The Jedd Fisch era has begun for Arizona. You can sense – maybe feel – the change and swift in how the team reacted to a big game for a new time. That’s all changed in the last few months.
The losing? Well, that didn’t change, given Arizona fell to Brigham Young 24-16 here at allegiant stadium in Las Vegas. Arizona now owns the longest losing streak in FBS college football with 13 straight losses.
Saturday night, deep into the night, Arizona did have its chances, which is a good sign. But as Anthony Pandy put it there were too many “self-destructive” mistakes.
A couple of missed field goals and a bad misread by starting quarterback Gunner Cruz were part of those mistakes. A poor offensive first half didn’t help either.
Still, there was a lot to like. This team played hard. Played like it had a chance. Played like it’s tired of losing.
Can you ask for anything more? It’s a far cry from last year, when it seemed Arizona went through the motions to get the season over with. But that was last year, and this year is this year.
“I don’t think we’re the same team,” said Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch. “I mean, we’re nothing like what (they used to be) … There’s whatever it might be 148 of us that were never a part of last year, you know, we have about 200 people that work in Lowell Stevens, but 148 of us arrived on December 28 and beyond so it’s really hard for me to compare, you know, I really don’t want to.”
Nor should he, but it’s noticeably different. Deep down you knew Arizona would have had to play a flawless game to pull off a win, after all UA was a 12.5-point underdog. And against a BYU team that, well, no one knows how good it is. Still, Arizona was right there in the second half.
Sure, it’s pollyannaish, but Arizona was. It was because it fought like it hadn’t in the last few years, save for maybe that USC game in last season’s season opener.
“We just want to compete,” Fisch said. “I love the way our guys battled, and I love the energy and the fight, and I can just tell you, I looked at JB brown with 48 seconds (left in the game) and we lined up to kick a field goal. I said, ‘JB, we’re gonna make this field go we’re gonna onside kick we’re gonna win this game. He goes, ‘I know.’ When you have that type of passion and that type of energy …”
Things will eventually change. Arizona showed signs of it in Vegas. Not all was lost.
In fact, Fisch said it, not once but twice: “I think we have a really good football team.”
Cruz said the same thing.
Fisch pointed to Cruz – seeming the full-time starter moving forward although Fisch didn’t confirm that – that he hit 36 of 45 passes for 360 yards. The stat that UA running backs ran the ball 20 times for more than 100 yards.
Arizona was able to gain some momentum in the second half after a terrific punt by Kyle Ostendorp to pin BYU on the one-yard line. It followed with a safety and then followed it with a touchdown. Arizona was in business – or at least looked like it was.
“We had a lot of playmakers make plays,” Fisch said. “That gives me a lot of hope on offense and defense.
“I know our defense is going to be really salty and really good. The fact that they have confidence in us when we went for it on fourth down in our own territory at different times.”
And picked it up both times. It’s the little things that matter and it may not have showed up on the scoreboard to get Arizona that win – one that has been more than 700 days in the making – it’ll get there.
So much so, Arizona players are looking forward to getting back on the field on Monday for practice.
It’s to get “this taste out of our mouth,” Cruz said. “We really want to. This team is really good. And I don’t know if you guys could tell that we are really good. We play with a lot of heart. We love each other and we love football and so I think that, to get back out there on Monday and correct all the things that went wrong today, get another shot at going out and playing somebody else next Saturday at home will be super exciting.”