Why was Arizona coach Jedd Fisch so definitive about making Jordan McCloud the Wildcats’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future after he threw five interceptions?
Fisch explained his thinking Monday, two days after Arizona’s 41-19 loss at No. 3 Oregon.
McCloud, a transfer from South Florida, made his first UA start against the Ducks. He helped move the team up and down the field — Arizona’s 31 first downs were a season high — and had the Wildcats in position to pull off an upset early in the fourth quarter.
But McCloud also threw five picks, including two in the red zone and one that was returned for a touchdown.
“The things that he did do well gave us confidence that we can build off of that,” said Fisch, whose team is off this week. “I will take on the responsibility of really doing a better job of encouraging him to respect the football and to really understand that the most important thing you can do is not turn it over.”
In Fisch’s view, the positives outweighed the negatives. He liked how McCloud instilled confidence in the team — which faced a double-digit deficit less than five minutes into the game — the way he operated the offense and the manner in which he used his mobility.
“He had a good control and demeanor throughout the game,” Fisch said. “He was able to get to not just his primary read but he was able to progress. There were a couple times where a tight end was taken away; he got to (Stanley) Berryhill (III) on a curl route instead. There were times where he found the flat, he found the halfbacks, he was able to check the ball down. He was able to get out of trouble with his feet. He was able to make plays with his feet.”
McCloud completed 21 of 35 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown. He also had 64 rushing yards on nine attempts.
McCloud was not interception-prone at USF. He had 10 in 418 pass attempts.
Fisch considers McCloud’s prior experience to be one of his biggest assets. But there’s an important distinction between overall experience and experience in Fisch’s system.
“One of the biggest issues with Jordan has been timing — that we haven’t had a lot of time with him,” Fisch said.
Because he was finishing his degree, McCloud couldn’t get to Tucson until June. He missed spring practice, which was a critical installation period for the entire roster.
Fisch firmly believes that McCloud’s decision-making will improve with more repetitions. He should be able to get plenty with the first-team offense over the next two weeks before Arizona’s Pac-12 home opener against No. 20 UCLA on Oct. 9.
When that time comes, Fisch is hopeful that McCloud will understand that he doesn’t need to put the Wildcats on his back. Each of the interceptions he threw against Oregon was different, but there was a common theme: Trying to do too much.
“He doesn’t need to play hero ball,” Fisch said. “He doesn’t need to be Superman out there.
“The mistakes he made are correctable. I think part of it comes through experience in our system.”
The learning goes both ways. Fisch and quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty are still learning McCloud’s tendencies and how he takes instruction. Fisch said McCloud appreciates honesty and “wants to be held accountable.”
“He wants to be corrected,” Fisch said. “He wants to be coached really hard.”
If that’s the case, Fisch’s message to McCloud on Monday should have been well-received.
“He did a lot of good things,” Fisch said. “But as I reminded him when I saw him this morning, you can’t shy away from the fact that we had five interceptions.”
Run game rediscovered
Arizona ran the ball with authority against Oregon after struggling to establish a ground attack in the first three games.
The Wildcats entered the Pac-12 opener averaging 79 rushing yards per contest. They gained 202 yards against the Ducks, who had been allowing 115 per game.
“Confidence was one,” Fisch said. “Our offensive line believed they could run. We were able to come off the ball and have some early movement, which gives you some more confidence.
“I thought our runners ran extremely hard. Michael (Wiley) and Drake (Anderson) had the majority of all the carries. Those two guys really ran with a sense of purpose and didn’t want to get tackled by the first hitter.
“And they started seeing the holes a little bit better. I mentioned on Saturday evening, the more experience you have running a zone running scheme, the better you do when it comes to being able to read and react.”
Anderson and Wiley combined for 130 yards on 36 carries. Arizona had a season-high 53 rushing attempts. Its previous high was 35.
Fisch remained frustrated with the performance of the Wildcats’ special teams against the Ducks.
He sent in the field goal unit down 22 points with a little over two minutes to play just so that group could get another game rep. Lucas Havrisik missed the 40-yard attempt wide right. He’s 5 of 8 for the season.
Earlier in the quarter, Arizona called for a trick play on a kickoff return. Jamarye Joiner caught the ball near the right sideline. He ran about 10 yards, then threw the ball across the field to Wiley. But neither player was precisely where he was supposed to be, resulting in an illegal forward pass.
“We did not execute the detail,” Fisch said. “We talked about having (Joiner’s) right foot be on the 10-yard line, and our right foot was on the 9-yard line. We talked about (Wiley) being 2 yards behind the thrower, and we were a yard in front of the thrower. When that happens, the 65-yard gain is called back.”
Bye-week plans, reminders
Fisch referred to this week’s bye as an opportunity to “flush away” the first four games and hit “restart” with eight conference games ahead, including all five vs. the South Division. The Wildcats will focus on fundamentals and technique work during practice Monday-Wednesday. The team will have Friday and Saturday off before returning to the field Sunday.
Fisch also implored his players to make “wise decisions” off the field. Utah football player Aaron Lowe was killed in a shooting incident at a house party in Salt Lake City early Sunday morning, according to reports. Washington State’s Brandon Gray was in serious but stable condition after being shot at a house party in Pullman.
“I want to send our team’s deepest condolences and sympathy to both Washington State and Utah,” Fisch said. “The situation that they’ve had with both of their players ... is just so unfortunate, and it reminds all of us that every situation we put ourselves in and our players put themselves in is an opportunity for something bad to happen. We’ve got to do a great job of protecting ourselves.”
Fisch said defensive coordinator Don Brown was “fine” but “sore” after being knocked over on the sideline during the Oregon game. The Ducks’ DJ Johnson hit Berryhill late, sending him tumbling into Brown, who was addressing the defense at the time. “That’s the kind of the thing you fear,” Fisch said. “Your back’s towards the play, and you really have no idea that it’s coming.”
The UCLA game a week from Saturday will kick off a little after 7:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. It will be televised by ESPN.