are still some memories from that first season that Jedd Fisch can’t let go.
One of those is his first trip to Colorado as the UA head coach, a 34-0 loss in 2021 that marked the first time the program had been shut out in nine years.
“The guys are looking forward to an opportunity to go to Boulder and play a lot better than we did when we were there a couple years ago,” Fisch said during his Monday press conference.
The newly ranked Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) are favored for the first time since Week 4 and are getting projected to go to some pretty good bowl games. Colorado (4-5, 1-5) has been going in the opposite direction, losing five of six since a surprising 3-0 start under first-year coach Deion Sanders.
Here’s what Fisch had to say about the Buffaloes and other topics:
On Pro Football Focus: “I use the Pro Football focus X/Os aspect of it, where we can find information about plays, games, people constantly. I don’t pay attention to the grades of Pro Football Focus, but the information that they have is fantastic. In our computer systems, we’re able to pull up every play action pass, everything that has ever (been) run. I don’t get caught up in the grades.”
On why he doesn’t look at the PFF grades: “We grade our own players. I think a lot of times when you’re grading a player, you don’t necessarily know what their role is on that play. You don’t get the play call.”
On Colorado’s massive roster overhaul compared to how Fisch built its first roster: “Our situation was very different than theirs in that regard. First of all, the university has to make a decision, are they going to allow you to keep players on scholarship but still bring in new players. You could still change your roster two years ago, I could, but the university chose not to do that. As a first-year head coach, there’s a rule in place that you can keep guys as a non-countable scholarship player and then just not play football. And you can just say, we’ll pay for your tuition but you can’t play football. That’s what (Colorado) did with some of their players, most of their players went in the portal. We chose not to do that, the university chose not to do that. And then our university signed a recruiting class before we arrived, so we wound up having two spots open when I got here, and then we ended up bringing in about seven or six in the portal.”
On if he’d do it differently if this were his first season: “Yeah, I would probably say we would have handled it differently in 2023. I probably would have handled it differently myself, the university may have handled it a little differently. But (Colorado) chose to do it their way. I think 10 of 11 defensive starters are transfers, and #43 is the only guy that was on the team a year ago defensively that starts. And then offensively ... I think it’s probably 10 or 11 transfers there, too. So it’s a different team. It’s a different build than what we did.”
On what changed for Colorado after its hot start: “There were some fluke things that have happened to Colorado. They were up 29-0 at halftime, I’m sure that they would expect to not win that game. A lot of things have to happen for you not to win that game. They were playing really good in that game until the second half didn’t go their way. They lost the UCLA by 12 on the road, so that was against a really good team, and they lost last week by a score, against a really good team. So I think they’re playing pretty good, I just don’t know if the score has gone their way. The first couple of games they started 3-0 or whatever it was, but they went to double overtime against Colorado State, and then they wound up doing a great job against TCU to start the season. They played a great game against Nebraska. So they’re a good football team. And I think that they have a lot of potent weapons that could cause us a ton of challenges. They’re right in it every single week. 7-6 against UCLA at halftime, I believe it was, so we know we’re gonna have a great battle especially on the road.”
On talking to Taylor Upshaw and Montana Lemonious-Craig about facing their former team: “College football has changed so much. We had (Tyler) Mano and Tia (Savea) and (DJ) Warnell and (Martell) Irby that we had to have similar conversations with. There’s always going to be something, someone came from a certain school nowadays that you used to not have to deal with. So yeah, we talked about it, and we try to not make it personal, not make it emotional. Just play football. Just go play a team. Go out there, don’t worry that you came from there. Don’t worry about that you made a decision to go somewhere else, and just play ball. I think if we can be focused and disciplined and play ball and have (only) three penalties again, like we had last week, then we’re doing it right. If we start getting silly and start doing some dumb things, then we got to deal with that.”
On avoiding a letdown after becoming bowl-eligible: “We qualified for a bowl, that doesn’t mean really anything other than we qualified for a bowl. It wasn’t the last game of the year. It wasn’t that we were 5-6 and won the 12th game to get into a bowl game. Now we’re gonna play Colorado and try to get to seven wins. That’s the goal. One of our goals is to play 13 or more games, so we hit that goal. That’s all that happened. We hit that goal to play 13 or more games. Now we have an opportunity to reset and start trying to achieve other goals. One of which clearly is going to be to go 1-0 this week and figure out a way to make sure that we take care of business in Boulder.”
On Upshaw tweeting the date of the Arizona/Colorado game after transferring to the UA, and why he left the Buffaloes after one semester: “I didn’t know that he tweeted that. I have no idea why he left Colorado, I knew him from what I read things about him at Michigan. That was where most of my research was, at that point in time. He was only in Colorado for spring. So when he went into the portal, I called the guys that I know that were at Michigan. Tell me about the guy. Whatever he chose to do, why he chose you go in the portal after a semester I don’t really know. I never really asked him. He became available, he reached out, he wanted to become part of our program, wanted to help us on the defensive line. He’s done a fantastic job, he has 7 1/2 sacks on the year, and has become a real disruptive pass rusher.”
On why the 2022 recruiting class has been so successful: “We knew it was a really good class. It was arguably the best class in the Pac-12. You had players that have traditionally not come to Arizona come to Arizona. You had guys that were committed other programs that signed to come to Arizona instead. You start naming all the people in the class, and it’s one after another after another that we watch them play. They’re all high character. Noah Fifita has done a fantastic job of rallying the troops. Jacob Manu did a great job of rallying the troops. I think 13 starters from that class of 22. So that’s pretty crazy.”
On what was discussed during the full-team huddle on the field before the 4th quarter vs. UCLA: “Finishing. Fourth quarter is our favorite quarter. We feel like we work extremely hard to get to the fourth quarter. It’s a very important part of our standard is how we finish and what we do at the end of the games. We know you don’t win games in the first quarter. You don’t win games in the second quarter. People are worried about if we’re starting fast or not earlier in the season. You win games in the fourth quarter. That’s what we reminded them.”