They played hard. They fought to make it close. They proved that they belonged – again.
And even though Arizona suffered its ninth loss of the season – now 1-9 overall with two games left after Saturday’s 38-29 loss to Utah – this isn’t the team everyone saw two months ago. And yes, losses are losses are losses – and UA coaches won’t take a moral victory given UA was a 24-point dog in facing the Pac-12 South’s best team – Arizona is playing with a grit and determination that hasn’t been seen in the last few years.
“(They) did what we asked them to do,” said Arizona coach Jedd Fisch, the orchestrator of this slow but right in front of you rebuild. “I give so much credit to our players. We’ve been banged up all year. We’ve been banged up last game.”
He then told the media what Arizona’s options are because of the obstacles: “you either say I’m going to fight to get back or you’re going to say, ‘maybe I’ll take one more week.’”
What you saw was a team determined to build off the last few weeks of progress and clearly build off last week’s win over California.
I for one am amazed. I didn’t expect this. Not in the least.
But here Arizona is. Hell, if I were Jedd Fisch, I’d pull a Lute Olson and say, ‘get your tickets now (for the future) because the team could be something special down the road.”
The road now – even a bit bumpy -is much smoother than what it was in the first three weeks. This isn’t the team that lost to BYU or San Diego State or – gasp – Northern Arizona. This is a team that believes in itself.
And isn’t that half the battle?
“You can see how dedicated our team is to playing hard, doing everything they can to find a way for a win,” Fisch said. “That was the most upset I’ve seen our locker room in a while.
“They just feel like we’re there now … you go onto the field with an expectation of winning and when (you do that) you walk off a little more … with a bad taste in your mouth.”
As Fisch said “our guys matched them head-to-head on every single play.”
You almost thought that might not happen after Utah’s first drive to make it 7-0. But Arizona came back to take the lead at 14-7 and you’re thinking – hmmm, can Arizona pull this off, too? – it didn’t but it was close throughout the rest of the game. Unbelievably close.
There was a punt block and major stops. Few penalties and no turnovers. And offense with imagination that is moving forward – not sideways. Special teams … all of it.
Not a lot of great things but, hey, at Arizona that’s progress. That’s a team that’s headed in the right direction. You can see it.
Then this question from the Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev, who asked if Fisch took any glee in seeing the guys upset given then tried so hard and almost won.
“After a loss there isn’t much to put a smile on my face,” Fisch said. “What pleased me (was seeing) that our guys are so committed to making this thing right. They so want to be part of the change.”
Because they see the change happening. They, too, are the orchestrators.