Jedd Fisch and the new-look Arizona Wildcats lost a relatively close comeback effort to Brigham Young University 24-16. The first half was pretty uninspiring, for a lack of better words, but the improvement from half to half looks good in terms of coaching adjustments. Arizona out-gained BYU in terms of total yardage but the situational execution in the red zone and 3rd and short/medium situations when in BYU territory was not optimal, especially from an offensive-minded head coach. Let’s take a deeper look at why Arizona fell short in the season opener.
Coaching Staff: Fisch played this game pretty close to the vest and started the game off extremely complementary, and it felt almost a little protective of Gunner Cruz. He tossed the dual QB system to the side pretty fast after Will Plummer only got about 10 total snaps. For Cruz to gain a rhythm and confidence moving forward, I don’t think Plummer can be a consistent factor in the offense and from the sounds of it, it’s Cruz’s job to lose moving forward. There were a lot of designed screens and check-downs in the early game and the run game was primarily inside zone off of run-pass options (RPO) and nothing creative to the outside and getting the backs running lanes. Moving ahead, Fisch has to get more designed plays to the middle of the field in the hands of his electric play makers like Stanley Berryhill III and Tayvian Cunningham. I feel pretty confident in saying it was not Fisch’s plan to drop back Cruz 55 times which resulted in 45 passes. I believe he would like a more balanced attack which will lead to play action and much more open receivers across the middle, which also leads to the defense staying honest and the occasional deep shot is much more viable.
Quarterbacks: There is not much to analyze with Plummer’s performance as it felt like a courtesy to get him in the game. With Cruz, though I thought he was solid all day, not bad or good, just plain solid. He did play as a game manager for the entire contest, but the fans in the building could feel that even he wasn’t feeling completely comfortable. He had a habit of escaping the pocket before there was relative pressure. Doing that negated all the work the offensive line had been doing and the pocket they created was now gone because of the quarterback’s worry of standing strong. When Cruz did roll out he was pretty indecisive on if he should make a throw or run which left him struggling to make split decision. This is where Cruz and Fisch need to work together. Fisch needs to make the game a little simpler for Cruz, making the options obvious to scheme up open receivers. Cruz needs to trust his coach, playmakers and the offensive line to do their part and the game will just come to him.
Skill Players and Offensive Line: The receivers and running backs played a really good game together and were part of the reason Arizona was able to somewhat come back. Berryhill, with his 12 catches and 100 yards, became Cruz’s best friend and was the most reliable short-yardage player. Cunningham also showed his electricity when he got the ball with his return game and also 15 yards per catch average. The backs were consistent all game and showed a steadiness about them, there wasn’t much big play potential from them. The second level from BYU was pretty loaded and forced Cruz to make a play. The offensive line played solid all game too. Watching at first in Vegas felt like they were getting pushed around, but after watching the film they held their own against an experienced and massive BYU defensive line. They need to create more holes for the running backs to get through and also get out wide on bubble screens. The line is a bright spot heading into the home opener.
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Defense: Don Brown’s defense showed out positively Saturday night holding the passing game in check for only 200 passing yards. On BYU’s touchdown drives, the line and front seven got pushed around a little and struggled to get any interior pressure to disrupt the play. BYU was able to push up the field with every run sweep and inside run. Trevon Mason was the single best player for Arizona, with 1.5 tackles for loss and being the only consistent player bringing pressure and rushing through the middle. Mason was the one who instigated the safety and triggered the momentum leading to an attempted comeback. The secondary was put on an island for much of the game because of the need to stack the box and they played surprisingly well. Isaiah Rutherford played solid across the board and had a key pass deflection on 3rd and 5 after Arizona’s touchdown. If the secondary can keep playing this consistently it will give Brown confidence to bring more pressure.
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