Know the Enemy Q&A: Arizona Wildcats Football

Let's find out why this game is or isn't a trap game for the Bears

It’s time for our weekly opponent Q&A. This week we have Brian Pedersen of the AZ Desert Swarm. Listen to The California Golden Bearcast interview on any of your favorite podcast services.

Jedd Fisch brought a lot of optimism to Arizona early in the season, trying to get people back to the stadium. After some close losses, how much do you blame Fisch for the current season's performance, and how much do you blame a bare cupboard or injuries or whatever else?

Fisch inherited a dumpster fire, and those take a long time to burn out. About one-third of the players who have started games this season are guys he brought in during the offseason, mostly via the transfer portal, and the rest are holdovers from the previous two coaching staffs, so he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. Almost none of the most recent recruiting class that Kevin Sumlin and his staff signed last December are playing, which is an indication of the lack of talent he has at his disposal. And injuries certainly don’t help, particularly when they come to the two quarterbacks you brought in to run your system. 

In October the football team hosted try outs, Were any players added from this event?

No, and the timing of the tryouts made for bad optics. Fisch said he didn’t want to do tryouts until he got his team 100 percent vaccinated, which didn’t happen until midway through training camp, so this led to it happening during the season. They’ll likely do the tryouts in the spring and summer in the future.

What do you think the current coaching staff needs to do to turn Arizona around; e.g. a good recruiting class, new coordinators, your first win so that you can stop hearing about the last win being 700+ days ago, etc?

Recruiting is a huge part of it, and the class Arizona is putting together figures to have plenty of instant impact guys, but most importantly ones that are meant to play in this system. Fisch is technically the OC, while Don Brown has worked wonders already with the defense, so scheme isn’t the problem. Getting a win will certainly help, but if it’s just one and then nothing again for a while the internal optimism will be sure to wane. 

Are the problems facing Arizona in the short and medium term deeper than just poor coaching staff hire leading to poor recruiting or are there issues institutionally ingrained that affect the on field play?

I personally feel this is mostly the byproduct of the decisions made in 2017-18 to make a coaching change when one wasn’t needed. Rich Rodriguez led Arizona to bowls in 5 of 6 seasons, bouncing back from 3-9 in 2016 to win seven games a year later, and he had a superstar in the making in Khalil Tate. Allegations of sexual harrassment by a former employee forced the UA to let him go, but rather than say that was the reason they couched it as performance-based, and that lawsuit was recently dismissed. If Arizona had resisted cutting bait at that time things would be quite different, in my opinion. 

Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?

Wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III is on pace to set the single-season receptions record at Arizona, and they’ll try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. He’s the only true playmaker on offense, especially with WR/QB Jamarye Joiner unlikely to play due to a knee injury. 

Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?

Arizona’s defensive line is by far its most improved position group, with DE Jalen Harris finally living up to his potential, while DT Trevon Mason is a solid and consistent stud. If healthy, NT Kyon Barrs and DE Mo Diallo are game changers.

Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for you?

Arizona’s run game has been hit or miss this season, but freshmen Jalen John and Stevie Rocker Jr. have both shown flashes of being really productive. If one or both gets a good number of touches they can be really good and help Arizona keep the ball on offense. 

What does Arizona need to do to win the game?

Not turn the ball over, not commit penalties (especially in the red zone) and not give up big plays on defense. And it has to be all three. 

What does Cal need to do to win the game?

All Cal needs to do to win this game is not shoot itself in the foot. If it thinks it can run on Arizona, keep running. If it thinks Chase Garbers is the answer, have him do his thing. And on defense it’s just a matter of pressuring Will Plummer, who is very capable of making mistakes when given the chance. 

How do you see the game going?

This game has been penciled by a lot of Arizona writers as a winnable one for Arizona, but so was the Colorado game. Still, all the conditions seem ripe for the losing streak to end here when you consider it’s a rare day game in Tucson and it’s Homecoming. With all of how Jedd Fisch operates, this feels like a made-for-TV event.

Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

I don’t want to punch anyone in the face but I do want to ask Oski how shop class is going, since he’s always reminded me of my teacher from high school.