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Jedd Fisch ‘would have no concern whatsoever’ if Noah Fifita has to start for Jayden de Laura vs. Washington

No update on the ankle de Laura injured against Stanford

arizona-wildcats-football-jayden-delaura-noah-fifita-jedd-fisch-ankle-stanford-washington-pac12-2023 Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Jedd Fisch did not have an update Monday on the status of any of the many Arizona Wildcats who suffered injuries in Saturday’s win at Stanford. The team returns to the practice field Tuesday in preparation for their home opener against 7th-ranked Washington, but even then may be too soon to know if certain players—most notably quarterback Jayden de Laura—will be able to go in the next game.

At the same time, it didn’t sound like Fisch was too worried about having to turn to Noah Fifita against the Huskies.

“I don’t even flinch with Noah,” Fisch said. “Noah did a great job, great job handling everything, and I would have no concern whatsoever if he started for us on Saturday night. But I’d really like to see how Jayden’s ankle is.”

Fifita, a sophomore, saw the first meaningful snaps of his UA career in the fourth quarter at Stanford, leading the UA on a game-winning touchdown drive as well as a game-clinching possession to run out the clock. Fifita was 4 for 4 for 47 yards and had two carries for nine yards, including a 6-yard keeper on an RPO on 2nd and 1 on the go-ahead drive.

That was Fifita’s third snap in place of de Laura, who suffered an ankle injury late in the third quarter and was seen in a walking boot after the game. The first play with Fifita at QB was a 15-yard completion to Jacob Cowing on a checkdown, but Fisch had higher hopes for that snap.

“The first play he went in I wanted to launch a post,” he said.

De Laura has been the starter since he arrived on campus in January 2022, following his transfer from Washington State, and in 16 games has thrown for 4,754 yards and 34 TDs. But Fisch said both QBs got to Tucson on the same day, so their time working in Arizona’s offense is equal.

That makes any changes to practice this week, depending on de Laura’s health, minimal.

“They’ve learned the offense the exact same way, they’ve been in the exact same meetings,” Fisch said. “They have very similar skill sets, in a lot of ways. So nothing changes. And the only thing that will potentially change would be practice reps. So if the practice reps go more to Noah and less to Jayden, because he’s not able to go, that would be the only difference. But in regards to game planning, regards to preparation, zero difference.”

Asked how the two are different, Fisch said de Laura’s biggest advantage is experience. For Fifita, who is 8 for 8 this season, it’s the “twitchiness” he showed against Stanford.

“Jayden started 32 games in college football already, whereas if Noah happens to starting this would be his first,” Fisch said, noting that de Laura can take into past game situations while Fifita is more limited to practice scenarios. “What do you see regarding, let’s call it, all the different looks that he’s had to deal with? And where he is able to kind of pull back from the memory banks.”

The “twitchiness” Fisch referred to was best on display when Fifita ran a naked bootleg to the right, was faced with a defender in his face and still managed to find Tanner McLachlan for an 18-yard completion to get Arizona into the red zone on its go-ahead drive.

“He had to slam the brakes on, get his eyes around, and then Tanner flashed through his vision—he obviously knew where he was going to be—but immediately got it out of his hands,” Fisch said. “Number one goes to his preparations, because he knew exactly where all the bodies were going to be. Number two goes to his twitchiness. He’s extremely fast when he makes a decision. So he’s able to get the ball out of his hands and at a very, very high tempo. And that’s one of the biggest things that you look for when you’re looking at NFL quarterbacks is how quickly can we speed it up at the top when somebody pops open? Noah does a great job of speeding it up at the top and being able to get the ball out of his hands very quickly.”

Fisch said de Laura’s ability to make “splash plays” by avoiding sacks, using his feet and still keeping his eyes downfield, is unlike anything he’s seen from any other quarterback he’s coached. But against Stanford there was a little too much of that for Fisch’s liking.

“We just can’t hold the ball, we don’t need to do that,” he said. “We need to trust our reads, we need to get the ball out there quicker. There’s plenty of opportunities to not hold the ball, and not have to. Part of the game is you got to play with great rhythm and timing. And if you’re not playing with great rhythm and timing, if you’re delayed or you’re holding the ball, you’re waiting for things to happen, you’re gonna miss things. It’s gonna feel like it’s lasting forever.

“Obviously, there’s no excuse for ever drifting back 30 yards to throw the ball away on a 3rd and 10 at the plus-36 yard line and risk the possibility of a big negative play. We wound up throwing it away, but that’s nothing that we would ever coach or permit.”

According to Pro Football Focus, de Laura’s average time to throw against Stanford was 3.69 seconds. For Fifita, albeit on just four attempts, it was 2.56.

If de Laura isn’t healthy enough to play, or if Fisch decides to make the change anyway, he said the overall offensive gameplan against Washington won’t look any different.

“Noah has never once given us any reason to not call what we want to call, execute what you want to execute. You don’t have to worry about, is that too far of a throw, is that something that we don’t feel comfortable throwing outside the numbers? He’s an extremely talented player. He’s extremely confident and poised.”