In the aftermath of a triple-overtime loss at USC, Jedd Fisch said Noah Fifita’s performance against a second consecutive top-10 team didn’t change Arizona’s plans at quarterback, either for this weekend’s game at No. 19 Washington State or beyond.
Maybe his tune would be different after he reviewed film, and he’d decide to go with the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week instead of Jayden de Laura, who started the Wildcats’ first four games this season but has missed the last two with an ankle injury?
“Same answer,” Fisch said Monday. “If (Jayden) is 100 percent healthy he will start on Saturday, and if he’s not then Noah will start on Saturday. And that’s the way we’ll go.”
De Laura returned to practice last Wednesday, participating in 7-on-7 drills, and did go through early pregame warmups at USC before coming out in street clothes for the game. Fisch said he doesn’t know how close to 100 percent de Laura is at this point.
“He’s healthier than he was last week,” he said. “He’s better than he was a week before. And we’ll let that play out as we as we roll into this next game.”
Fifita threw for 302 yards and five touchdowns in the 43-41 loss to USC, one week after throwing three TD passes in a 31-24 home loss to fellow unbeaten Washington. The redshirt freshman also led the Wildcats on their game-winning drive at Stanford on Sept. 23 after de Laura got hurt.
De Laura was 14 of 26 for 157 yards and a TD against Stanford before going down on the final play of the third quarter, and though those passing numbers were his lowest of the season he hadn’t thrown an interception for the second game in a row after tossing five in the first two (along with eight TDs).
Fifita’s play the last nine quarters (plus three overtimes) qualifies him as the “hot hand,” while de Laura is the established veteran who earned the starting job entering the season. Fisch is putting a lot of stock in that, pointing out that de Laura had great performances last season in back-to-back games against Washington and USC.
“I think that everybody has short term memories,” Fisch said. “Everybody likes to live in the now, in the present. When we played USC last year and lost 45-37 and Jayden threw three touchdown passes, ran for another, and then had 387 yards passing, everybody was clamoring that he should have been the player of the week.”
Fisch noted that he’s “lived through” every possible scenario involving quarterbacks during his coaching career. That includes his first year at Arizona, in 2021, where instead of trying to choose between a pair of great options he was forced to start three different QBs—none of whom did particularly well—and even give some snaps to converted wide receiver Jamarye Joiner.
“Noah has done a fantastic job, and having two quarterbacks is better than none,” Fisch said. “I think we’re in a very good place at the quarterback position as we move forward.”
If de Laura makes his return this week it would be against his former team, on the field he started seven games for Washington State in 2020-21. Last season, in Tucson, de Laura threw four interceptions in a 31-20 loss to the Cougars.