College football season sometimes feels like one long Groundhog Day.
Practice, watch film, play the games, repeat. It’s a drill players and coaches know well.
For offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, part of that routine is spending Sundays with his assistant, Cory Zirbel. The two hunker down in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and grade every offensive lineman that played the day before. It’s a process that usually takes more than three hours.
“We give every player three grades on every play,” Michalczik said.
A quick breakdown of the grading system with the 24-year coaching veteran as our guide:
1. Production: “Did they get their job done or not?”
2. Assignment: “Were they assignment sound? We obviously want 100 percent on that.”
3. Technique: “Would they have gotten the job done if they were going against Reggie White?”
And the verdict after three games?
“You always want them better — and I think we’re capable of better,” Michalczik said. “We have a lot of room for growth on our line right now, and we have to keep going in that direction.”
The offensive line has drawn the ire of coach Rich Rodriguez after nearly every game this season. The coach clarified this week that he’s not “overly disappointed” in the group; he just thinks the fundamentals up front should be better with such an experienced group.
The UA starts a senior, three juniors (though one is a junior college transfer) and a sophomore.
Four of the five starters were a big part of a UA offense that averaged 526.2 yards per game and 38.2 points per game last season.
“Coach Michalczik is working his tail off for the group to be more consistent on our fundamentals, and it’s not really complicated what we’re asking them to do,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s still a work in progress. They’ve done some good things, too.
“I thought there were times they played pretty well last year, but there were times when Matt Scott and Ka’Deem (Carey) made them look good, too.”
Michalczik, in his first year at Arizona, thinks the best days for his line are ahead. The coach said he’s seen encouraging signs during practice in regards to execution and fundamentals, but it doesn’t always show up in games.
“I always use the old analogy of the golfer,” Michalczik said. “You go to the driving range and you hit 100 balls, and then you step up on the first tee box and there’s 50 people watching you — it’s a little bit different. Sometimes in the heat and the battle of the game, those fundamentals slip.
“Our goal is to program them, so they are natural movements and not something they have to think about.”
Here’s a quick breakdown — by position — of how the line has performed in the first three games.
Who has played: Mickey Baucus, Fabbians Ebbele, Lene Maiava, T.D. Gross, Faitele Faafoi.
The lowdown: Ebbele and Baucus are the full-time starters; in fact, they’ve both started every game of their UA career. Ebbele exited the UTSA game early with an injury and Maiava, a natural guard, filled in. The 6-foot-8-inch tackles have the size to play there, but at times have struggled with footwork and technique.
Number to know: 3: The UA has allowed just three sacks in three games with the pass rush usually coming from the edge for the tackles to handle.
Who has played: Cayman Bundage, Chris Putton, Trent Spurgeon, Maiava, Eric Bender-Ramsey.
The lowdown: Putton, the right guard, is the anchor of the group. He can play all five positions on the line, and guard may not even be his best position — that would be center. Bundage is still improving as a true sophomore. Spurgeon, Maiava and Bender-Ramsey have all seen time as reserves.
Number to know: 6.4: Arizona is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, up one yard per carry from last season. That number probably should be even higher given Arizona’s opponents: undersized NAU and UTSA and a below-
average UNLV defense.
Who has played: Steven Gurrola, Carter Wood.
The lowdown: Gurrola, a junior college transfer, won the starting job out of camp without much competition. Beau Boyster likely would have provided some, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Gurrola is still nailing down his fundamentals and technique while learning the Wildcats’ offense.
Number to know: 12: Arizona has 12 rushing touchdowns in three games and has been running behind the center quite a bit.