Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ home opener against San Diego State at Arizona Stadium (Saturday, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. CROWDED HOUSE?
Jedd Fisch has done everything short of cold-calling UA fans to ensure a sellout. Heck, if you receive a call from a raspy-voiced man claiming to be Fisch sometime Saturday, don’t be surprised. But with Dave Heeke having announced Thursday that about 35,000 tickets had been sold, it would require an improbable late surge to reach the 50,782 mark. That isn’t what’s truly important, though. The fans’ involvement in the action and how long they stick around are what really matter. The crowd will be pumped when the ball is kicked a little after 7 p.m. It’s Fisch’s home debut, and it’s the first time people have been able to go to a real college football game here in almost two years. Getting fans to show up isn’t the problem. Getting them to stay for the duration – especially in the ZonaZoo – has become one. Fisch has several ideas to sustain engagement into the fourth quarter, some inspired (free Chick-fil-A sandwiches!), some we’re not so sure about yet (“Happy Does”). What matters above all is the product on the field. The better Arizona plays, the greater the retention will be in the fourth quarter.
2. MORE SACKS?
This can be interpreted in two ways: (1) Will the Wildcats have more sacks than they had last week? (2) Will they have more than the Aztecs? As mentioned in our preseason edition of “Cats Stats,” sack differential (along with sack-yardage differential) is a figure we’ll be monitoring all season. Arizona was dead last in the Pac-12 last season and got off to a worrisome start against BYU. The Wildcats were minus-3 in sacks and minus-42 in yards lost. Blitz-happy San Diego State was plus-3 and plus-8 against New Mexico State. We believe pass protection will be the key for Arizona’s offense in this game against an SDSU defense that’s aggressive and deceptive. On the other side, priority No. 1 is to slow SDSU’s running game. If the Wildcats can do that, they can put the Aztecs in a position they’d just as soon avoid – having to convert long yardage with a quarterback, Jordon Brookshire, who went 6 for 19 last week. Look for Arizona to exceed its Week 1 sack total of one. The second part we’re not sure about.
We posited this theory to our friend Yogi Roth, who’s calling the game for Pac-12 Networks. Yes, we know, it’s only the second game of the Fisch era, which could last years. It’s also a game the Wildcats should win – and kinda need to win to validate the promise of the offseason. Yogi wasn’t buying it. “We're so many years away from must-win games for this staff. Not even close,” he said. “I really think the No. 1 thing you want to see from this team all year is a team that has hope. ... I'm not in the locker room, so I don't know if they did or they didn't have that ... last year. But I know that (last) Saturday night I saw a team that thought they were going to win the whole game. I think we're gonna see that again. I think you'll see it every single time. This is the ground floor. ... It doesn't just happen. You don’t just get a new roster with free agency, sign Tom Brady. It’s a build.”
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 26, San Diego 20