The message from Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez at practice Tuesday was about trust.
Rodriguez, in a self-evaluation after a 31-13 loss at Washington, concluded that he didn’t play enough guys on defense, a potential contributing factor as the Huskies put together methodical drives of 90 and 95 yards for touchdowns in the second half.
“I think we made a mistake as coaches,” he said.
“We didn’t have enough confidence, particularly defensively, to put some guys in there. And we have to force ourselves to do that.
“They, in turn, have to show us in practice that we can trust them if we put them in there. That’s one thing we talked about today.”
The defense gave up 161 yards to Washington running back Bishop Sankey, but he needed a staggering 40 carries to get there. Huskies quarterback Keith Price was a modest 14 of 25 for 165 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
“The conditions certainly favored both defenses, because it was just hard to grip the ball and pitch-and-catch and all that,” Rodriguez said.
“We let them have some long drives in the second half. I don’t know if fatigue was a factor as much as we didn’t play with as much urgency as in other series.”
What hurt the Wildcats in the second half was allowing Washington to go a combined 5 for 5 on third-down conversions on its final three scoring drives. The Huskies’ conversions included third-and-7, third-and-10 and third-and-6.
Perhaps fresher bodies could have helped make a few key stops.
“That hurt us last year at times,” Rodriguez said about the lack of depth on defense,” Rodriguez said. “We have more guys, I think, that are ready to play. But, again, they have to show it in practice.”
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Senior middle linebacker Jake Fischer (as he tweeted a couple of days ago) has an ankle injury that does not appear to be serious. He left the Washington game without putting any pressure on his right leg.
Rodriguez said the injury not a more-troublesome high ankle sprain. Fisher was not expected to practice today or Thursday. He’s likely aiming for a return to Sunday practice in advance of the Thursday night game at USC.
“I think he’s getting better every day,” Rodriguez said. “We’re optimistic he should be OK.”
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Fischer’s brother, Pima Community College sophomore safety Mitch Fischer, was selected as the ACCAC Defensive Player of the Week.
He had two of the Aztecs’ nine interceptions in a 33-17 win over Glendale Community College, including one he returned 80 yards for a touchdowns. He also made seven tackles, including a sack.
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With defenses keen to stop Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, opponents are daring UA receivers to beat man coverage on the outside. Washington often brought its cornerbacks near the line of scrimmage in press coverage.
That was a problem for the Cats.
Arizona is young and not very big on the outside, two detriments to getting a good release at the line of scrimmage, where strength and/or footwork are essential.
Wide receivers coach Tony Dews went back to the fundamentals in Tuesday’s practice, working on the techniques to get separation at the line of scrimmage.
“I felt like I hadn’t prepared them enough for press coverage,” he said. “When you look at the film and you see they’re not doing something good or right, then it’s my job to get that corrected. So, I’m going to get that corrected.”
Only one wide receiver — Garic Wharton — has a reception of more than 20 yards (Carey has one, too). When the wideouts do get open deep, quarterback B.J. Denker hasn’t been able to hit them.
Having David Richards back from a foot injury will help on the outside. He was in for about 25 plays against Washington, making his season-debut but showing some rust, Rodriguez said. Richards did not have a reception.
“I think he’ll be a little bit better each and every day as he gets reps in practice,” Rodriguez said.