After a recent Arizona spring practice, Jedd Fisch said he sometimes needs to remind himself that he’s a head coach now and not just an offensive coordinator.
“You get real frustrated on one side of the ball,” Fisch said, “and you realize, ‘Well, that means the other side’s doing well.’ ”
But Fisch is still getting used to his new role. He’s in charge of the Wildcats’ offense. And when the unit struggles like it did Saturday, he can’t help but feel disappointed.
“We didn’t play nearly good enough football on offense,” Fisch said after spring practice No. 6 at Arizona Stadium. “I guess I’ll watch the tape and see if I’m wrong, but I doubt it on that one.”
Arizona’s offense was plagued by miscues and breakdowns. Two shotgun snaps to Gunner Cruz ended up on the turf. Will Plummer threw an interception. Drake Anderson lost a fumble. Several receivers dropped passes. The offensive line continued to struggle against Don Brown’s pressure packages.
“Way too many turnovers,” Fisch said. “I can’t even watch it. We’ve got no chance to win games if we turn it over. We always say the ball is our program, and I think we gave it away five or six times today.”
Some of the offense’s growing pains are to be expected. While both sides are learning new schemes, the offense is radically different from the spread attacks of the previous two UA regimes. It’s also different from most high school offenses.
As running backs coach Scottie Graham said, it’s actually impressive how fast the offense is playing given how new everything is. But that doesn’t make ragged play any more tolerable for Fisch, who recently echoed Brown’s Day 1 sentiment that “no one’s waiting on Arizona.”
“I’m frustrated,” Fisch said. “We need to do better on offense. We can’t turn the ball over. 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.
“So we have to be better. They understand that. They understand the expectations. And we will be better.”
Anderson provided an offensive highlight on the penultimate play of Saturday’s practice.
After it appeared that the workout had ended, Fisch ordered the team back onto the field for a two-minute drill. Cruz threw a short pass to Anderson in the right flat. Anderson juked a defender and raced down the sideline for about a 60-yard gain to the 1-yard line. Cruz scored on the next play.
“Drake’s quicker than a hiccup,” Graham said. “He’s lightning-fast.”
Anderson was glad to get another touch after the earlier fumble.
“Luckily Coach Graham let me get in there and respond, redeem myself,” Anderson said. “That would have been a long weekend. Didn’t want to end practice like that.”
Anderson has been one of the Wildcats’ top playmakers since arriving in Tucson via the NCAA transfer portal. The Chandler High School product, who spent the past three seasons at Northwestern, has displayed nimble feet and an innate ability to elude defenders in the open field.
Anderson is a longtime admirer of Barry Sanders. Anderson’s father, former Cardinals running back Damien Anderson, exposed him to the Pro Football Hall of Famer at an early age.
“He put me onto that since I was a little boy,” Drake Anderson said. “Just his ability to make people miss.
“My dad ... more than anything taught me to run smarter, not harder, to avoid those big hits. Obviously, you can’t always avoid the hits; sometimes you gotta put your shoulder down. But when you can, avoid those big hits.”
Anderson came to Arizona with former high school and college teammate Gunner Maldonado, who’s vying to start at safety.
“We had pretty much made our decision that we were gonna transfer pretty early in the season,” Anderson said. “We were joking about being a package deal, and it’s crazy how it worked out. We actually live together. That’s my boy.”
Fisch and Fangio
Fisch invited a special guest to watch practice and speak to the team afterward — Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio.
Fisch and Fangio are former coworkers and longtime friends. Fisch served as a defensive quality-control coach in Houston when Fangio was the expansion Texans’ defensive coordinator in the early 2000s.
They also were members of the same Minnesota Vikings staff in 2006 and ’07.
“He talked about assignment football,” Fisch said of Fangio’s post-practice address. “He talked about alignment. And he talked about execution and hauling ... butt, we’ll say. Running fast to the ball. We’ve got to do those ... things before anything else happens, and we’ve got to continue to get better there.”
Fisch planned to have dinner with Fangio on Saturday night. On Sunday, Fisch is headed to San Antonio to watch the UA women’s basketball team play for the national championship.
- Graham on freshman tailback Stevie Rocker Jr., who has made a strong impression after graduating early from Canyon del Oro High School: “You see the smile on my face right now? I’ve got a young man that’s just ... woo! Stevie’s 17 years old. Stevie’s gonna be really special. I think he was under-recruited. We’re lucky. I’m glad he stayed.”
- Fisch said he would have liked to see Anderson score on his long catch-and-run, but Anderson said the running backs are being taught not to extend the ball toward the pylon, which can lead to fumbles and touchbacks. So Anderson kept the ball tucked, and the offense kept possession.
- After running practice at Arizona Stadium for the first time, Fisch was asked if he preferred to play on turf or grass. “We’ll deal with that once we figure out how to get a first down,” he said.
- Fisch said three players who have been sidelined of late — tailback Michael Wiley, offensive lineman Donovan Laie and Maldonado — have “short-term injuries” and are expected back sometime next week.
- Christian Young returned to full practice after missing some time and appeared to be playing the hybrid “Viper” position.
- Cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace had the interception of Plummer. Roland-Wallace also won three consecutive reps during one-on-ones.
- The defensive line had a stellar day. JB Brown and Kyon Barrs were among the players to record multiple tackles for losses.
- Two of the offense’s best plays came on end-arounds to receivers Stanley Berryhill III and Boobie Curry.
- Lucas Havrisik missed a 57-yard field-goal attempt but later made a 47-yarder.
- The Wildcats begin their third week of spring ball Tuesday afternoon at the Dickey Tomey Practice Fields.