In the lead up to Saturday night’s scrimmage, the last public practice for Arizona this preseason, coach Jedd Fisch said the plan was to split the team into red and blue units so they could square off against each other.
That’s what ended up happening, but not in a traditional way.
Unlike the Spring Game, which had two bonafide rosters split evenly in terms of talent and experience, this time the uniform color for the most part represented the difference between likely starters and backups (both blue) and scout team players (red). The exception were the quarterbacks, who all wore white but each worked with a distinct offensive group.
What resulted was a 90-minute scrimmage in which the first- and second-team defenders got to tackle third- and fourth-string offensive players but the first- and second-team offenses did not get hit when facing the second and third defensive units.
“I felt it was real important to get our 1s working together, our 2s working together,” Fisch said afterward. “We were able to get our 1s tackling, protect our 1s on offense. We chose to do a certain way, a mock game, something I’ve done at different programs I’ve been at, primarily in the NFL.”
Gunner Cruz worked with the first unit, further increasing the likelihood he’ll be Arizona’s starting quarterback for the Sept. 4 opener against BYU in Las Vegas. Fisch said he knows who the starter is, and the plan is still to announce it publicly Monday after confirming his decision with his assistants and then informing the team.
“I’ll talk to the three quarterbacks to let them know first, then the team, then the world,” he said.
In addition to having three different offensive units—Will Plummer worked with the second group and Jordan McCloud was with the third group—the series were scripted so that one play didn’t always start where the previous ended, making for very unofficial statistics.
Cruz unofficially went 10 of 14 for 149 yards in his three series, throwing a 45-yard touchdown pass to Boobie Curry on his third snap, though John Burton likely would have sacked him had contact been allowed. Plummer’s three series saw him complete 7 of 13 passes for 81 yards and 3-yard TD pass to tight end Alex Lines, while McCloud played four series against the first-team defense and was 12 of 20 for 95 yards with a 5-yard TD pass to Jaden Mitchell but also an interception.
Not including QBs, 10 players ran the ball but none more than four times, while 18 different Wildcats had at least one reception with BJ Casteel leading the way with four catches for 64 yards along with a 15-yard run.
Defensively, sacks or tackles for loss were made by defensive linemen Jason Harris and Trevon Mason, linebackers Rashie Hodge Jr. and Anthony Pandy, Vipers Ammon Allen and Rourke Freeburg and cornerback Javione Carr. Freshman safety Isaiah Taylor had the interception off McCloud, while Christian Roland-Wallace picked off McCloud on the first series but it was called back because of an offsides penalty.
Lucas Havrisik made two of three field goals, hitting from 50 and 51 yards and missing from 48, while Tyler Loop missed both his chances. Loop also had a 40-yard punt while Kyle Ostendorp had two punts including a 52-yarder and Jacob Meeker-Hackett pinned the defense inside the 5 on his lone punt.
The scrimmage was the first chance for UA students to see the team in any capacity since the 2019 season, and much of the estimated 8,000 in attendance were sitting in the Zona Zoo. Fisch addressed those that were still around at “halftime,” sharing some new traditions he’d like to start while also promising 500 free Chick-fil-A for students who stay for the whole game.
“I think that’s what we need right now, we need the enthusiasm and the energy of the community and the campus to get behind us,” Fisch said. “And if they do that they’re going to recognize we’re in a process of building something that we believe is going to be very special, but it’s not going to happen overnight. We’re going to do everything we can to make it as good as we can as quick as we can.”