Helmet off, clipboard in hand, Will Plummer began last season’s game at UCLA much like he had the first two, as more of an observer and cheerleader than active participant.
That didn’t last long.
“First play of the game we were watching, I thought we were going to actually score on the first play,” Plummer said Saturday after Arizona’s third spring practice. “Tayvian (Cunningham) beat the strong safety on a go ball, but a missed block and Grant (Gunnell) got him pretty good and he was down.”
Gunnell suffered a shoulder injury, knocking him out of the game, and all of a sudden the Wildcats were putting a true freshman on the field to take his first career snaps.
Plummer, who said Saturday he hadn’t taken one rep with the first team in practice before entering the game, ended up scrambling for 26 yards on that initial play despite getting no time to warm up. He ended the game with 49 rushing yards while going 17 of 35 for 151 yards and two interceptions in the 27-10 loss.
“It was definitely surreal,” he said. “You try not to get caught up in the moment (but) … you’re standing there in the Rose Bowl, you’ve got a big stadium around you. It’s every kid’s dream.”
Plummer would start the following game, a 24-13 home loss to Colorado, throwing for 154 yards on 19 of 32 passing with an interception and adding 29 rushing yards. He also saw action in the forgettable Territorial Cup loss to ASU.
The day after that 70-7 beatdown, Kevin Sumlin was fired, and later on Gunnell and Rhett Rodriguez would transfer, leaving Plummer as the only quarterback on the roster with college experience. That’s no longer the case with Arizona adding Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz and, in June, South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud.
Rather than take offense to the additions, Plummer considers them necessary to ensure Arizona has the best situation at quarterback.
“We need a certain amount of quarterbacks on the roster, and we need kids with experience, too, and we didn’t have much of that,” Plummer said. “We took a couple of transfers, which you’ve got to expect them to do, it’s Division I football.”
Coach Jedd Fisch said he didn’t watch much of Plummer’s 2020 film because of how different his offense is from Noel Mazzone’s, though he saw enough to know there’s something to work with.
“Will’s continuing to improve,” Fisch said. “He has a pretty good skill set and he’s working extremely hard.”
Saturday’s practice was Arizona’s first in pads, and Plummer admitted afterward it wasn’t a good one for him. After watching the film of that practice he expects to add to his list of things he wants to improve on from a year ago.
“My decision making has to be better,” he said. “Last season it wasn’t the greatest.”
One edge Plummer may have on the rest of the quarterback field is his familiarity with playing under center. While Cruz said Thursday he hadn’t taken a snap that way since seventh or eighth grade, Plummer said his high school team had an I-formation package that put him under center.
Plummer said having that as an option, in addition to a variety of tight end sets as well as the shotgun formations, should make for a potent offense once everyone is up to speed.
“They’ve kind of blend every offense into one, take pieces from where all the coaches came from,” he said.