After throwing an incomplete pass on Arizona’s first offensive snap, Will Plummer jogged to the sidelines and then watched as Jamarye Joiner tossed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Tayvian Cunningham two plays later.
Plummer could have easily looked at that play and thought, welp, there goes my job as the starter. Instead, he was one of the first Wildcats to greet Joiner after he came off the field.
“I was amped when he threw that touchdown on the first drive of the game,” Plummer said after Arizona’s 41-34 loss at USC. “He was the amped for me too when I ran mine (in) and so it’s a pretty good relationship.”
Plummer had by far the best game of his UA career, throwing for 264 yards and rushing for 31 yards and a TD. And, most importantly, not turning the ball over, the first time he hadn’t thrown an interception in a game since mop-up duty against San Diego State in Week 2.
“Something just clicked,” Plummer said, referring to Arizona’s offense—which posted season highs in yards and points—but also himself.
Said coach Jedd Fisch: “I think confidence is what kind of clicked, would be my guess. I would say that probably what it was, was his ability to just kind of (have it) slow down for him. And I think that’s kind of what clicked the most. Maybe it was, there’s no one behind me that’s gonna be taking my spot, so I have the freedom to go play the best I possibly can play and and then I think he started seeing the field better.”
Plummer is Arizona’s only healthy scholarship quarterback, and a knee injury suffered by Joiner makes it very likely he won’t be sharing that spot with anyone for Saturday’s Homecoming game against Cal. That means no splitting of reps in practice, which Fisch believes can only help Plummer as he continues to develop in his offense.
“Every day that he plays quarterback in our offense is a day he should get better in it and every rep he takes, so not splitting the reps in practice will probably benefit Will, will probably benefit his relationship with the receivers, where they start understanding his timing and his accuracy, and I think that will probably benefit him as we continue on,” Fisch said.
Cal has the No. 2 run defense in the Pac-12, allowing 121.9 yards per game and only 116.8 against league opponents. As much as Fisch wants to stay balanced—“I don’t want to just run for 125 or 130 yards a game I think we need to be at that 180 mark,” he said Monday—the onus will be on Plummer to make the offense move.
That means being smart with his decisions with the ball, not forcing anything but also not being afraid to take a chance if the opportunity presents itself.
“We encouraged him all week (to) be aggressive,” Fisch said. “You can’t just play the game to not make a mistake, that usually is what gets you. It seemed as if as the practice week went on, I think I mentioned it (last) Thursday, he was just more aggressive so the ball was kind of flying down the field more and I think that maybe that kind of message clicked with him of just like hey, let it rip. I think he understands the offense better.”
Plummer was sacked four times by USC but he also scrambled five times for 57 yards including a 16-yard TD run on 3rd and goal and a 13-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal to get Arizona within one score for the first time.
“Those were him,” Fisch said of the runs. “We tell him scramble forward, north south, not east west. Early in the season there was a lot of going sideways and backwards with our scrambles, and we made a huge point of emphasis in our drill work during the week that when there’s A-gap openings, that’s how you have to take advantage, between the center and the guard. When you get back there and you move in the pocket, when you see that center and the guard open up, that’s where the scrambles become positive yards. When it’s cluttered inside and you go sideways, that’s what holdings occur. Hats off to him for taking advantage of those.”