Oppo Notes: Return of the Desert Swarm?

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona's defense has made major strides since last year's horrendous defensive play, but the unit is still a work in progress.

The Wildcat struggled last year in the switch to the 3-3-5, but they've improved in a major way this year. They give up only 20 ppg, after allowing 35 ppg last year. The defense has also improved in the yardage categories, dropping passing yards allowed from 298 ypg to 212 ypg, and rushing yards allowed from 206 ypg to 160 ypg.

Despite the improvement, Arizona's defense is still a work in progress. The team only has 9 sacks this season, and the unit got gashed by Southern Cal, and Washington and Cal both put up big yardage totals as well. The team benefited from an embarrassingly easy non-conference schedule, and it wouldn't be surprising if their light defense started to wilt during conference play.

Defensive Line

Arizona's defense is very light, but they've added some size by starting two DT's along the front. In doing so, Arizona has benefitted in the running game, but they've struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They start Sione Tuihalamaka (6-2 271 lbs. Sr.) at end after playing nose last year, with Tevin Hood (6'0 302 lbs. Sr.) filling in the nose position.

Reggie Gilbert (6'4 252 lbs. Jr.) starts at end and leads the team with two sacks. Justin Washington (6'2 268 lbs. Sr.) started at end last year, but now will fill in on the line rotation.

Linebackers

Arizona essentially starts three safeties at the three linebacker spots. Oft injured MLB Jake Fischer (6'0 215 lbs. Sr.) is very athletic when healthy, but once again he's dealing with injury this week. If he can't go, SLB Scooby Wright (6'1 230 lbs. Fr.) will move to MLB, and Keoni Bush-Loo (6'4 224 lbs. So.) will start at SLB. Wright leads the team with 60 tackles and 7 tackles for loss. Hank Hobson (6'3 227 lbs. Jr.) provides good depth and can play both MLB and SLB in his reserve role.

The WLB spot is manned by Marquis Flowers (6'3 221 lbs. Sr.), who is second on the team with 53 tackles and adds 5.5 tackles for loss. Flowers is a converted safety but has excelled at the linebacker spot. He was moved to linebacker because of Arizona's strength the safety spot, and it looks to be a very good move.

Secondary

All five of Arizona's starters from last year's secondary are returning. With all of the experience in the secondary, it's no wonder that Arizona has 12 interceptions this season and is only allowing a 54% completion rate and a paltry 5.9 yards per attempt. Arizona's scheme will essentially have three safeties and two cornerbacks in the base defense, with two of the safeties playing hybrid type roles. Tra'Mayne Bondurant (5'10 207 lbs. Jr.), 36 tackles, and, Jared Tevis (5'10 197 lbs. Jr.), 44 tackles, will play close to the line of scrimmage, with Jourdon Grandon (6'0 186 lbs. Jr.), 38 tackles, deep in coverage. Paired with Arizona's linebackers, these safeties add a lot of speed to the field over traditional defenses.

At the cornerback spots, Arizona returns Shaquille Richardson (6-2 180 lbs. Sr.), and Jonathan Mcknight (5'11 167 lbs. Jr.). This is the same Shaq Richardson that was kicked off of the UCLA squad for backpack theft and given the opportunity to earn his way back before fleeing to Tucson.

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That concludes the preview of the Arizona Wildcats. Fire away with any additional comments.

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