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UCLA Football Oppo Preview: Arizona's Suspect Defense

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Arizona may have one of the best offenses in the country, but the same can't be said for the Wildcat defense. Will UCLA be able to exploit Arizona's defense?

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It may be year three of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 in Tucson, but the Wildcats lost a lot of talent this past offseason, and the defensive numbers reflect the growing pains that typically occurs after losing a number of starters.  Despite starting the season 6-1, including a strong defensive performance on the road against Oregon, the defense is giving up far too many yards at this point.

In comparing the Wildcat to defense to ours, the numbers are eerily similar.  Arizona gives up 28.3 points per game to our 30.3, 5.84 yards per play to our 5.44, and allows 447.9 yards per game to our 434.9.  Both teams have forced 10 turnovers, they have 45 tackles for loss while we have 44, and they allow 38.10% conversion rate while we allow 38.28%.  They do have an advantage in total sacks, 18-10, but otherwise, our defensive numbers are essentially interchangeable.  Across the board, the Wildcat defense (and Bruin defense) is below average.  Yet, they're 6-1 and leading the conference at this point.  Go figure.

The unquestioned leader for the Wildcats is MLB Scooby Wright III (6'1, 246 lbs., So.).  Setting aside the jokes about how a name like Scooby has lasted three generations, Wright has been phenomenal on the field.  He is effective in the run game as a tackler, and is a good blitz linebacker as well.  Wright leads the team in tackles with 78, tackles for loss with 14, sacks with 8, and has forced 5 fumbles.

Flanking Wright, the Wildcats will use a package of Cody Ippolito (6'2, 242 lbs., So.) and Derrick Turituri (6'1, 265 lbs., So.) and Sam and Jake Matthews (6'2, 221 lbs., So.) and DeAndre' Miller (6'3, 230 lbs., So.) at Will.  The numbers for the four are not that impressive other than Turituri's 3 sacks and 5 tackles for loss, but the four will all rotate and stay fresh.

Up front, Arizona's defense is very light, with the heaviest player being NT Jeff Worthy (6'2, 287 lbs., Jr.).  Worthy will line up next to experienced ends Reggie Gilbert (6'4, 262 lbs., Sr.) and Dan Pettinato (6'5, 277 lbs., Sr.).  Unlike the linebacking corps, Arizona's defensive line does not have a ton of depth and will really only play end Calvin Allen (6'6, 266 lbs., Fr.) and NT Parker Zellers (6'1, 247 lbs., Jr.) in the line rotation, but they will use linebackers at the end spots in rush situations.  Our offensive line struggled with Colorado's light line towards the end of last week's game, but maybe this is the week our big offensive line will wear down a light opposing line.

The key to Casteel's defense is the spur and bandit positions, which is a hybrid lineback-safety role.  The position requires an athlete that can drop in coverage, blitz the quarterback, and play in the box for run support.  The Wildcats have their men in Jared Tevis (5'11, 202 lbs., Jr.), who returns as bandit, and William Parks (6'1, 194 lbs., Jr.), who plays the spur position.  Their stats show the versatility that they bring; Tevis is second on the team with 64 tackles, while Parks has 39; Parks leads the team with 2 interceptions, while Tevis also has 1; Tevis has a sack and 5 tackles for loss, while Parks has 2.5 tackles for loss.

The traditional free safety spot is manned by Jourdon Grandon (6'0, 185 lbs., Sr.).  Grandon is third on the team with 42 tackles, which is not a good sign for a defense.

At the cornerback positions, Arizona returns Jonathan McKnight (5'11, 174 lbs., Sr.), but is breaking in Jarvis McCall Jr. (6'2, 182 lbs., Fr.) at the other corner spot.  The backups are young and small Cam Denson (5'11, 168 lbs., Fr.) and Devin Holiday (5'10, 162 lbs., So.).  Thankfully for Arizona, their base defense will generally match up against our spread offense, but look for Mazzone to target the young Wildcat backups if they get into the game.

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