There is new life in the Arizona football locker room with head coach Jedd Fisch now in charge. After going 0-5 in the previous season, starting the season strong is crucial for the Wildcats so they can prove this team is not the same as last season. Here are the three positions that the Wildcats will need the most production out of to have a successful season.
For weeks it was a mystery as to which quarterback Fisch would start for the 2021 season. After weeks of waiting, Fisch announced the Wildcats would be playing a two-quarterback system featuring Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer. Plummer is the quarterback with the most experience, but he has only played in three games, all of which were blowout losses last year. Cruz has had limited experience in college football, but his impressive workouts and practices earned him a spot as a starting quarterback. Fisch discussed that each quarterback would get playing time in the first half, and those results will determine who will play out the second half. Regardless of who has more success, they will need to improve their offense to stand a chance in the Pac-12. Last year, the Arizona offense finished last in the Pac-12 in total points per game, third-down conversion percentage, fourth-down conversion percentage, red zone percentage and touchdown percentage in the red zone. If numbers like this are even close to being repeated, it does not matter what system is ran at quarterback, so Cruz and Plummer either must make it work together or one of them will have to step up and prove to Fisch that they are the sole starting quarterback.
Arizona needs to get an established run game going, because the running back position may be the most dysfunctional position on the team. Last season, the Wildcats used an average of 3-4 running backs per game with no players establishing themselves as the starter. The only game in which a running back ran for more than 100 yards last season was against Colorado, but Arizona still lost the game 24-13. In some games, all the Arizona running backs would not even equal the number of yards from one running back on the other team. Michael Wiley will be returning for Arizona, but the two-quarterback system will need him to fall back on when the passing game is not working. Fisch has newer options in the backfield, like Tucson native Stevie Rocker Jr. He joined the Wildcats in spring of 2021 as one of Fisch’s first recruiting classes. Rocker went to Canyon Del Oro High School and was rated as a top-20 prospect in the state of Arizona. As a sophomore in 2018, he had 1,163 yards rushing and a dozen touchdowns. If Wiley is not able to separate himself from the field, Rocker is not a bad second option.
Fisch has established most of his wide receiving core, but the last starting position is between Boobie Curry, Tayvian Cunningham and Jalen Johnson. In his true freshman season, Curry finished the season with six catches for 68 yards and one kick return for 22 yards. Last year, Curry caught 10 passes for 89 yards in all five of Arizona’s games in his first year as a starter. Cunningham finished the 2019 season with seven kick returns for 138 yards with a long of 30, along with four receptions of 40 or more yards. Cunningham established himself as a dominant receiver in 2020 in the season opener against USC, where he had five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown against USC. Cunningham finished the season with nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown, along with 11 kickoff returns for 212 yards. Johnson finished the 2019 season with seven catches for 79 yards and one touchdown. In the shortened 2020 season, Johnson did not make an appearance. Cruz and Plummer are going to need all the offensive weapons they can get, so whoever Fisch decides on will have their hands full with expectations and a tough 12-game schedule.
Arizona will open the 2021 season against BYU at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 7:30 p.m. MST.
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