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Family resemblance? Arizona backup quarterback Will Plummer, left, mimicked his brother, Cal starting quarterback Jack Plummer, in practices this week.

The Star presents five storylines of interest as the Arizona Wildcats face Cal on Saturday in the Pac-12 opener in Berkeley. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. The game will air on Pac-12 Networks.


They know Jack: Wildcats prep for Cal QB Plummer with help from his brother

When it came to imitating Cal quarterback Jack Plummer during practice this week, Arizona had the best possible stunt double.

The Wildcats used two quarterbacks to mimic Plummer ahead of the Pac-12 opener Saturday in Berkeley. One was walk-on Cole Tannenbaum. The other was Will Plummer, Jack’s younger brother.

Jack Plummer transferred from Purdue to Cal during the offseason, setting up a matchup between his team and Will’s. The younger Plummer was the starting quarterback when the teams last met. He overcame multiple injuries to help Arizona defeat Cal last season and end its school-record losing streak.

Will Plummer won’t play this time. He underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, is listed fifth on the depth chart and is expected to redshirt.

On the day Will and the Wildcats beat the Golden Bears, Jack Plummer and the Boilermakers were playing in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue defeated Michigan State. Plummer didn’t play. Despite a 7-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he had lost his starting job to Aidan O’Connell.

Less than a month later, Jack Plummer entered the NCAA transfer portal. He found a new home on the West Coast, succeeding Chase Garbers as Cal’s starter.

Now Jack Plummer will be playing his first Pac-12 game against his brother’s school. The siblings spoke by phone Sunday.

"Just catching up, talking about certain things," Jack Plummer said. "But I’m not gonna give him any inside information. He's not gonna give me any inside information. We're both trying to win.

"We’re both team guys. He's not gonna sit there and tell me X, Y and Z about Arizona. That'd be a pretty messed-up thing for him to do. And I don't want to give him anything that he's gonna go tell their coaches."

Saturday won’t mark the first time the Plummer brothers have shared the same field. Separated by two years, they played together when Jack was a senior and Will a sophomore at Gilbert High School. Jack was the starting quarterback. So Will played tight end and linebacker.

"He's probably one of the toughest kids I know," Jack Plummer said. "He played tight end, four games, with a torn triceps, which is a ridiculous thing for a 15-year-old kid to do."

The Plummer brothers share a competitive nature and a love of football. But stylistically, they aren’t much alike. Jack is 6-foot-5 and more apt to fire away from the pocket than take off and run. Will is 6-1 and, well, we’ll let Jack take it from here.

"He's more of a gunslinger back there," Jack Plummer said. "He drops back and it's just like, 'I’m gonna let this thing rip.' He's smart, but he's not afraid to take a risk throwing the ball down the field, which is a good quality to have. Sometimes you can overthink it.

"I like to think of myself more as just a straight-up pocket passer. Try to do things the right way within the system and take care of the ball."

Jack has thrown for 730 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions for the 2-1 Bears. In 21 games at Purdue, including 13 starts, he threw for 3,405 yards with 26 TDs and 10 picks.

Jack has a chance to an oddity to his résumé Saturday — becoming the second straight Plummer to lead his team to victory in the Arizona-Cal series.

"It's gonna be cool," Jack Plummer said. "Just to get out there on the same field as my brother. I’m sure I'll see him pregame, postgame. It's gonna be cool for my family to get to come and see us. That's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing."


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Max Browne

Pac-12 analyst Max Browne on Jayden de Laura, facing Cal and what’s changed at Arizona

College football can be a small, small world.

Max Browne, who is serving as the analyst for Pac-12 Networks’ telecast of the Arizona-Cal game, was at USC at the same time as Johnny Nansen, the Wildcats’ current defensive coordinator; Justin Wilcox, the Golden Bears’ head coach; and Peter Sirmon, the Bears’ defensive coordinator.

Browne was an aspiring quarterback at the time, a five-star recruit from Sammamish, Washington. He finished his college career at Pittsburgh before becoming a broadcaster. He also does work for USC.

The Star reached out to Browne for his breakdown of the UA-Cal matchup. Here’s some of what he had to say:

What have you seen so far from Jayden de Laura’s in Jedd Fisch’s system?

A: "I see a head coach and a play-caller that 100% trusts his quarterback. That's clear as day when I watch the San Diego State game. I don't think you could say that in years past for Arizona.

"When he's on, he's as good as maybe that top echelon of quarterbacks in the Pac-12. The big thing for him is knowing where that fine line is of creating plays with your feet versus when that becomes turnovers.

"When he gets in the rhythm of the game, he gets confidence. He's able to trust his checkdowns. When he doesn't get in that rhythm, he feels that he has to make the big play and he has to force the seam ball down the middle of the field. That's where he gets in trouble."

As a former quarterback, how do you know where that line is?

A: "You're asking a dude who did not have the most mobility back in the day. So the line was very clear for me.

"I think it's when that clock in your head goes off. With all the great running backs Arizona has, utilize those checkdowns all day long. When you start having to do spins in the backfield and the play is clearly broken down, that's where you just throw the ball away and move on because you don't have to have that big play. You don't have to score on every single possession."

What does a Wilcox-coached defense do well, and what challenges does that present for a quarterback?

A: "This might sound basic, but they don't give up anything easy. You will see a lot of defenses that have soft corners and you can always have the hitch route or the flat route.

"We talked about Jayden de Laura getting comfortable. Justin Wilcox won't just give something easy.

"He'll mix up the fronts on you a little bit, so he'll keep an offensive line honest. If one thing is consistent throughout the past five years of Pac 12 football, it’s that a Justin Wilcox defense is gonna come prepared."

What’s your assessment of Nansen’s defense through three games?

A: "The first thing that sticks out to me is, I remember playing Arizona from 2013 to 2015. They were always small. It was hard to come up with big guys, especially up front. You look down the roster (now), it's not the case. Kyon Barrs is active in the middle. Those type of dudes, when I was at ’SC, I don’t feel like Arizona had.

"Scooby Wright was there, but they would move him all over and he was even undersized. I like Barrs. Hunter Echols is a guy I've covered a bunch.

"Johnny's dialing up some good things. The 'backers seem active. And just big picture for this entire Arizona roster, you get the sense they're playing a lot more confident, which obviously goes a long way."


End of divisional play gives Pac-12 teams a chance to 'really see where you fit'

In the wake of USC and UCLA’s departures, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes the conference is more united than ever.

In one sense, that’s indisputably true: The league no longer has divisions.

Literally minutes after the NCAA relaxed requirements regarding conference championship games, the Pac-12 ditched the North-South format it had used since Colorado and Utah joined the fray in 2011.

So Arizona-Cal is no longer an interdivisional showdown. It’s a tussle for real estate in the league standings.

"It's certainly unique when you have just one table," UA coach Jedd Fisch said. "You get to really see where you fit. Each game is important. There is no winning the South; there is no winning the North. It's just, go out there and play each game and see how you do."

The Wildcats and Golden Bears won only one division title between them in 11 years — Arizona’s breakthrough in 2014. The Wildcats finished fourth or worse in the six-team Pac-12 South in nine of 11 seasons. The Golden Bears finished fourth or worse in the North 10 times. Their best finish was a tie for second in 2019.

The idea behind scrapping the divisions is to get the best possible matchup in the conference championship game. That, in theory, would give the Pac-12 a better chance to send a team to the College Football Playoff.

The last time the league played without divisions, in 2010, the top two finishers were Oregon (9-0) and Stanford (8-1). They wouldn’t have been able to meet for the conference title if the divisional format had been in place.


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Arizona linebacker Jacob Manu was flagged for a little-called penalty in last week’s game against North Dakota State.

Explaining those personal fouls against Arizona for 'blocking' below the waist

Arizona was charged with only one penalty against North Dakota State, and it was a strange one.

Jacob Manu was tagged with a personal foul for an illegal block below the waist.

Here’s the weird part: Manu is a linebacker, and the Bison had the ball.

A new NCAA rule in 2022 prohibits blocking below the waist outside the tackle box on scrimmage plays. If a defensive player initiates that type of contact with an offensive player, that’s also an infraction.

"They made that rule for the safety of players," UA coach Jedd Fisch said. "So both offensively and defensively now, you can't cut."

It happened a second time on the same series against NDSU, but an offsetting penalty against the Bison canceled the play.

The previous week against Mississippi State, UA quarterback Jayden de Laura was deemed guilty of an illegal low block. Again, Arizona didn’t have the ball. De Laura had thrown an interception and took out a Bulldog while in pursuit of the ball-carrier.

Arizona offensive line coach Brennan Carroll, who teaches blocking for a living, had sympathy for Manu, a freshman who made his first career start against NDSU. Manu was chasing ball-carrier Hunter Luepke and ended up taking out offensive lineman Jalen Sundell instead.

"Manu was trying to tackle the guy and there's a guy in front of him and he goes low," Carroll said. "It's a really difficult situation for the defense."


UA defense 'ready for everything' after facing two unconventional offenses

It wasn’t easy for Arizona’s defense to prepare for Cal’s offense this week.

But it was easier compared to what the Wildcats just faced.

North Dakota State plays a brand of offense that isn’t commonplace in FBS. The Bison used multiple tight ends and fullbacks against the Wildcats, and they had only 14 passing plays compared to 43 running plays (after adjusting for sacks).

"It was a difficult team to prepare for," UA defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said. "They do a great job with shifting and motioning, just trying to mess with your eyes."

In facing Mississippi State and North Dakota State in back-to-back weeks, Arizona went from one extreme to another. The Bulldogs rank fourth in the nation in passing-play percentage at 64.91%, according to TeamRankings.com. They were first at 73.07% last season.

"It was night and day," UA cornerback Treydan Stukes said.

"It keeps you up at night, going from one thing to another," Nansen said. "It's been tough the last two weeks. It's gonna be tough this week too."

Cal has struggled at times on offense. The Golden Bears rank 84th nationally in scoring (21.7 ppg) and 93rd in total offense (360.3 ypg). In terms of run-pass ratio, they’re a bit more balanced: 85 rushing plays and 123 passing plays (after adjusting for sacks).

But Nansen isn’t assuming anything.

"I've been in offensive rooms scheming for teams — they’re gonna find something that works," he said. "We gotta be ready for everything."

 
 

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 

Originally published on tucson.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.