It wasn’t just Arizona Wildcats fans who looked at last month’s home loss to NAU as an embarrassment. Will Plummer felt their pain, both literally and figuratively.
“That’s ... probably one of the worst nights of my life that night,” said Plummer, who started at quarterback against NAU but was pulled midway through the fourth quarter of that shocking 21-19 loss. “I got a little banged up in the shoulder. I didn’t throw for about a week, so I was out for a little bit, kind of down, fell on the depth chart a little bit. I think that I’ve came a long way since then and I’m ready to go.”
Plummer is back as Arizona’s starter, winning the job by default after season-ending injuries to Jordan McCloud and Gunner Cruz in consecutive games. He took over for Cruz in the third quarter last week at Colorado, throwing for 71 yards on 7-of-17 passing with an interception.
Against NAU he threw for a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown but he was also picked off twice, one of which was returned for a TD late in the second quarter. Arizona was leading 13-0 at the time and did not score again until after Plummer was benched for McCloud.
“I saw the linebacker standing there,” Plummer said, acknowledging that he and intended receiver Stanley Berryhill III weren’t “on the same page” on the play.
Plummer said he took a hit in the third quarter of that game and tried to play through the injury but completed only 2 of 7 passes in the second half. His last threw was intercepted, setting up NAU’s final TD, and he didn’t get back into a game until last Saturday.
“Mentally, there were some things there that kind of just slipped from my grasp,” he said.
Plummer said he believes the time out of action can only help him because it allowed him to figure out what he did wrong but also see how his QB teammates operated in games. One thing he noticed about his own play, through film study, was that he was too “antsy in the pocket.
“Sometimes in the games I can see my feet will be a little too quick,” he said. “I feel like towards the end of last game, that last drive, last two drives I was able to kind of stand in there and see things, and just kind of realize that it’s just football. The end of the day it’s just football, so that’s kind of the approach I’m taking is, I’ve played this game long enough, I kind of understand what’s going to happen and I need to just trust my preparation and training.”
Several of Plummer’s pass attempts at Colorado were deep shots, including one that he launched 62 yards in the air but overthrew an open Tayvian Cunningham behind the defense. Arizona’s coaches love that aggressiveness but at the same time want him to rein it in a bit.
“I think fine-tuning it is recognizing you don’t have to throw it 65 yards to hit on a 55-yard pass,” head coach Jedd Fisch said. “You don’t have to feel like everything has to be the hardest throw, the toughest throw, the greatest throw, there’s times that you can actually just take a deep breath before you walk up under center. You hit on a couple of them and it’s like wow, that’s exactly we’re looking for. Some of it will become (with) experience some of it will be just himself taking a deep breath.”
Plummer said he was given the same advice from strength coach Tyler Owens, who told him Mac Jones did the same thing before each play last year at Alabama.
“If you look closely at the game last Saturday before every play I take a deep breath,” he said. “You can see me on film doing that. I kind of just tried it out, I thought it worked.”
This is actually the second time in his brief career that Plummer has taken over the starting job due to injury. Last year he made his collegiate debut at UCLA on the second play of the game after Grant Gunnell injured his shoulder, and a week later he made his first start against Colorado before Gunnell took back the job for the season finale.
Barring injury there won’t be any abdicating of the job this time, not when his backups (Luke Ashworth and Brayden Zermeno) are both walk-ons with zero game experience. That takes some of the pressure off him, but not all of it.
“You definitely try to just approach it the same way,” he said. “I mean I know that it’s gonna be a little bit nicer, not having that aspect of it, but the same time, kind of just got to go out there and keep playing. I got to stay healthy for the next six games, that’s not gonna change the way I play, I’m gonna play the way I do, I’ll try to be smarter on plays that I can be, but they’re gonna get the same guy out of me that they are expecting.”