Arizona freshman coach Jedd Fisch put it in terms he knew his players would understand.
The end of spring football on April 24 marked halftime for the Wildcats. The strengthening and conditioning program that preceded it represented the first trimester. Spring Ball was the second quarter. The upcoming S&C training is the third trimester. Training camp is the fourth.
In other words, cats still have a long way to go.
The same could be said about a critical decision Fisch and his staff must make ahead of the Sept. 4 opener against BYU in Las Vegas. This decision is at the center of the first of three lingering questions we’re exploring about UA football now that the spring ball is over and summer is approaching:
Are Arizona any closer to who will be their starting quarterback?
Based on practice deployments and inbound transfer expectations, we have a pretty good idea of who the other 21 Wildcats starters will be. Things can change, of course, but that picture became clearer as the springball progressed.
The QB situation remains confused. Fisch and his team are unquestionably closer to name a starter. But that doesn’t mean that they To close.
Two issues are delaying the process: (1) Neither of the top two spring quarterbacks, Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer, has strayed from the other; and (2) they are not the only ones in the race.
Jordan McCloud, a transfer from South Florida, is expected to join the program with the next wave of newcomers on June 7. McCloud, a fourth-year student, has appeared in 20 games at USF, including 17 starts. He passed for 2,770 yards and accounted for 26 touchdowns. He’s coming here to compete for the job.
We don’t know much about McCloud at this point beyond his resume, which is much more comprehensive than that of his competition. We took a close look at Cruz and Plummer during the Spring practice, which offered an informative overview of their progress and integration into Fisch’s system.
Both had their ups and downs during the spring ball. Just when it looked like one could part ways with the other, the script rocked. This is what led to this comment from Fisch about four-fifths of the way through spring:
“We just need more consistency outside of the quarterback position. We don’t play regularly enough; we don’t hit enough passes; we are not controlling the line of scrimmage as I would expect.
“We are bouncing back. We have some tough games. And then we bounce back and play a big game, and it picks up a bit of momentum. But we would like more consistency from this position … all positions.
Cruz faced a quick and delicate transition and handled it well most of the time. The Queen Creek product transferred from Washington State, where he experimented with two coaches and two systems in two seasons – Mike Leach’s version of the air raid and Nick Rolovich’s spin on run-and-shoot.
Not only did Cruz have to learn a completely different scheme – with more expansive verbiage, snaps under the center, and back-defending action-play fakes – he had to learn it on the fly. Cruz could not register until March. He basically got to campus and jumped into the fray.
After some initial struggles, Cruz started to show his talent. He has a large frame (rated 6-5, 224) and a big arm and has shown the ability to maneuver in the pocket, reset and throw odd angles. Its release might require some tightening, so prompt treatment is crucial. This is an area where both quarterbacks have improved and will continue to do so.
“I know this system a lot more than they do, so I hope I can see it a little faster than they do,” said Fisch. “But my goal, and Coach (QB) (Jimmie) Dougherty’s goal, is to be able to get them to see him at our pace.
Plummer seemed to be struggling in this area about a week after camp started. He admitted he was overthinking. His playing suffered as a result, leading to expanses of indecision.
Plummer was Arizona’s closest thing to a start, having played three games as a rookie last season. But Fisch’s system was nothing like what Plummer was operating at Gilbert High School or AU in 2020. Even though he had a slight head start on Cruz, growing pains were inevitable for the second-placed player. year.
After falling behind Cruz for about a week and a half, Plummer retaliated. He started to feel more comfortable and his confidence grew. Where most of his early successes occurred in fast-paced play, Plummer began to connect with receivers deeper in the field. He closed the gap. At the end of the camp, Plummer and Cruz were roughly tied.
Cruz – who hadn’t played catching up with any of his outgoing guys before the start of camp – struggled with his deep-ball accuracy for much of the spring. He regularly knocked down receivers on these shooting games.
However, like Plummer, Cruz remained resolute. He threw a perfect pass in the spring game to Jamarye Joiner for a gain of 61 yards.
Now both quarterbacks, as well as McCloud when he arrives, will have a window to improve their chemistry and timing with the receiving body during what Dougherty has described as an “open gym.” Player-led practices are an essential part of the aforementioned third quarter of the offseason. But there is more to it than that.
Coaches have limited opportunities to work with players. Fisch said the QBs would go to “a little quarterback school,” which would give them a chance to “take a step back… go through it all and see if we can help you get better.”
Then come to training camp, the coaches “will roll the balls again and see what it looks like,” Fisch said. “But we have to make a decision at some point.”
Given how close the competition is, don’t be surprised if the “fourth quarter” turns into overtime.