If up to this point it had been his Arizona honeymoon period, Saturday might have marked the first fight between Jedd Fisch and reality.
Following a scrimmage that took up about half of a practice inside Arizona Stadium, Fisch showed more signs of frustration than in the previous three-plus months since he was hired to rebuild the Wildcats’ program. It was understandable after he had watched his offense turn the ball over at least five times, give up countless sacks and make a defense that allowed almost 40 points per game in 2020 look like the ones Don Brown had in his first four years at Michigan.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us right now,” Fisch said. “We didn’t play nearly good enough football on offense. I guess I’ll watch the tape and see if I’m wrong, but I doubt it on that one.”
While he admitted that it’s common for a defense to be ahead of an offense this early on in spring ball—“you miss one block and you can have 10 guys doing it right, defensively you can have 10 guys doing it wrong and if the one guy doing it right makes the tackle that’s the end of it,” he said—many of the offense’s mistakes were self-inflicted. It was a particularly bad day for quarterback Will Plummer, who was intercepted at least twice and routinely missed open receivers when given time to throw.
Gunner Cruz wasn’t much better, and while Drake Anderson broke off a nice run near the end of practice and both Jalen John and Stevie Rocker Jr. showed some flashes, the results were not what were hoped for after six practices.
Brown’s pressure-heavy defense had a very good afternoon, but that didn’t make Fisch feel any better.
“We’ve got no chance to win games if we turn the ball over,” he said. “Until we find a quarterback that doesn’t want to turn the ball over, and a running back who doesn’t put the ball on the ground, we’ll keep searching.
“It doesn’t matter what we do on defense, if we’re turning the ball on our side of the 50 now we’re asking them to stop guys on short fields. They have to be better, they understand that, they understand the expectations.”
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, a longtime friend of Fisch’s who was his first NFL boss back when the two worked together with Houston Texans (2002-03) and Baltimore Ravens (2004-07), addressed the team after practice.
“He talked about three things, he talked about assignment football, he talked about alignment and he talked about execution and hauling butt … running fast,” Fisch said. “We’ve gotta do those things before we can do anything else.”
One thing to take into account when looking at where Arizona stands right now: the Wildcats only have 65 scholarship players around for spring practice, but that includes players like defensive tackle Aaron Blackwell, wide receiver Jaden Mitchell and linerbacker Jabar Triplett, all of whom are recovering from offseason surgeries and are not participating. Saturday’s list of active players was even lower, as the likes of running back Michael Wiley, offensive tackle Donovan Laie and safety Gunner Maldonado were all out with what Fisch described as short-term injuries.
“They all should be back by next week,” he said.
Arizona has nine practices remaining in spring ball, with scrimmages set for the next two Saturdays. The Spring Game is April 24, with room for 5,000 inside Arizona Stadium allowed.