On the field, it’s been a rough road for Arizona football over the past couple of years.
Off the field, there’s enough excitement around the program to believe better days are coming soon.
This summer, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s opponents for the 2022 season and in this installment, we look at Arizona. The Buffs will visit the Wildcats in game No. 5.
In 2019, the Buffs and Wildcats met in the fifth game of the season, in Boulder. Arizona won, 35-30, to improve to 4-1.
Since then, the Wildcats have gone 1-23, only beating a COVID-depleted California team, 10-3, at home late last year.
Head coach Jedd Fisch, entering his second season, has yet to prove he can win games with the Wildcats, but he has managed to generate some positive energy in and around the team.
Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin after the 2020 season and brought in Fisch. His nomadic coaching career took him to 14 different stops from 1998-2020. Most of that time was spent in the NFL, including coaching the Denver Broncos’ receivers in 2008.
Fisch quickly endeared himself to the Arizona community, however. Active on social media and present at several of the school’s sporting events, he’s done what he can off the field.
In recruiting, Fisch has exceeded expectations. Despite a poor record in 2021, the Wildcats landed the 25th-best recruiting class in the country this year, according to 247Sports.com. The class includes a five-star receiver, Tetairoa McMillan, and two four-star recruits (tight end Keyan Burnett and cornerback Ephesians Prysock). McMillan and Burnett were teammates at Servite (Calif.) High School.
Fisch and his staff also brought in several impact transfers, most notably quarterback Jayden de Laura, who started at Washington State the past two years.
Heading into Fisch’s second season, Arizona has better talent than it did last year. Optimism is higher, too. Whether or not that translates to more wins remains to be seen.
Head coach: Jedd Fisch, 2nd season (1-11)
2021 season: 1-11, 1-8 Pac-12 Pac-12
Series with CU: Buffaloes lead 16-8
Who: Colorado Buffaloes at Arizona Wildcats
When: Saturday, Oct 1, time TBA
Where: Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.
5 Guys to Watch
- WR Jacob Cowing: Last year at UTEP, he was ninth nationally in receiving yards per game (105.2), catching 69 passes for 1,354 yards — a 19.6 average — and seven TDs. UTEP’s top receiver the last three years, he has 141 catches for 2,595 yards and 13 TDs in his career.
- QB Jayden de Laura: A two-year starter at Washington State, he has thrown for 3,684 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 16 games. He also has five career rushing touchdowns.
- DE Jalen Harris: A regular part of the defensive rotation for four years, he’s entering his sixth season with the Wildcats. Last year, he had 46 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four pass breakups. He has 10.5 career sacks.
- RB Michael Wiley: Poised for a bigger role in the offense this year. In three seasons, he has 153 carries for 630 yards and seven touchdowns. Caught 33 passes for 297 yards and four TDs last year.
- S Christian Young: Back at safety this year, he is the Wildcats’ top returning tackler (67 stops). He had two tackles for loss and four pass breakups, as well.
Good to know
- After defensive coordinator Don Brown left for the head coaching job at Massachusetts, Arizona tabbed Johnny Nansen to lead the defense. A long-time position coach, Nansen has been in the Pac-10/12 since 2009, coaching at Washington (2009-13), Southern California (2014-19) and UCLA (2020-21). This will be his first opportunity to be a coordinator.
- In addition to adding de Laura, Arizona will have experienced backups at quarterback. Will Plummer started seven games — including the last six — in the 2021 season, but could miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury. Also back is former South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud. A 17-game starter at USF, McCloud started two of Arizona’s first three games in 2021.
- In 2021, Arizona was last in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.2 points per game). The Wildcats struggled to run the ball (129.6 yards per game) and only two teams in the country had fewer rushing touchdowns than their six.
- Overall, Arizona was 10th in the Pac-12 in points allowed (31.4 per game), but that was an improvement. Arizona allowed 39.8 points per game in 2020 and has allowed at least 31.4 per game in each of the last seven seasons.
- Since the start of the 2018 season, Arizona is 2-16 on the road, winning at Oregon State (2018) and Colorado (2019). The Wildcats have lost 11 in a row on the road.
- Punter Kyle Ostendorp was first-team All-Pac-12 last year. He led the conference — and finished third nationally — with an average of 49.17 yards per punt.
- Arizona doesn’t have an easy nonconference schedule. The Wildcats open on the road at San Diego State and then will host Mississippi State — which is led by head coach Mike Leach, who recruited de Laura to Washington State. In Week 3, the Wildcats will host defending FCS champion North Dakota State. NDSU has won nine FCS titles since 2011 and has won six straight against FBS opponents, most recently against then-No. 13 Iowa in 2016.
- CU has won the last two meetings. It’s the first time the Buffs have won back-to-back games against the Wildcats since winning the first 12 in the series, from 1931-85.
Arizona has lost 23 players to the transfer portal since the end of last season. Many of those players were backups, but the Wildcats did lose two of their top receivers from last year: BJ Casteel (33 catches, now at Nevada) and Jalen “Boobie” Curry (21 catches, now at Buffalo). Per 247Sports.com, the Wildcats brought in eight transfers, most of which will help immediately. Headlining the group is de Laura and Cowing. Defensively, edge Hunter Echols (USC), defensive lineman Tiaoalii Savea (UCLA), linebacker Anthony Solomon (Michigan) and safety DJ Warnell (UCLA) could all compete for starting jobs with the Wildcats.