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Jedd Fisch explains Arizona’s decision to play two quarterbacks vs. BYU

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Gunner Cruz
Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

“If you’ve got two quarterbacks, you’ve got none.” — John Madden

“Right now, two is better than one.” — Jedd Fisch

Arizona’s head coach has made the first truly tough decision of his tenure, opting to play both Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer at quarterback in the Sept. 4 opener against BYU in Las Vegas. Cruz, the Washington State transfer, will get the first snap, making him the official starter.

“Gunner will be out there first, and then we’ll take it from there,” Fisch said. “We’ll decide here by drive, probably. But that’s not to say we can’t make a substitution within the drive. And not to say it’s going to be alternating drives. It’s just right now we don’t believe that there is one that I can tell is not going to play.

“I’m gonna let the game dictate it and see how the game goes and see how they’re doing. They’ll both have opportunities in the first half, and then we’ll see how the game goes. And it’ll either continue on or not, we’ll see how we rotate guys through.”

Cruz and Plummer—who are roommates—and South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud, who will be the No. 3 quarterback, battled it out over 13 training camp practices including two scrimmages within Arizona Stadium. While Cruz and Plummer stood out from McCloud, who didn’t arrive until the summer, neither was able to separate themselves, Fisch said.

“As we went back and watched all of the film, all the statistics, all of the information, it was clear that it would be hard to tell the other person why they were not the starter more than anything else, and that is why we made that decision,” Fisch said. “I tried to avoid the thought process regarding the pros and the cons and I wanted to put the people first. And in my mind, to stand there and look at Will, and say, I’ve gone with Gunner, and when Will says ‘Why?’ and I say, ‘because I’ve gone with Gunner’ wasn’t a good answer. And if I told Gunner the same thing, ‘I’ve gone with Will,’ and he said ‘Why?’ The same answer.”

Fisch said one of the pair threw 13 touchdowns during live team periods while the other threw 11, and one completed 64 percent of their passes in those periods compared to 63 percent for the other. Neither was particularly turnover-prone in those situations, either, he said.

“Neither one of them deserves not to be the starter,” Fisch said. “They both have found ways to move the football. The team seemed to rally behind both of them.”

Fisch said he never planned to go with a rotation, but the improvement he saw in both Cruz and Plummer as camp progressed necessitated the change. He said each became more like the other in terms of their willingness to make different plays.

“Gunner was big arm, deep balls down the field, didn’t necessarily always want to just take a profit,” Fisch said. “And where I’ve seen the biggest development, after talking to Coach (Jimmie) Dougherty, is that he’s become much more willing to find completions not down the field all the time. Whereas Will was the opposite. Will was more, early on, always looking for the completion when maybe sometimes you had to stay in that pocket and throw the ball downfield. Where he gained or he strived in terms of throwing the ball down the field better than he did early in camp, Gunner found a way to complete the ball more underneath better than he did in camp.”

Earlier in camp Fisch said he didn’t want to have one quarterback looking over their shoulder worrying about getting a quick hook. That mentality factored into his decision, he said.

“I felt like if they both know they’re playing, that they both can play freely, but if one guy thinks that they’re playing but they know it was a super close competition, that they feel that there could be a quick hook, and I did not want them to play with a quick hook,” he said. “I felt like it was much better for their mental psyche to say ‘hey, we’re both going in, we’re both doing this together, we live together, we are roommates, let’s make both of us better and see what happens,’ then this mentality of, ‘hey man, it’s you, but you know I’m right there if you mess it up.’

“If you name one person the starter, and things don’t go well, you’re very quick to go to the next person, and now you’ve benched a starter. And I don’t think that’s the right thing to do with our situation. So we’re looking at in terms of the overall psyche of the team, the psyche of the quarterback, we have two young players that each have four years left of eligibility, and we don’t want to put them in a position until we know who’s the right guy.”

How long will this last? Fisch said he doesn’t have a timeline for going from two quarterbacks to one, that the play will dictate that.

“There will be a time, as always in life there’s always a separation, and there’ll be a time where you can see ... what goes on in a game,” he said. “I mean obviously depending on how the game goes, we can make all the adjustments necessary, and if one comes out and plays a really good game and the other one struggles, then that kind of has answered the question for us.”

Going the two-QB route will no doubt draw skeptics. Two former UA quarterbacks, BJ Denker and Khalil Tate, have already weighed in on the decision on social media.

Fisch’s message to the critics:

“I would say, well, we have two quarterbacks, and we’re playing both, and we don’t really have the ability to say that we don’t have to, we don’t have just one. I don’t want to just make a decision to appease the critic, as much as I would prefer to just say, you know, the right thing to do for the 117 kids in our building is to say these two guys earned the right to play.”