Arizona is moving forward, preparing for Saturday’s nonconference finale against UTEP, but since returning from Mississippi State early Sunday morning Jedd Fisch and his coaching staff have spent a lot of time reflecting on how the overtime loss to the Bulldogs could have gone differently.
The win was there, Fisch noted Monday.
“We had a chance to make history,” Fisch said. “Arizona has never won on the road in the SEC, last time they had an SEC win was 1976, and we had a chance to do that. We certainly had our chances. We were in spots to win that game.”
Arizona lost 31-24 in OT despite turning it over five times, including on its first four possessions. As painful as that near miss was, Fisch is hopeful his team—including quarterback Jayden de Laura, who threw four interceptions—learned from it.
“I think we have a chance to certainly build off that game,” he said.
Here’s what else Fisch discussed as his Monday presser:
On what he said to de Laura after throwing three interceptions in the 1st quarter: “Nothing’s going to change. We’re gonna keep slinging it. We’re gonna keep running our offense. I’ve seen him play for two years, I’ve seen him practice every day. It felt like it was the first quarter. I felt like it was the first quarter and had no concern that we were going to be able to continue to play, which we did. I think after that he had three touchdowns, two in the air, one on the ground, threw for over 300 yards and probably had one of the better quarterback performances against Mississippi State’s defense, according to their head coach.”
On the interceptions: “I’ve never seen two balls—one of them the interception, the first interception bounced off of a guy’s chest four yards forward and into some linebacker’s hands. I never thought I’d see that twice, but I saw it twice in the same game. And then the interception on the corner route, I thought that free safety made a phenomenal play. I thought that the first play, the first interception was a very, very good play by their defense. We needed to get T-Mac further over, he stopped short, we didn’t get our motion right on that. We didn’t motion like we were supposed to. The second interception, that was a great job by their defender, and the third interception was a great job by their safety, and the fourth one was ... we need to have a better a better route, and the ball winds up getting popped up in the air, and (de Laura) probably could have scrambled.”
On how he can get de Laura to cut down on those mistakes: “We used to say with Brett Favre that he would throw you a few of them, and if you catch them, it’s probably good for you, and if you don’t catch them it’s probably good for them. I think that there’s an aggressive mentality. There’s a mindset. Jayden understands that you don’t turn the ball over, but I didn’t see any of those throws that he made being careless or reckless.”
On if de Laura has been ‘tipping pitches,’ as it was suggested on the SEC Network broadcast: “No, not that I know of. We were pretty good on offense last year.”
On de Laura’s ability to shake off mistakes: “He’s played quarterback his whole life. There’s no question about that. And he’s grown up in a way that he is mentally tough. I didn’t feel a flinch from him. Now maybe a year ago I would have, maybe there would have been a little bit different attitude, because I think it’s more about trust with Jayden, more than anything else. And if he believes that you believe in him, he’s not going to let you down, and he’s going to be in a spot where he’s going to be able to go out there and play, and that’s what I would expect. That’s what I expected. There was no flinch. For him to make that throw at the end of the half, after throwing three interceptions. For him to lead us on a 19-play drive after three interceptions, it’s pretty remarkable in a lot of ways. I don’t know if you see it everywhere. To go out there and then to make the plays he made, to make the scrambles he made, the throw to T-Mac in the endzone for a touchdown to tie it up. All those plays were big time plays that came from a big time player.”
On Joe Borjon making his first start at right tackle: “He did well. There were some challenges there. That’s a huge defensive line that stunts and blitzes every snap. Whether they bring five, four six, it doesn’t matter. They’re never standing still rushing straight, they’re always going to give you a looper. So I think he’s handled that situation well. There were four or five plays that weren’t as good as we would have liked them to be, but he’s learned from it. That was his first start in a hostile environment in the SEC, and he held his own pretty good. I think we we felt comfortable that if we need to continue that lineup, we certainly can. I do believe that we’re getting close to (Raymond) Pulido being back, so I would expect Jonah (Savaiinaea) to go back out to right tackle this week, assuming that all things go well on the medical front.”
On how the safeties are evaluated: “We look at the totality of their ability to communicate, their ability to be able to, let’s call it get ourselves in the right defense, their ability to make plays away from the ball, their ability to track the ball, their ability to see the eyes of the quarterback. In the passing game, cover a lot of space. Gunner (Maldonado), IT (Isaiah Taylor), Dalton (Johnson), they’re all on their own, they’re all I would say, showing their colors. Dalton has shown that he’s a really good boundary safety, that’s kind of where he belongs. IT has been able to go back and forth and play both field and boundary. Gunner has really been able to play Star, field safety and boundary safety. He’s wanting to hit. He’s got great effort and plays with great passion. He very rarely is out of place. We’re looking at technique, fundamentals, assignments, alignments, and then in the end, are they making the plays?”
On Martell Irby leaving the game late in the first half and not returning: “Martell is healthy, good to go. We just made a change there, not for medical reasons. Just in terms of the way (Mississippi State was) lining up, in terms of some of the athletes that we had, we wanted to put DJ Warnell out there, but Martell is fine.
On Irby’s play in his first start: “I think Irby made some great plays on the field. I think there’s times that you just make substitutions like we do on all spots. And what we needed to do at that time during the game, we felt we wanted to give DJ some opportunity, and DJ did a really good job in that spot. And if we needed to move some other guys around, we feel like we have that ability to. Irby brings a certain juice to the game. Did a great job on tackling, that punch out on the fourth down. But we need to see consistent play out of everybody down in, down out.”
On the status of injured players: “(Treydan) Stukes should be cleared to go practice on Tuesday. We’re expecting him to be able to play on Saturday. (Dylan) Wyatt, we’re expecting him to be able to play on Saturday. So as of today, my expectation is that Pulido, Wyatt, Stukes, Irby—Irby not for injury purposes—but those other three should all be cleared to play on Saturday if they have no setbacks at Tuesday or Wednesday’s practice.”
On how the defense played: “I would say overall defensively I thought we played very well. I thought Coach (Johnny) Nansen had a fantastic plan for them. To outgain a team like that by 125 yards, or 130 yards, is a job well down by the defense. I thought the ends did a really good job once we got through the first drive of setting the edge. They ran some wide zone plays at us early, first play of the game they ran a little wide zone play to the boundary, then about four or five player later they ran a little lead play with a tight end coming across, both which are very good football plays.”
On the decision-making during the final drive of regulation: “We had about 1:01 left. You want to be in field goal range, we got to field goal range. We did a 9-yard play on 2nd and 10, we missed on 1st and 10. We missed the play on 1st and 10, so the 2nd and 10 we got a 9-yard game with 1:01 left, maybe 1:08 left. With three timeouts, the goal was to get the first down on third down and then have all three timeouts for the final (plays). We would have probably had time for about six plays in a minute with three timeouts. Our 3rd and 1, in the game we called two different 3rd and 1s, both times they gave us coverage. One time we tried to run a sprint out, they played zone. Traditionally they’re a man blitz team. We didn’t hit on that. Second time they played zone we scrambled for it for about 20 yards, but they played a softer zone. Where we saw that we felt we could get the yard was if we went tempo. So we went tempo on the 3rd and 1 and wound up getting knocked backwards a yard. So at that point that was 4th and 2 with 48 seconds left, or 41 seconds left. And I thought the best move at points was not the time to go for it. It was a 3-point game, we battled back. I didn’t want to put our team in jeopardy and just try to start pitching the ball around ... on first down, put the ball up in the air for something bad to happen.”
On Justin Flowe’s play off the bench: “Justin had 12 tackles in ... 27 total plays. That’s an enormous amount of production 12 tackles. It’s a ridiculous number. So we’re gonna have to play Justin more. We’re gonna continue to watch his development. He’s becoming more comfortable with the system. That teams gives you some shifts and motions, 2-tight end sets, and he was able to be in position. So it was great to see that. He and Jacob Manu had 12 tackles each, so to have 24 tackles from your linebackers is pretty good. He brings a juice, we talked about that, he brings in energy to the game, to the defense. I would expect to see more of him as we go, and be able to really build off of his performance on Saturday night.”