Quarterback Jayden de Laura looks to make a throw during the first practice of Arizona’s spring football session on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, at the Dick Tomey Practice Fields.

As they say, numbers never lie.

The numbers the Arizona Wildcats posted on offense were among the top in college football last season. Arizona had the sixth-best passing offense and averaged the 11th-most yards per play nationally.

“Why did that not equate to being a top-10 scoring offense?” Arizona quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty asked after Arizona’s first practice of spring Tuesday. “We’re looking at all of those possessions that we — for some reason — couldn’t get in the end zone.

“Whether that was stopping ourselves, not converting on third-and-shorts or whether it was turning the ball over a couple times here and there, we just have to be smarter. (Turnovers) are going to happen from time to time, and you’re not always going to be perfect, but if we can eliminate that the best we can, and not beat ourselves, that’s going to be huge for us and our growth on offense.


Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura, left, gestures to tight end Tanner McLachlan as the offensive unit leaves the field following an interception in the third quarter against Washington State at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 19, 2022.

“We always talk about protecting the ball, and that’s something we’ve focused on all offseason that we know we gotta be better at.”

The top Wildcat shouldering the blame for Arizona’s flaws on offense in 2022? Look no further than quarterback Jayden de Laura, who threw 13 interceptions, including a career-high four against his former team, Washington State, in Tucson. He also had five combined picks in losses to Cal and Mississippi State. De Laura’s untimely interceptions in losses led to multiple what-if games — especially Cal — for Arizona, which finished one win shy of bowl eligibility.

Despite de Laura’s possibly costly interceptions, he still threw for the third-most yards (3,685) by a Wildcats quarterback in a single season, and was third in passing in the star-quarterback-littered Pac-12; only Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams from USC and Washington gunslinger Michael Penix, who had the eighth-most votes for the Heisman, had more yards.

However, de Laura didn’t — and still doesn’t — earn as much pub compared to his Pac-12 quarterback cohorts such as Williams, Penix, Bo Nix (Oregon), Cam Rising (Utah), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA) and Cameron Ward (Washington State). The Pac-12 added Clemson transfer D.J. Uiagalelei (Oregon State) and five-star high school prospect Dante Moore (UCLA) this offseason.

University of Arizona vs North Dakota State

Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) gestures into the stands after sprinting up the middle to score against North Dakota State in the second quarter of their game at Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 17, 2022.

“I think we finished sixth in the country passing. If there’s six quarterbacks in the Pac-12 that are being talked about more than Jayden, that doesn’t add up to me, but it’s OK,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said.

It’s a topic Fisch often reminds de Laura about. And maybe can be used as fuel for de Laura’s mental furnace.

“He brings it to my attention and says, ‘You need to have a chip on your shoulder, these people are saying these kind of things,’ “ de Laura said. “But as I’ve gone through my years in college, I grew and realized that none of that stuff really matters to me. ... I’ll let our play talk for itself.”

There’s a simple solution.

“I think it comes down to, you gotta win,” Dougherty said. “You gotta win on the big-time level to get that real respect in the country, and that’s what we’re after; that’s what he’s after, and he knows he has a big part in that.

“The things we talked about: Playing better, playing cleaner, not turning the ball over, be smarter with it there, scoring more points and helping us to more wins. That’s really the job of the quarterback is to lead us to victories. With those wins will come that respect in the country.”

Added Fisch: “If you win more, that’s all anybody cares about when it comes to the national conversations.”

Cut de Laura some slack, though.

Like de Laura, several of those aforementioned quarterbacks were transfer-portal additions — except he was in a class of his own because he didn’t have familiarity with any of Arizona’s coaches or offensive system. Heck, de Laura couldn’t even remember the last time he went under center or threw a pass to a tight end before coming to the UA.

Williams was a transfer from Oklahoma, where he played one season for USC coach Lincoln Riley. Nix and then-Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham worked together at Auburn. Penix played under Washington coach Kalen DeBoer at Indiana. Ward reunited with former Incarnate Word coach and (now former) Washington State offensive coordinator Eric Morris. Meanwhile, Rising and Thompson-Robinson were multiyear veterans for their respective programs.

North Dakota State at University of Arizona

Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) laughs at fans while walking toward the locker room after Arizona's 31-28 over North Dakota State at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on Sept. 17, 2022.

“These guys are all in their second and third years together,” Fisch said. “This was our first, we had one spring and fall coming off of a pretty bad year the year before and the year before and the year before that. So we had to build a lot of things up together.

“Now I feel like we’re in a place that we can now take this program and take this team and build it to be even better, and let Jayden really, really blossom. And that’s what I’m looking to see (during spring practice).”

Now that de Laura has one year under his belt in Arizona’s system, his progress as the Wildcats leader on offense is “not even close and it’s on a different planet,” Dougherty said.

“He knows what’s expected now,” the QB coach added. “I think any quarterback, the growth from Year 1 to Year 2 is always going to be pretty substantial, and he’s worked really hard at it, so I think he’s going to keep getting better and better.”

When Arizona began spring ball around this time last year, “probably the first week I couldn’t even remember one play,” de Laura said.

“But this year, I went into the offseason grinding with a couple of the other guys on the offensive side (to) learn the scheme and get it down to where it’s just second nature for me,” he said. “Last year, I couldn’t really repeat the plays back to Coach Fisch, and he would say the play like three or four times.”

Not only is de Laura mentally stronger this year, he’s physically stronger after adding “body armor” in the offseason. When de Laura first arrived on the UA campus last year, he weighed 182 pounds. He recently weighed in at 211. That nearly 30-pound difference will be felt when de Laura gets sacked or tackled.

“The weight feels amazing,” de Laura said. “I took off on one (run in practice). I felt like I was moving. I feel like it’s going to be kinda scary for DBs now, because I wasn’t really scared of contact, and now I feel like I have something extra behind me coming through. ... I’m running faster at this weight than I was before.”

De Laura set a goal of 210 pounds and met it. His next goal is continuing to strengthen his football knowledge to elevate not only himself but the Wildcats as a team.

“I just want to show everybody that I’ve mastered this offense and that I can coach you without Coach Fisch being out here,” de Laura said. “That’s my main goal, and that comes with sacrificing time outside of the building and being inside watching film ... instead of playing Call of Duty. It’s football time, so I’ll sacrifice for football.”

Extra points

Fisch said new assistant director of recruiting and defensive analyst Armond Hawkins, who recently left Colorado’s staff after a season, has “enormous ties in Southern California.” Added Fisch: “We’re really excited about his role.”

New defensive backs coach and longtime Desert Swarm-era assistant Duane Akina was among the loudest voices on the field Tuesday. The fiery Akina mostly worked alongside Chuck Cecil with Arizona’s safeties.

Former Arizona defensive back Adama Fall announced on his Instagram page on Monday that he’s transferring to Arizona State.

Former UA edge rusher Hunter Echols, whose pro day is Thursday at Arizona Stadium, was in attendance for Arizona’s practice on Tuesday. Others scheduled to participate in pro day include defensive end Jalen Harris, offensive linemen Paiton Fears and Josh Donovan, and safety Christian Young.

Arizona junior quarterback Jayden de Laura discusses senior tackle Jordan Morgan's journey through last season's injury and his thoughts on Morgan's return at Arizona Stadium on Mar. 3, 2023. Video by Aidan Wohl / Special to the Arizona Daily Star.

Contact sports producer Justin Spears at jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter: @JustinESports

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