Arizona Wildcats begin prepping for Houston, which seeks return to ‘normalcy’ amid Harvey havoc
The Arizona Wildcats used 23 freshmen and redshirt freshmen in their season opener. The experience enabled those players to get the first-game jitters out of their systems.
“We know we made a lot of mistakes,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “You hope you can make a big advancement from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Playing that game, even against an FCS opponent in Northern Arizona, should be advantageous for Arizona. But not playing also can provide a tactical edge.
Arizona will face Houston on Saturday without the benefit of Week 1 game film to study. The Cougars postponed their opener at UTSA to focus on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
Houston didn’t plan it that way, obviously. But the storm and subsequent flooding in southeastern Texas created this unusual situation.
“Obviously,” UH coach Major Applewhite told reporters Monday, “the last 72 hours have been different for us.”
The Cougars spent most of Friday and Saturday making sure their families and loved ones were safe and secure. They practiced for about 90 minutes on campus Sunday, having recently returned to Houston after being forced to relocate to Austin during the worst of the storm.
Applewhite was pleased with his team’s ability to focus amid trying circumstances. He said 10-15 players’ immediate families “were directly affected by Harvey.” Two coaches’ homes were flooded.
“You don’t move on, but you have to compartmentalize,” Applewhite said. “I told the team, ‘As we get older … a wife changes things, a job changes things, a child change things. There are a lot of things that will pop up that are very, very important to you. And then there are also things you have to do because it’s your occupation.’
“You have to compartmentalize those thoughts and that energy to be able to go and do those things.”
Applewhite explained how he and his players have tried to accomplish that. When the team met Sunday, he asked: “Is everyone all right? Does everyone have everything they need? Don’t be modest, don’t be humble. If you need help, ask for help.”
He then asked them to lock in on their preparation for Arizona. Getting into a normal game-week routine should help.
“They want that structure,” Applewhite said. “A lot of normalcy will come back tomorrow (Tuesday) when they enter class, have practice in the afternoon and they start filing into their routine. We haven’t had any distractions.”
This wasn’t how Applewhite envisioned the start of his first full season as Houston coach. He took over the job last December after Tom Herman left for Texas.
“There are a lot of things that come up in a head coach’s career; it kind of came up early in Major’s head-coaching career,” said Rodriguez, who’s in his 24th year as a head coach. “But it seems like they’ve done a great job of not only staying focused on what they need to do but also helping the community, which certainly needs it.”
Applewhite had been Houston’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, so it’s reasonable to assume the Cougars will run the same offense. But they have yet to name a successor to Greg Ward Jr. at quarterback, and they have a new defensive coordinator in Mark D’Onofrio, via Miami.
That’s the challenge Arizona faces.
“We don’t know exactly what they’re going to do because it is their first game with a new staff,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot of unsure things in our minds about that.”
Rodriguez’s staff compiled scouting reporters over the summer. Without Week 1 film, he said, the Wildcats will be “in the dark” about new personnel and schemes.
Regardless of who lines up where, Rodriguez expects the Cougars to play inspired football at Arizona Stadium.
“They’ll be ready to go,” Rodriguez said. “We will get their best effort, there’s no question about that.”
Rodriguez said receiver Cam Denson didn’t play against NAU because he’s “still a little bit nicked up.”
Denson suffered a foot injury in spring, and Rodriguez said the senior from Salpointe Catholic hasn’t been fully healthy since training camp started.
Denson said in mid-August that he felt like his “usual self.” But he barely participated in the open “Beanie Bowl” practice on Aug. 25. He dressed for NAU but didn’t get into the game.
Denson is week-to-week, said Rodriguez, who didn’t rule out the possibility of him redshirting.
“His biggest thing is, his body’s going to have to continue to heal,” receivers coach Theron Aych said last week. “He’s out there every day. He’s not missed a practice. We’re trying to be smart with him.”
Rodriguez said backup quarterback Khalil Tate “should be fine” after landing hard on his right shoulder in the third quarter vs. NAU. Tate came out of the game and did not return.Rodriguez on the passing game vs. the Lumberjacks: “We did not throw the ball nearly as well as we needed to Saturday. I was disappointed in a couple plays we didn’t hit.” UA quarterbacks finished 7 of 14 for 89 yards.Rodriguez said slot receiver Tyrell Johnson is finally healthy, giving Arizona a speed element it rarely had last season. “He’s a guy you want to try to get the ball to,” Rodriguez said. Johnson scored a 55-yard touchdown on an end-around and had a 58-yard kickoff return vs. NAU.Asked about freshman kicker Lucas Havrisik, Rodriguez joked that he “looks like this mic a little bit. He’s kind of slender.” Nonetheless, Havrisik produced nine touchbacks in 10 kickoffs in the opener.Rodriguez acknowledged that the defensive backs didn’t play the deep ball well and need to sharpen their technique in all aspects of coverage.