What will the Wildcats do? Coaching upheaval at Arizona means a lot of ‘contingency plans’ for BYU
Cougars will go exclusively with sophomore Jaren Hall at quarterback on Saturday against Arizona, while the Wildcats have said they will use at least two QBs
The day before BYU coaches named Jaren Hall the Cougars’ starting quarterback for the opener against Arizona, the Wildcats beat BYU to the punch by announcing that not one, but two, quarterbacks would face the favorites this Saturday in Las Vegas.
New Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz will start, but fellow freshman Will Plummer will play.
So neither team is trying to keep it a secret for strategic purposes, an idea BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and head coach Kalani Sitake toyed with a few months ago.
Kickoff for the Cougars-Wildcats showdown at Allegiant Stadium is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Roderick’s reasoning for making the all-important starting QB announcement 10 days before the game was that more could be gained in giving Hall the majority of the reps in practice this week than could be gained holding the opponent in suspense.
Besides, the Wildcats, who have lost 12 straight games, probably have a lot more issues to worry about than who BYU will start at QB.
“College football isn’t pro football. It just isn’t,” Fisch told the Arizona Daily Star. “You have a situation where you’re developing kids and you’re developing a team. And when you’re doing that, you have to find a way to get these guys to be the best they possibly can be. Right now, I do believe this is the best way.”
Fisch said that Plummer, Arizona’s only returning scholarship quarterback from last season, will probably play in the first half. He didn’t divulge what the planned rotation will look like in the second half.
“I am going to let the game dictate it,” Fisch said.
Cruz, from Queen Creek, Arizona, redshirted his first season at Washington State (2019) and played in just one game last year, which technically doesn’t count against his eligibility due to COVID-19. He threw for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Plummer, from Gilbert, Arizona, completed 43 of 80 passes for 388 yards last year, and also rushed for 95 yards. South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud is also an option, having made 17 career starts for the Bulls before transferring to Tucson.
Fisch has said he doesn’t expect to play two quarterbacks in every game the entire season.
Neither does Roderick.
In fact, BYU’s first-year OC said he never considered doing that, even while the competition between Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover appeared too close to call coming out of spring camp last March.
“We had enough team reps in practice that we were able to settle it on the field,” Roderick said. “We had to sacrifice a couple individual (practice) periods, so sometimes we were coaching team reps instead of where you might be coaching techniques from individual drills, but I thought it was well worth it and it gave us a large enough body of work to really see all those guys can play.”
In a way, said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, having to face three quarterbacks with differing styles for the bulk of preseason training camp helped the Cougars prepare for multiple QBs against the Wildcats.
“We have watched the three kids that they have talked about (playing). We see the potential problems that each of them could bring,” Tuiaki said. “We have contingency plans for each of them.”
Along with watching as much film as they could get on Arizona’s QBs, BYU coaches have also had to study what new UA offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll did as the Seattle Seahawks’ running game coordinator the past six seasons and what new defensive coordinator Don Brown did at Michigan and Boston College.
Arizona fired coach Kevin Sumlin after three mostly miserable seasons in Tucson on Dec. 12, 2020, a few days after a humiliating 70-7 loss to instate rival Arizona State. The Wildcats hired Fisch on Dec. 23, 2020.
Roderick, who coached in the Pac-12 when he was at Utah, said a few weeks ago that Fisch has assembled some of the “best minds” in football on both sides of the ball.
“They will have a tough, hard-nosed defense, I know that,” Roderick said.
Although BYU is an 11-point favorite, Sitake said anything can happen in openers, as BYU showed the college football world last year when it pummeled Navy 55-3 on Labor Day. Besides, he said, Arizona has Pac-12 talent, especially at the skill positions.
Wide receivers Stanley Berryhill III and Jamarye Joiner and tight end Bryce Wolma give the new QBs reliable and explosive targets.
Bottom line, Sitake said last week, is that Arizona has enough talent to upset the Cougars and most of the other teams on its schedule.
He met a suggestion that the Cougars could be looking ahead to the Sept. 11 showdown with rival Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium with disgust.
“We are not worried about anything but Arizona right now,” Sitake said. “All of our focus is on the Wildcats and that game in Vegas. That’s all we care about.”