SAN DIEGO – Arizona brought the heat and, um, San Diego State wilted.
From start-to-finish, Arizona, with so many questions to answer to begin the season, dominated its host here at Snapdragon Stadium.
San Diego may have had the new stadium, but Arizona has its new attitude. Play hard, play smart and what has happened in the past, well, stays in the past.
The result was a 38-20 win and its first season-opening win in five years.
“One hell of an opening day, huh?” UA quarterback Jayden de Laura said as he entered the postgame press area.
Arizona looked nothing like it had in more than four years, clearly confident and determined in the 100-degree heat, something rare in San Diego in early September. It was the hottest day on record for an early SDSU game.
“The heat is our friend,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said of having practiced in the heat for the past few weeks.
Arizona proved to be scorching from the start, scoring on its first three drives. Last year, Arizona was allergic to the endzone while in the redzone. On Saturday afternoon, it was the Wildcats’ friend.
Early in the second quarter, Arizona had a 17-3 advantage and never looked back. It may have been teased but looking back was never really threatened.
As Fisch said a number of times on Saturday – even though it’s a cliché – Arizona has “trusted the process” this early part of the season. Believe and you will be rewarded.
“They played hard, they played physical,” Fisch said. “They executed in a lot of plays. There’s certainly some plays we need to clean up. We’re gonna go back and watch the film. There’s gonna be a lot to coach off of (but) it’s certainly more fun to coach off of a win than a loss.”
Arizona did in the first game compared to what it took three-plus months to do last year – win. And against a program that beat them 38-10 a season ago at Arizona Stadium.
So, this is what a Jedd Fisch-led team could look like when he has some talent – 53 new ones from last season. The offense moved the ball well, scoring on six of 12 possessions with the last possession just an afterthought.
It started with de Laura, who had a nice game leading UA with a confidence not seen in some time. The time may be debatable, but if you’re an Arizona fan it would seem like a lifetime ago.
“With a quarterback like Jayden coming in here, and being confident; he had no flinch, no flinch,” Fisch said. “Credit to (quarterback coach) Jimmy Dougherty in getting Jayden ready.”
At the end of the day, de Laura went 22 of 35 for 299 yards and four touchdowns.
“What else can you say in terms of a game,” Fisch said, reeling off his quarterback’s stats. “Statistically, that’s a pretty good day.”
Seemingly it was the catalyst for everyone to follow or at least benefit from.
Fisch said he saw somewhere no receiver had caught three touchdowns in a season opener since Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree did it in 2007 when it came to Power Five schools. UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing did it, adding five more catches for a 152-yard day.
“That’s a pretty big impact Jacob Cowing made,” Fisch said. “Our redzone (performance) was better because of the people who came in and joined us.”
Again, the redzone was huge.
“It’s important every game,” Fisch said. “You have to take the ball away and you have to score in the redzone. We just happened to do it this game. We have to do it every game we play. It’s how you win football games.”
Finding a way to get through adversity is another. Just after SDSU recovered a blocked punt in Arizona’s endzone and later inched closer on a field goal to make it 31-20, Arizona went on a 75-yard drive to seemingly clinch the game to take a 38-20 lead. Last year, Arizona might have crumbled.
This year – at least in the first game – it didn’t.
“We try to empathize every day that this is 2022 and don’t look back,” Fisch said. “And don’t think that maybe one thing happened last year and we couldn’t overcome it that would have anything to do with this year. Just play the next play and focus on what could have been or what just happened … Just see if we can be mentally tough.”
It was on Saturday in scorching heat, something that Arizona is all too used to.