When you have a quarterback, you have a chance.
Arizona has a quarterback, and therefore the Wildcats have a chance.
Jayden de Laura’s performance Saturday against North Dakota State was as impressive as it was necessary. Had the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year not played as well as he did then quite simply, Arizona would have lost the game.
De Laura’s effort doesn’t exactly jump out on the box score, with him completing 20 of 28 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown while adding 50 yards and a TD on 10 rushing attempts, but anyone who watched the game saw a confident, talented passer.
He can most definitely pass. And, when necessarily, he can run, too.
He’s the perfect quarterback for the 2022 Wildcats.
“I kind of was second guessing, like I gotta throw the ball, I gotta throw the ball,” he said after the game of why he didn’t utilize his legs much over the first two games. “I gotta get the ball into this guy’s (Dorian Singer) 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.”
On the field de Laura evokes memories of Anu Solomon, when he was at the height of his powers. Solomon could run, sure, but it wasn’t part of his game in the way it was for say Khalil Tate or Brandon Dawkins.
Like Solomon in 2014, when the redshirt freshman led Arizona to a Pac-12 South title and Fiesta Bowl appearance, de Laura has plenty of weapons to get the ball to, and like Solomon he is capable of doing exactly that. Arizona’s advantage Saturday night figured to be at the skill positions, and when Singer, Tetairoa McMillan, Cowing, Tanner McLachlan, Jonah Coleman or Michael Wiley were open, the ball seemed to find them.
And when they weren’t, de Laura ran. Perfect.
This is something Arizona did not have at all last season, and hasn’t consistently had for some time. Because de Laura brings it to the table, Arizona is and should be a confident team.
After Saturday’s win Jedd Fisch said he never felt his team was on the ropes, noting that each team was able to move the ball.
“I felt no flinch,” he said. “There was no flinch at all. “And when our team went out there after we scored to make it 31-28, I heard our defense say one stop wins the game.”
Arizona made it 31-28 by going on a 10-play, 78 yard TD drive to take the lead. On the drive, easily the most important of the game, de Laura completed 4 of 5 passes for 47 yards and the touchdown.
Was Arizona in a bad spot to begin the drive? Yes, because you never want to be down late in the fourth quarter. But at the same time you wanted the ball in de Laura’s hands with a chance to take the lead late because you knew he could deliver.
There were multiple games last season where Arizona needed one drive, only to fall short. Often there was a costly turnover, but often times it was simply a matter of the team being unable to move the football. Fisch did a great job getting his players to believe and battle, but that only gets you so far.
And no matter how talented your receivers and running backs are, you need competency at quarterback to make it all work.
Through three games de Laura has proven to be more than competent; he’s shown that he is an upper-tier QB in the Pac-12 and someone who can put the team on his back and carry to victory.
Just think of the touchdown pass to Cowing that won the game. It showed everything de Laura brings to the table, with him using his feet to buy time before throwing on the move and dropping a dime into the end zone.
How many QBs can make that play? How about some of the others throughout the game?
It’s clear having someone like de Laura has allowed Fisch to unlock his offense. While he’s still learning about his quarterback, there is an obvious level of trust that he can make the necessary reads and throws.
He did it Saturday night, and in doing so further solidified his spot as the guy for an Arizona team that desperately needed stability at the position. That’s not to say de Laura will be perfect the rest of the way or that mistakes won’t be made, because his style of play lends itself to some moments that will have you yelling at the TV.
But unlike some programs Arizona is not good enough to have a caretaker at quarterback. It needs someone who oozes ability and confidence, someone who will not easily give up on plays or games.
In de Laura the Wildcats have that, and because he’s around you should never count them out.