It’s week 5 and your undefeated Dawgs are heading to Tuscon this week to take on the Arizona Wildcats! Ahead of what may be the final duel in the Desert, I caught up with Brian Pedersen of AZ Desert Swarm to talk about the Wildcats and what we can expect from them in this game:
1. Jedd Fisch has rebuilt a Wildcats team that was in shambles after Kevin Sumlin’s firing in 2020. The team has steadily improved under Fisch, going from 1-11 in ’21, to 5-7 last year. With the team at 3-1 going into this game with Washington, what’s the ceiling for Fisch and what do you think of the job he’s done with the team?
BP: I think Fisch’s ceiling is the same as that for Arizona’s program: 7-8 wins annually, with trips to bowl games. That’s what it was for Rich Rodriguez and Mike Stoops, with occasional outliers, and that should be enough, though fans will always think otherwise. As for Fisch himself, he’s far exceeded any realistic expectations for a first-time head coach taking over a bottomed-out program. Arizona is 3 months away from signing its first 5-star prospect, it’s getting in the door with other top recruits and quality transfers want to come here as well.
2. Like Washington, Arizona’s offense runs through their passing game. Husky fans are more than familiar with the Wildcats’ quarterback, Jayden De Laura. How has he performed this year, and do you see improvement from last year?
BP: Overall, de Laura has underperformed in 2023 despite his numbers being similar to a year ago. One would have thought there’d be a leap in his second year in the system, but that hasn’t happened despite so many returning weapons. His decision-making continues to be questionable, particularly when things fall apart, though when he makes quick decisions the results are much better. It’s up in the air if he’ll play in this game after suffering an ankle injury at Stanford. If he can’t go, sophomore Noah Fifita (who seems far less indecisive) would make his first career start.
3. Aside from Jacob Cowing, what’s the receiver room look like, and how has the exit of Dorian Singer impacted the rest of their pass catchers?
BP: Cowing is the reliable option that you can always throw to, but the big-play guy is sophomore Tetairoa McMillan. A 6-foot-4 target that can run all the routes, he has 11 TDs in 16 career games. The third option is Colorado transfer Montana Lemonious-Craig, followed by some true and redshirt freshmen, but there’s also tight end Tanner McLachlan, the best at that position at Arizona since Rob Gronkowski. Watch out or he’ll hurdle you.
4. What do you think of what OC Brennan Carroll has done with this offense since taking over? Likewise, this defense has shown improvement under Johnny Nansen in year 3 of his tenure. What do you attribute that to?
BP: It’s not really Brennan Carroll’s offense, the OC moniker is just a title, since Fisch calls the plays. But he’s done a great job putting together a solid offensive line, one that had a terrific pass blocking score (per Pro Football Focus) at Stanford and is the biggest Arizona has put out in years.
Johnny Nansen is actually in his second year with Arizona, as current UMass head coach Don Brown ran the defense in 2021. There’s been major improvement seen on that side of the ball, a combination of great depth and more understanding of the scheme. Arizona has allowed 64 points in 4 games; this time a year ago that number was 136.
5. It’s score prediction time: what do you think the score will be for what might be the final
duel in the desert?
BP: As good as Arizona’s defense has looked, it hasn’t faced an offense anywhere close to as potent as Washington’s. This will be a shootout, and the Huskies should win 45-28.
Thanks Brian! For my answers to his questions, be sure to check out the corresponding piece on AZ Desert Storm!