Jayden de Laura joined Arizona in January, and almost from the moment he arrived he was penciled in as the Wildcats’ starting quarterback. That meant he got a full compliment of spring practices and all of preseason training camp to learn, and then master, Jedd Fisch’s offense.
But there’s a big difference between practice and games, with the chances for something to go wrong amplified in the latter. That was the case a week ago when de Laura threw three interceptions and was also sacked twice against Mississippi State, looking a lot less polished than in his UA debut at San Diego State.
Then came Saturday night, when the redshirt sophomore threw for 229 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 50 yards and a score in Arizona’s 31-28 victory over defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
Is that what we can expect from JDL the rest of the year, or was that just a one-game thing? Depends on how he and coach Jedd Fisch continue to figure each other out, and what his conversations with his coaches produce.
“The biggest thing I would say about Jayden and I, and how we call the game and what we ask him to do is, we’ve only done this for three games together,” Fisch said after the NDSU win. “We’re just building a relationship. We’re building trust, and I’m trying to learn what he needs and how to coach him every day in practice, and he needs to learn what I expect and what I want.”
The rushing yardage (and 10 carries) were both career highs for de Laura, who had never previously run for more than 43 yards in a game. He didn’t really have to at Washington State, and he said he wasn’t allowing himself to do that in his first two games with the Wildcats.
“I kind of was second guessing, like I gotta throw the ball, I gotta throw the ball,” he said. “I gotta get the ball into this guy’s hands or Jacob Cowing’s hands or T-Mac’s hands, the list goes on and on.
“As I kind of looked back and watched the film from last week, maybe even the week before it was like, when stuff wasn’t going our way, and I didn’t run, that I was when our offense kind of went down. So this game I put it on myself.”
While de Laura’s 7-yard TD run in the second quarter was a designed QB run, most of his rushes were of the scramble variety. Three resulted in first downs, including an 11-yard scamper during Arizona’s final drive of the first half that produced a field goal in what ended up being a 3-point game.
“If everything’s covered downfield, they still gotta come stop me,” de Laura said.
Fisch noted that some of de Laura’s best throws came after he left the pocket, an indication that his quarterback really took to the the things Fisch and quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty said to him during the week between the MSU and NDSU games.
“On the scramble that he hit Jacob Cowing on for the touchdown that made it 31-28, that was, he took off, he scrambled, he kept his eyes downfield,” Fisch said. “One of the rules that we added was if you have a wide open guy, throw it. We just don’t want to force the ball. And that was one of the things that we did last week a little bit too much.
“We’re just trying to work through things, and I thought that it was a great learning experience last Saturday night. He probably saw some opportunities that he could have paid off and run. I’m glad to see that he did it this week.”
De Laura said he met with Fisch on Monday, Dougherty on Tuesday and Fisch again on Wednesday, and each time the discussion was open and honest.
“It was just having a conversation, like, (Fisch is) gonna let me play my game as long as I still run the scheme that he calls,” de Laura said. “So it was just getting that connection. I felt like it was a really easy conversation.”
De Laura threw for 299 yards and four TDs with an interception at San Diego State, almost never having to leave the pocket. Against MSU he was running for his life but never went past the line of scrimmage, resulting in a 23-of-45 passing performance with three picks.
With the running component added, de Laura was 20 of 28 and accounted for almost 71 percent of Arizona’s total offense.
“San Diego State, that game was ... everything was going on our way that game,” he said. “Mississippi State, I mean, it was bad plays by me. By me. Nobody else. Three interceptions, can’t happen. I would say this game was kind of more just understanding the conversation, what I see out there, what (Fisch) sees out there, so I feel like we kind of got it together at the perfect time.”