Arizona Wildcats football notebook: Wildcats determined not to overlook FCS opponent after last season’s loss to NAU

In a vacuum, Arizona’s third and final non-conference game should be the easiest. After starting out on the road against a tough Mountain West team and then facing an even better SEC team at home, the Wildcats wrap up their pre-conference schedule with an FCS opponent when they take on Dakota State from North Saturday night.

UA is 149-48-8 against current non-FBS teams, including those that no longer sponsor football. But in recent memory, Arizona is 0-1, having lost 21-19 at home to NAU in Week 3 last season.

That shocking result – which saw Arizona take a 13-0 lead en route to their 14e of what would be 20 straight losses – served as the bottom for a program that was already about as low as it could get. It didn’t help that NAU ended up with a losing record.

This year’s FCS enemy is a lot better. The Bison (2-0) are No. 1 in both FCS polls and have won 10 straight, including last season’s national title, their ninth in 11 seasons. They have beaten six consecutive FBS opponents and are 9-3 against the top division.

But, it’s still an FCS school, which creates the opportunity for players to overlook this opponent with a Pac-12 game just around the corner. Or does it?

“When you’re an FCS team and you beat five or six FBS teams, you take it seriously,” UA defensive end Hunter Echos said. “They have first-round players that get drafted out of this school, they win national championships. At any level, a championship is a championship, so we respect that and look forward to competing.

defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said the one Arizona plays each week is “faceless,” while the offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said the Wildcats treat every game like a championship, so the opponent shouldn’t matter.

“And our mindset hasn’t changed since January when we started with this band,” he said. “It’s not really about who we play, it has to be about our performance and our execution. If you get into that, who we play against, who your opponent is… you can be So if you change your mindset from week to week, your mind may seem different, so we try to be consistent, trying to keep the same message and not vary from week to week. other.

Jamming patterns

Expect the quarterback Laura’s Jayden take off once or twice against NDSU, if the situation warrants it, after doing everything to avoid running beyond the line of scrimmage against Mississippi State. AU Coach Jedd Fisch said as much after that game, as well as in his Monday press conference, and Carroll indicated Tuesday that the scrambling drills in practice this week will incorporate that.

“We’ll be emphasizing, part of the decision making will be, once the quarterback goes out into space, if there isn’t an obvious, open receiver – which Jayden has found many times , found (Michael) Wiley a few times for huge plays for us – if he’s not there, just get him in and run. He’s a good runner.”

But until Laura heads up, it’s still every receiver’s job to adapt. Not just to open up, but do it in a way that the quarterback sees them.

“Follow the quarterback”, receiver Dorian Singer said. “Wherever he goes, follow him. He’s a good quarterback who uses his feet, but he also knows he has to look for his receivers on the field.

Said Carroll: “Each one of them, depending on where they are on the field, by route, has to adapt depending on the quarterback. Each of them has a specific rule depending on their position on the field and the path they follow, since we must have them available on both sides of the field.

Mentor hunter

Echols, a sixth-year senior, played 39 games during his college career, including 37 at USC. Only advanced companion Jalen Harris (47) played more.

Nansen said Echols had matured tremendously since 2017, when the former was the USC linebackers coach and Echols was a proper freshman who ended up redshirting.

“He has a great voice in our bedroom,” Nansen said. “He keeps everyone focused and pays attention to detail.”

At the time, Echols was able to learn from people like Uchenna Nwosuwho would go on to be chosen in the second round by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2018 NFL Draft. Now he’s the one guiding Arizona’s young defensive players, such as edges Russell Davis II and Sterling Lane and linebacker Jacob Manu.

“I like the way they listen and they follow us and they want to be coached, not just by the coaches but by the older guys,” Echols said. “They look up to us and it’s our job to set an example of Arizona football and what we want them to be when we look back here and see them as juniors and seniors. We we just want to show them the example.”

Davis and Lane play at 210 and 220 pounds respectively, while Manu is generously listed at 5-foot-11. Each has a lot of growth to do, whether in height or weight, but Echols already sees big things coming for them.

“I tell them all the time, like when I was in first grade, you guys are a lot more advanced than me,” he said. “They may be too small, but size doesn’t matter when you have heart and determination. You have great coaches like us. I think they’ll be fine, and as they get older they’ll grow taller, they’ll get bigger and stronger, they’ll get faster. They haven’t been in a college program for about a year, they’ve only been here six months, not even six months, some of them, so they’re going to grow and they’re going to learn and they’re going to get better. Are you gonna start looking at it like that, is that 99 (Davis) the same 99 we saw in freshman year? They will grow, they will be fine.

The Sword of Turnover: The Origins

With five takeaways in two games, Arizona is already a shy of their 2021 tally. And depending on how the players have embraced their new turnover prop, interceptions and fumbles will continue to climb. accumulate.

Which also means soccer balls will continue to be spiked on the cactus-shaped flipping sword, which was Nansen’s brainchild. But how did it happen?

“We have a big chair in our meeting room that whatever player of the day … sits in,” he said. “Well, we’re having a hard time getting that out on the road, so I came up with the idea for the sword and the boys just took it over.”

As for the sword itself, Nansen said he instructed the associate director of football operations Lauren Vossler to find one, and she delivered.

“Boys, they love it,” Nansen said. “We give it to them on Friday night and then they pick it up for the game. They then bring it away.

Other ratings

  • Singer, who played his senior year of high school at Phoenix Pinnacle, is originally from Minnesota. He walked to Arizona but received scholarship offers to play Division I football, including from North Dakota State.

The thing is, the Bison wanted him to play defense and Singer was determined to play receiver.

“In my mind, I didn’t want to play defense in college,” said Singer, who after catching 18 passes for 301 yards in the final five games of the 2021 season was put on the stock exchange. This year, he is second on the team with nine receptions.

  • Arizona will stick to its rotation of 6 players on the offensive line, with Sam Langi serving as a ‘utility’ man to replace at guard and tackle. Backup Center main news played a late guard against San Diego State but didn’t play against Mississippi State, and Carroll would rather he stay at center.

“JT did a great job of prepping and preparing,” Carroll said. “Because he’s the backup center, he came in… not this (last game) but the first game, he came in and hurt his shoulder a bit, and I need my second center ready to rock if we have to under (Josh Baker) pulled out. If I have two guys in there who are centers, bad things happen. We don’t want to put that in a situation.

Nansen said if defensive tackle Tia Saveawho was injured in the first quarter against MSU and did not return, is unable to go, true rookie Jacob Kongaika and freshman in red shirt Evan Branch-Haynes could see more time in the rotation. Both made their college debuts last week.

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