Jedd Fisch has a busy week ahead.
The Arizona Wildcats coach has to hire a new defensive coordinator after Don Brown accepted the head job at UMass on Monday. Fisch also has to figure out how to get his team to play better. If not, Arizona won’t stand a chance against rival Arizona State on Saturday.
But Fisch knows you can’t win a war that’s being waged on two fronts. So after opening his Territorial Cup Week news conference by congratulating Brown, Fisch deferred all questions about the coordinator vacancy to Sunday, when Fisch plans to meet with the Tucson media to wrap up the season. The sole focus this week, he said, is on finding a way to beat ASU. To that end, Fisch shut down media access for the remainder of the week.
To further underscore the point, Fisch told the players that everyone would travel to Tempe — unless they fail to carry out their responsibilities.
“If you’re late to a class, you can take your name off the list,” Fisch said. “If you’re late to treatment, you can take your name off the list. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, take your name off the list. Because if you’re not focused 1,000% on doing things right this week, we’re not going to have a chance.
“We’ve got to be completely focused and completely avoid all the outside noise. ... In order for us to accomplish our goals moving forward, we have to have incredible tunnel vision for these six days.”
The Wildcats (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) clearly didn’t have it in last week’s 44-18 loss at Washington State. They committed 11 penalties, their second-highest total of the season. Eight were of the procedural variety — four false starts, two delay of games and two illegal formations.
“Offensively, we made so many errors, stuff that wouldn’t be seen to the naked eye at times,” Fisch said. “Missed assignments, mental errors, misreads, missed throws, penalties. In the first 22 plays, we made close to 20 errors, which was just very, very disappointing.”
Fisch compared the offense’s issues to a leaky boat. As soon as you plug one hole, water starts pouring through another. The miscues included multiple false starts by wide receivers — something that hadn’t happened since Week 2, Fisch said — and quarterback Will Plummer deciding on his own to run a sneak on fourth-and-1. The ploy didn’t work, and Arizona turned the ball over on downs.
“Will felt there was an opportunity,” Fisch said. “I think he just got ahead of himself a little bit. ... We don’t do that.”
Not to be outdone, ASU (7-4, 5-3) was flagged for seven false starts in its 24-10 loss at Oregon State on Saturday. The Sun Devils committed 10 infractions in all. Fisch expects to see a different ASU team this Saturday in terms of sharpness and health.
Arizona will have the same defensive coordinator one last time. Brown will coach the defense this week and call the plays before devoting his full-time attention to UMass.
Although he wanted to keep him, Fisch couldn’t blame Brown for wanting to return home. He’s from Massachusetts; almost his entire family lives there; and he previously coached the Minutemen.
“I know that’s a very important thing for him to be able to have a chance again to be a head coach, to be able to be by his 11 grandchildren,” Fisch said. “It’s a great opportunity for him to head back home.”
Fisch said the UA athletic department did an “incredible” job of “financially supporting an opportunity for Coach Brown to stay here.” But the move clearly wasn’t about money.
“Sometimes family and longevity in the Massachusetts area wins out,” Fisch said.
Although they have backslid lately, the Wildcats have made huge strides under Brown. They rank sixth in the Pac-12 in total defense. Arizona hasn’t finished in the top eight since 2010 and was last in most meaningful categories last year.
Fisch said the UA would “open up a national search” for its next DC, but it’s likely Fisch already has someone in mind. He’s headed out on a five-day, 11-state recruiting trip Sunday afternoon. The early signing period is Dec. 15.
“There are plenty of people that are interested in that position,” Fisch said. “Obviously, I have some ideas and thoughts. When you’ve coached (for) as many teams as I’ve coached, you know a lot of people.”
When pressed for details, Fisch said: “I’d be more than happy on Sunday to outline what we’re looking to do with the defensive coordinator job. I’d like our focus this week to be all on the Territorial Cup.”
Injury, depth-chart updates
Fisch said he expects everyone who’s able to play to be in the lineup against Arizona State. He referenced four players who either sat out last week’s game or were injured during it: quarterback/receiver Jamarye Joiner; offensive linemen Donovan Laie and Josh Donovan; and “Viper” Christian Young.
“What’s most exciting for me and our program is, regardless of what our record is at this point in time, we have every single player that’s capable of playing begging, pleading to be able to be on the field on Saturday,” Fisch said. “That’s a great sign of a team that’s excited.”
Two players are out for the season: receiver Tayvian Cunningham and linebacker Jerry Roberts.
With Roberts unavailable, Arizona is moving senior Anthony Pandy to middle linebacker. Pandy, who has started every game on the weak side, has some prior experience at “Mike.” Walk-on Dante Smith filled in last week after Roberts was injured on the first play from scrimmage.
Fisch said Pandy’s experience was the biggest impetus for the change. He has 24 career starts.
Second-year freshman Malik Reed will make his first career start at the “Will” position. Reed, who attended Chandler High School, transferred to Arizona from Wisconsin in the offseason.
‘Nobody eats alone’
The football program will host a Thanksgiving Day breakfast Thursday for all players and their families at Arizona Stadium.
The team will practice that afternoon, and all family members are invited to attend. As Fisch noted, for many players, it will be their “last-ever football practice.”
Fisch asked the players to disclose their plans for Thanksgiving dinner.
“If they don’t have a place to go, they’ll come to my house or their position coach’s house,” he said. “Nobody eats Thanksgiving dinner alone.”
UA receiver Stanley Berryhill III needs seven catches to become the sixth player in school history with 80 or more in one season. Berryhill surpassed 70 catches last week at WSU. The last Wildcat to top 70 was Cayleb Jones in 2014.
Tailback Michael Wiley has scored a touchdown in four consecutive games. The last Wildcat to do that was receiver Shawn Poindexter, who scored in five straight games to end the 2018 season. Poindexter had nine TDs over that span.
Arizona punter Kyle Ostendorp ranks first in the Pac-12 and fourth nationally with a gross average of 48.5 yards. The UA single-season record is 47.5 yards by Danny Baugher in 2005.