Jedd Fisch spent most of Arizona’s annual Spring Game in places he’d normally be if this were the Territorial Cup, or the 2023 season opener against NAU.
Rather than calling plays from the home sideline at Arizona Stadium, Fisch split time either standing on the field and observing his offensive units from behind or facing the Zona Zoo with a big smile as he launched water balloons at students and others among the announced crowd of 23,273 on Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of water, a lot of celebrating, a lot of fun,” Fisch said after the roughly 100-minute scrimmage, which included 12-minute quarters and a running clock as well as bonus points for non-kickers making extra points after touchdowns.
Team Blue, which featured most of Arizona’s projected offensive starters, notching a 23-19 victory over Team Red, which actually wore white and which featured the majority of the Wildcats’ top defensive players.
“Games are hard, practices are really hard; the spring game doesn’t need to be really hard,” Fisch said. “The spring game needs to be good football, clean football, good plays. We’re not looking to trick anybody, we’re not looking to win the spring game. Last time I checked we do not play Arizona.”
Saturday served as the last of 15 spring practices, the unofficial midpoint of the offseason. Fisch noted that it had been 141 days since the UA got back the Territorial Cup in its 2022 finale and 140 days until the 2023 opener at Arizona Stadium.
“Today was exactly halftime of the offseason training,” he said.
Though official stats weren’t kept, unofficial numbers had Jayden de Laura complete all six pass attempts for 86 yards including a 7-yard touchdown to tight end Tanner McLachlan. Noah Fifita, piloting the Red Team, was 16 of 23 for 162 yards before giving way in the second half to freshman Brayden Dorman, while walk-on Cole Tannenbaum took over for de Laura after halftime and had a 75-yard TD pass to freshman Malachi Riley.
Speedy Luke had an 11-yard TD run for Red, with Jonah Coleman scoring the game-winning TD for Blue on a 14-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. Tyler Loop made both field goal tries, from 47 and 40 yards out, but was relieved of his extra-point duties in favor of 4-point attempts by de Laura, safety Gunner Maldonado, receiver Tetairoa McMillan and nickel corner Treydan Stukes.
The first three kicks were good, with Stukes’ try for Red that would have tied the game late going wide left late. Stukes made up for it, though, by forcing and recovering a fumble in the first quarter.
“All 11 guys went into the ball,” said linebacker Justin Flowe, the Oregon transfer who is expected to start alongside Jacob Manu. “We’re gonna try to bring it all, and we’re gonna try to get the ball out every time. So that’s the new Zona, and we love it.”
Stukes also would have had a sack of de Laura, after coming off the edge, had he not let up. Overall the defense forced and recovered two fumbles and would have had at least three sacks.
“I’ve never seen a defense go out there and make such a jump in terms of 11 guys chasing after the ball on any play,” Fisch said. “That’s a huge, huge difference.”
Arizona will return to the field as a collective group in late July, but before then player-run practices will be aplenty. Fisch said he and his staff will remain involved as much as allowed by NCAA rules, but for the time being the progress is up to the players themselves.
“These player-run practices this summer are going to be critical to their success,” he said.