It hasn’t been all bad for the 0-3 Arizona Wildcats.
Receiver Stanley Berryhill ranks among the national leaders in receptions. Aside from the first half against San Diego State, the UA defense has played respectably — well enough to win, one might say.
But that’s what’s missing, and that’s what matters most. So forgive Berryhill and the defense if they aren’t in a mood to celebrate their achievements.
“It just makes me wonder, could I have done more? I’m sure I could have done more,” said Berryhill, who ranks fourth in the nation with 28 catches.
“It looks good on paper. But there’s a lot of times where I didn’t do the right job or I missed a block — I ran the route at the wrong depth or something like that.
“It is hard to take pride in my own accomplishments because we’re not winning games. That’s why I’m here — to win games, not to stack up yards or catches. Because without winning games, it’s kind of meaningless.”
Arizona hasn’t won a game in a long time — almost, but not quite, two years. The Wildcats’ 15-game losing streak is the longest in the nation. Their next opportunity to break it comes Saturday at No. 3 Oregon, which is favored by about four touchdowns.
The 3-0 Ducks rank 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 419.3 yards per game. The Wildcats rank seventh at 354.3, a significant improvement for a defensive unit that regularly has ranked at or near the bottom of the league.
The defense surrendered only 14 points last week against NAU. But the Lumberjacks also scored on a turnover in a monumental 21-19 upset. So whatever the defense did, it wasn’t enough.
“You’re looking for the things that you can hang your hat on,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “We had seven three-and-outs, so that’s pretty good. They had (240) yards of offense; I’d call that in.
“But we didn’t win the game, so that’s the ultimate goal. That’s where you gotta get better. Whatever it takes, that’s what you gotta do. It’s the life of a defensive coach.”
Asked to take stock of the defense as a whole, Brown said: “We’re moving in the right direction.” Arizona allowed 24 points in the season opener against BYU, which scored 26 and 27 points in subsequent victories over Utah and Arizona State. San Diego State put up 35 points in the first half against the UA but had only three in the second. NAU had two scoring drives and came away empty after Arizona fumbled at its 20-yard line.
But when the clock hit 0:00 at Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats had fewer points than their opponent for the 15th time in a row.
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be,” Brown said. “Until we start winning games, we’re not going to be where we want to be.”
Carroll: McCloud ‘ready’
Quarterback Jordan McCloud made his UA debut last week, entering in the fourth quarter in relief of Will Plummer and leading Arizona on a touchdown drive. Aside from a miscommunication on the subsequent 2-point conversion attempt, McCloud looked comfortable operating the offense.
That wasn’t always the case during training camp, when McCloud was still learning the system and trying to make up ground on Plummer and Gunner Cruz. Those two participated in spring practice; McCloud didn’t get here until June.
McCloud is on equal footing now and will be given a chance to compete for the starting spot against Oregon. If Jedd Fisch decides to go that route, McCloud would be Arizona’s third starting quarterback in four games.
“I think he’s ready,” offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said. “I think he’s gonna go in ... and we’re going to get a great evaluation process this week. All three guys will be evaluated. He’s got a shot to do some good things.”
Shuffling quarterbacks isn’t something Fisch and the offensive staff wanted to do; it’s something they felt they HAD to do because none of the three candidates seized the job. The hope is to find clarity after the Oregon game, when Arizona has a bye before hosting UCLA on Oct. 9 — the first of eight games in eight weeks to close the season.
“It would be easier if one guy was taking the job over, but we’re stressing competition,” Carroll said. “We’re hoping that after this week we can figure out and solidify the situation.”
Brown on the Wildcats’ morale when they reconvened Sunday: “Well, the guys were down, but if they were acting like it was Mardi Gras, I’d be disappointed. ... You go to practice. How do we react in practice? I thought we reacted really well. How they reacted in the meetings and watching the tape – they were attentive, they were soaking up all the information and at the same time asking questions. So that part of it’s all good.”
Brown didn’t agree with the targeting call that got defensive end Mo Diallo ejected in the second half vs. NAU. Diallo bumped helmets with quarterback RJ Martinez, but it didn’t appear to be malicious or intentional. “He was literally trying to stop and bumped into the guy and they call him,” Brown said. “What are you gonna do?” Arizona is expected to be without Diallo and safety Jaxen Turner for the first half vs. Oregon as a result of their targeting disqualifications last week.
Tackle Jordan Morgan has the lowest grades among Arizona’s starting offensive linemen, per Pro Football Focus. Carroll believes Morgan’s struggles are a byproduct of the ankle injury he suffered late in training camp. “When you miss as much practice as he did for those weeks getting his ankle back, it takes a toll,” said Carroll, who coaches the offensive line. “He didn’t have many starts coming into the season. ... He was trying like crazy to get back, and just the number of reps that he was able to get haven’t been what’d he like. But he’s getting healthier, and he should be ready to roll this week.”
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told local media that quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. should be able to play after being forced out of last week’s win over Stony Brook because of injury. Star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (ankle) remains day to day, Cristobal said.