clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Alamo Bowl: What Jedd Fisch, Arizona players said after Wildcats’ win over Oklahoma

arizona-wildcats-football-alamo-bowl-jedd-fisch-fifita-tetairoa-mcmillan-cowing-maldonado-dalton @JasonScheer on Twitter

SAN ANTONIO—As Jedd Fisch opened the final press conference of his third season as a head coach, he looked at the five players who joined him on the podium. None of them were part of the program when he arrived, in the middle of what would become a 20-game losing streak.

After Arizona beat Oklahoma to win the Alamo Bowl, completing the fourth 10-win season in program history, Fisch couldn’t help but bring up that rough recent past.

“Two years ago we started this journey ... we went 1-11, and everybody believed in what we were trying to get done,” Fisch said. “For this team, the amount of players we have that joined us while we were going through the adversity, for them to be able to experience this now is pretty amazing.”

Our game recap can be found here, along with social media reactions to the Wildcats’ 38-24 win. Below is what Fisch, quarterback Noah Fifita, receivers Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan and safeties Dalton Johnson and Gunner Maldonado said afterward:

Fisch on the win: “I’m really thrilled for our team today. The way our team played this game I thought was just pretty amazing. Defensively, six takeaways in a game, they kept us in the game, they made plays at the right time. They scored a touchdown. They set up great field position. I can’t say enough of our defensive staff, our defensive players and what they did for this game. Just amazing. I would say that on top of that, I think offensively, Noah, T-Mac, Jacob just made some plays in the passing game when we needed it. Together I think as a team we just played great football.”

On the message to the team when down two scores: “Well, it was 24-13, and they had the ball … driving into the red area. Then we have an 87-yard return for a touchdown by Gunner to make it 24-19. There’s not a lot of conversations that are going on. Halftime was 14-13, we talked about, hey, it’s going to be a battle. We were expecting a battle. There was nothing going to be easy even though we went up 13-0 in the first quarter. But the guys just kept competing. I really believe our strength staff does an amazing job of making an emphasis of the fourth quarter is when we win games. We made the play on defense, then Noah made an unbelievable play on the 2-point play to Montana (Lemonious-Craig) to make it 24-21, and at the time I think the springboard occurred and I think (Martell) Irby made an incredible pick to (let us) kick a field goal to tie the game up, and then those two touchdowns in the fourth quarter were fun to be a part of.”

On the defensive performance: “It was phenomenal. Six turnovers in a game is a dream, number one, and we scored 28 points off of the turnovers, so that helps. But when you look at it, the way our defense played all year, they just got better and better and better and better and better, and they just kept finding ways and finding ways to make plays. We’ve got one of the greatest stories this season with the defensive turnaround from a year ago until today, and the fact that we have so many players returning again just sets the standard and raises the standard. And Coach Nansen and Coach Akina and Coach Kaufusi and Coach Cecil, Coach Richardson, amazing job of getting these guys in position to play hard, believe in the system, and then be able to make the plays like they did today.”

On the 4th quarter offense: “We kind of settled down a little bit in the fourth quarter. We made some plays. T-Mac made plays to get us going. There were some big-time slants that he caught for us. Some big-time plays over the middle that he caught for us in that situation. Noah hung in there. Used his feet a little bit more. I think a couple of those scrambles made a big difference for us. Obviously Jacob made a huge play for us in our dash pass, and then we were able to run the ball there at the end. We tried to run the ball. We struggled early and really struggled throughout the game, and credit to Oklahoma. Oklahoma has got a heck of a defense, and Coach (Brent) Venables is probably one of, if not the best defensive coach in the country, so they gave us a lot of challenges and a lot of unique looks. But our guys hung with the plan. We adjusted a couple things here or there, and DJ(Williams) brought us home, as he always does, with that final run.”

On the offensive line: “We made a couple changes. I think everybody competed really well. I think they brought some challenging looks, challenging fronts … that made it difficult on Joe (Borjon) on his first start, made it difficult on Raymond (Pulido) on his first start at left tackle. Kicked Jonah (Savaiinaea) back out at tackle there in the fourth quarter and brought Leif (Magnuson) in at guard and tried to make a couple changes there. But in the end we were shuffling around and we were trying to get our best five out there. Jordan Morgan is a first-round pick, so when you lose him for the last game at the left tackle position, you’re going to end up having a couple challenges early. But I think the guys settled in, and we were able to get done what we needed to.”

On teaching a team how to finish: “I think that we just talk about it a lot, and we work really hard, and we don’t really change. We don’t change the way we work. We condition after practice. We don’t really give days off if we don’t have to, and we work very hard.I think finishing is a part of that. The way our strength staff has handled the off-season program and our win-first program, the way our coaches understand how we coach and what our expectation is, I don’t know, finishing is the most important thing you can do. You don’t win the game in the first quarter and you don’t win the game in the second quarter and you don’t win the game in the third quarter. If you learn that and you believe that, then these guys go out there and they don’t flinch. They know that the fourth quarter is going to be the time that they’ve got to be at their best.”

On looking ahead to the Big 12 in 2024: “Well, I told our guys we’re going to enjoy tonight, okay. We’re going to put an end to this season. Tonight was the last game of this season. Then we’ll take a little break and we’ll come back, and then we’ll start preparing for the Big 12. We’ll be going into the Big 12 with a lot of momentum. We’re on a 7-game win streak. It’s pretty awesome for Arizona football to be on a 7-game win streak. We’re just going to go out there and we’re going to enjoy tonight. We’re going to enjoy our time back at home. We’ve got some fantastic players with fantastic families, and it’s their time to go enjoy their New Year’s with their parents and New Year’s with their friends and New Year’s with their families and we’ll come back in January, January 10th or whatever it is and start working our way through the process of getting ready for the next conference. I love our players, and I think the reason why we can do what we do is because our players stay and our players work hard and our players believe. Where else would you rather be than go try to be in the top 10 or better next year?”

Cowing on his go-ahead TD catch: “As soon as I caught the ball, I turned, looked up field, saw Montana block for me. If it wasn’t forMontana getting that block for me I don’t think I would have got in the end zone.I appreciate him for doing that and looking out for me to get in that end zone.”

On finishing his college career with a bowl win: “It means a lot, but first I just want to give credit to my teammates for pushing me day in and day out since January, going through fall camp, spring ball, summer conditioning, getting me to where I’m at today, the athlete that I am today. If it wasn’t for those guys pushing me each and every day, I don’t think I would be here today the athlete that I am.”

Fifita on what’s been key to his run as Arizona’s starting QB: “I think the biggest thing for me and the thing that I’ve been emphasizing the most is trust, and the biggest blessing this year is my coaches, my teammates trusting in me the way they did. There was a lot of times that I was struggling and our offense was struggling because of me and nobody flinched, nobody doubted me, so I really appreciate that. Being able to trust Coach Fisch, trust play calls, trust our preparation, that’s the biggest thing I’ve been emphasizing since I’ve taken over the job.”

On Cowing and T-Mac each putting up big numbers the last 2 games: “It’s just kind of what they did. I think it took me a little time to realize that I was making it harder on myself not throwing to them when they were one-on-one. In different ways they win every one-on-one battle that they have. Make my job real easy, I am sure they make Coach Fisch’s job real easy, and they’re real reliable. I don’t think they’ve really had a drop since kind of this whole season. Every time you need a play you know they’re going to make it. Their competitive edge, like I said, every time something needs to happen, you can trust that they’re going to do it with no hesitation, so continuing to rise to the occasion, and like I said, they make my job real easy.”

Maldonado on his two fumble recoveries: “The forced fumble, that was just great pursuit by our defense, something our coaches preach on us and we practice a lot. We have a lot of high effort guys, and when you have that, good things happen. Then on the (scoop and score), man, that was just an amazing play from Dalton right here. He just had a great break on the ball, great hit on the guy, ball came out, and then my teammates just rallied with me and blocked as hard as they could all the way down, and we got in the end zone.”

Johnson on getting this bowl win after signing with Arizona right after Kevin Sumlin was fired: “It means a lot. There were some dark times that first year. 1-11 is never fun. The building is rough to go to just day in and day out. But I believed in Coach Fisch, believed in the coaches he brought in and the people we had in the building. U of A is home, and this win means everything. We came a long way, and this whole team, the whole staff, the whole facility deserves it.”

MacMillan on his big season: “I mean, the year that I had is all because of my teammates and my coaches. The year that I had is just a reflection of them, and without them, I wouldn’t be here. Just the trust they had in me to make plays, to be there when I needed to be is the reason why I’m here.”