Arizona may have found a quarterback … or two.
A victory? Well, not so much on Saturday night in a game that lasted longer than some marriages.
Arizona fell to host USC, 41-34, for its eighth consecutive season and 20th straight dating back to October 2019.
It was Arizona’s best game of the season – maybe the last two seasons given the circumstances of the last 1 ½ seasons. Credit Will Plummer and a dose of fill-in QB Jemarye Joiner, who created some offense early to help Arizona get started.
But for the second consecutive week – although this time UA was behind unlike last week when it was ahead – Arizona had a chance to win … but didn’t.
“We’re not a team that’s into moral victories,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said on his postgame radio show, referring to the message he told the team after the game. “We’re not a program that’s going to be into it. (But) I am proud of the way we competed.”
As he should be, given what the previous six to seven weeks have looked like. Arizona went into Southern California and gave much more talented USC fits, albeit from time to time.
Fisch said he was encouraged by winning the second half – 20-6 – making the game closer, “we kept fighting and fighting but we have to be better than that.”
Much better, given Arizona was down early and eventually 35-14 at the half. It came after UA did some things it hadn’t done all season – hit big plays. Joiner had one on a long TD pass play to Tayvian Cunningham (73 yards). Joiner came on from time to time to add a different look to Plummer, who clearly had his best game of his career, despite not throwing for a touchdown. He did, however, go 20 for 34 passing for 264 yards. He looked comfortable in the pocket and moved the ball effectively. Just not enough to get Arizona’s first win in awhile.
“Everyone is impatient; Will is a freshman who is beginning to learn how to grow as a quarterback,” Fisch said. “Each week he’s going to get better and if we can continue to build off of this from last week to this week next and then next week … I think we should be very proud of how he’s battled and competed. He’s never flinched, and tonight was a great opportunity to showcase that.”
Small steps are good when you’re looking for any sort of positive. Arizona had some small doses in Los Angeles. It scored more than 20 points for the first time in 10 games.
Still, it wasn’t good enough. Arizona’s defense – the constant and consistent force most of the season – faltered early before holding the Trojans to just six points in the second half.
“There’s not question they had a very good plan,” Fisch said. “We had a couple of untimely penalties that prevented (some issues). Those guys kept battling and competing.”
But, it wasn’t enough again.