Arizona football shifts vision of growth from offense to defense for 2023

Feb 22, 2023, 7:14 AM
TUCSON, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Jedd Fisch of the Arizona Wildcats looks over his play ca...
TUCSON, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Jedd Fisch of the Arizona Wildcats looks over his play card during the second half of the NCAAF game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Tucson, Arizona. This year's game is the 96th annual Territorial Cup match between Arizona rival schools. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 38-35. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

While the previous regime didn’t leave much room for anything but improvement, Arizona football is trending positively and provides a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future under Jedd Fisch.

The Wildcats went 5-7 last year in Fisch’s second season. That first year was a 1-11 campaign, one in which Fisch really had to set his foundation through recruiting his own players for a team that went 2-12 for the last two seasons under Kevin Sumlin.

Arizona was fun to watch in 2022 thanks to an offense that was capable of scoring in the 30s any night. The Wildcats were seventh in the Pac-12 for points per game (30.8), sixth in yards per game (462.4) and third in passing yards per game (318.4).

The reliability of that and it translating to winning wasn’t a sure thing thanks to a lot of new players and a struggling defense. Arizona had the Pac-12’s second-worst touchdown percentage in the red zone (59%), points allowed per game (36.5) and yards allowed per game (467.7).

The beginning of something was there, and it’s about the balance of the scales not being so dramatically weighted to one side.

That was partially by design for Fisch, who knew an offensive identity was the way to go first for a rebuild of the program. That will help make the defense better long term.

“We really focused hard on trying to get our offense better between Year 1 to Year 2 and we were able to accomplish that in a lot of ways. … We felt like we needed to do that in order to be able to get the right defensive players in here,” he told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday during Newsmakers Week. “Guys want to play on teams that can score points. We’re happy about that and now it’s going to be a major focus for us to be able to get our defense better this offseason and see if we can get our offense better than it was last year.

“If we can do that, we should have a pretty decent team in the fall.”

The building blocks of the offense are set to return in 2023.

The group’s two true freshmen starters, wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan and offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea were Freshman All-Americans, while quarterback Jayden de Laura and wideout Jacob Cowing were the transfers forming the one-two punch offensively.

On defense, the Wildcats get boosts at linebacker from Oregon transfer Justin Flowe and four-star freshman Leviticus Su’a. But a few key pieces left in the transfer portal, including leading tackler and starting safety Jaxen Turner going to UNLV and starting cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace moving to USC.

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Arizona football shifts vision of growth from offense to defense for 2023