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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona Wildcats football guide: COLUMN- Defense will be key to Wildcats season

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If last year is any indication, the success of Arizona’s season will boil down to one thing: defense.

In 2011, Arizona had the 33rd-ranked offense, and the third best passing offense. Its defense, on the other hand, was ranked 110th out of 120 schools. The Wildcats finished the season 4-8.

Now, defense is only one part of the game, and Oregon proved that it is possible to succeed without a top-notch defense, using a prolific offense to carry it to the national title game in 2010.

Even so, Oregon’s defense played well enough to get the job done.

In 2011, the Ducks were ranked 68th in total yards allowed, which wouldn’t be defined as ideal — but those stats are a byproduct of their fast pace and high-scoring offense.

What’s a lot more telling is that Oregon was rated as the third best defense in the nation in 2010, according to Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, and ranked fifth last season.

Just think, last year the Wildcats had the No. 3 passing attack, in terms of yards per game, and were 38th in points scored, but finished two wins shy of bowl eligibility.

The fact that they had the second fewest sacks in the country with 10, allowed the second most yards per game through the air and were ranked 108th in defensive efficiency is the reason why 2011 was a failed season.

Senior quarterback Matt Scott may flourish in the new spread-option offense. And now that the offensive line has a year of experience under its belt, Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins might run wild.

But, unless the defense can make a big leap with the help of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 “odd stack” system, then the Wildcats will not be making a bowl game.

Casteel has his work cut out for him.

Remember, despite its mediocrity, the defense last year actually produced two NFL prospects in corner Trevin Wade, drafted in the seventh round by the Cleveland Browns, and safety Robert Golden, who was picked up the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now, they’re gone, along with the Wildcats top defensive lineman in C.J. Parish and their top two tacklers in linebackers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo. Transfer linebacker Brian Wagner, who was the second-best tackler in the country the last two seasons, quit before playing a single snap at the UA and safety Adam Hall tore his ACL for the second straight year.

Things aren’t all doom and gloom though.

The defense is raw and has some players whose talents will translate well into the 3-3-5 system.

Arizona’s best lineman, nose tackle Sione Tuihalamaka and its best linebacker, MLB Jake Fischer, control the middle of the field — two big keys in the 3-3-5 “odd stack”.

The Wildcats also has some depth at safety, which should minimize some of the growing pains as they transition into Casteel’s defense.

The move of Marquis Flowers from safety to linebacker, it gives Casteel the freedom to play arguably his two most talented defenders — Flowers and Tra’Mayne Bondurant — at the same time. Any talent this defense can throw out is a positive at this point.
Casteel has a proven track record in producing great defenses at his previous home in West Virginia.

Since Football Outsiders began tracking opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency in 2007, West Virginia ranked within the top 35 every season and were the No. 1 overall defense in 2010.

All things considered, the Wildcat defense will probably still be mediocre in 2012, but a new, exciting and most importantly fast defensive scheme should help improvement a little.

Still, the learning curve that comes with a new system, coupled with a lack of elite talent, will make it hard for this defense to progress at all.

And head coach Rich Rodriguez needs it to; otherwise it will be another long season for the Wildcats.

­— _Kyle Johnson is a journalism major. He can be reached at or on Twitter via @WildcatSports_

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