LAS VEGAS (AP) — Arizona’s Jedd Fisch era will begin at the Death Star.
A longtime NFL and college assistant, Fisch will take the sideline as a head coach for the first time Saturday, when the Wildcats face BYU at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
“There’s obviously the anxiety and the butterflies, and if you don’t have those I don’t know if you’re a real competitor,” Fisch said this week. “But there’s always that juice out there and you want to put your best foot forward. I’m not sure I’ll do a lot of sleeping this week, but I’m certainly excited about where this thing can go.”
Fisch was hired to take the program in a new direction.
The Wildcats will arrive at the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders riding a school-record 12-game losing streak that cost previous coach Kevin Sumlin his job.
Arizona hired Fisch to lead a turnaround, a move that garnered mixed reviews. The 41-year-old undoubtedly has the coaching chops after a career that’s included stops at multiple college programs and NFL teams, the last being under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots in 2020.
Some Arizona fans didn’t like the idea of hiring a first-time head coach, but Fisch quickly won over hearts in the desert by hiring top-notch assistants and embracing former Arizona players.
Now it’s time to take it to the field. The first step won’t be easy.
BYU was arguably the best Group of Five team in college football last season, finishing 11-1 and No. 11 in the AP Top 25, its highest final ranking since 1996.
The Cougars took a big hit when quarterback Zach Wilson opted to leave school early for the NFL and have some holes to fill, but always play a physical, disciplined brand of football no matter who lines up.
“We know that we’ve got our work cut out for us with that team and we’re excited about the opportunity,” Fisch said. “We know that it’s a good defensive team, it’s a good offensive team and they certainly know how to not beat themselves on special teams. That’s all three phases working together. That’s how you go 11-1.”
BYU had a three-way competition to replace Wilson between Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover.
Hall saw limited action in seven games last season, throwing for 420 yards and running for 147 more. The sophomore has a big arm and an ability to extend plays, which fits in nicely with BYU’s offensive scheme.
“Jaren’s not dumb, he knows he’s got to play well, there’s good players behind him,” Cougars offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said last week after Hall was named the starter. “I expect him to do that, though. I have a lot of confidence that he’s going to play great.”
BYU wasn’t the only team to have a lengthy competition to replace a departed starting quarterback.
Grant Gunnell, who took the majority of the snaps during the pandemic-altered 2020 season, opted to enter the transfer portal and is now at Memphis.
The competition came down to two players: Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz and returning freshman Will Plummer.
There was no clear winner, so the Wildcats plan to use both — for now.
“Right now we plan on playing both, how much we’re not sure yet, we’ll see what that looks like, see how the game goes,” Fisch said. “There’s certainly an opportunity for a little platoon system. Right now they’ve embraced it, they’re working hard at it, they’re working hard at getting better.”
Plummer threw for 388 yards in three games for Arizona last season and can extend plays with his legs. Cruz made one appearance last season against USC and is a good decision-maker.
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