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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wanted: Turnovers in Tucson

Rebecca Noble

Melancholy members of the Arizona football team sit on the bench during the fourth quarter and watch Arizona’s 38-30 loss to USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 7. 

Pac-12 Conference football after dark returns to the desert this Saturday when Arizona (2-5, 0-4) host the Stanford Cardinal (4-3, 2-3 conference) in a matchup that has major implications for each team’s season.

The month since their last night game at Arizona Stadium has not been kind to the Wildcats who are now seeing their bowl-game credentials setting on the horizon. 

When the ‘Cats were last under the lights they provided current No. 4 Washington its closest scare of the season. In the Huskies only matchup that’s been decided by one score, they were able to stave off the upset in a 35-28 overtime victory.

Related: Midseason report

That game on Sept. 24 was the last time the defense was able to force a turnover. The opposition’s possession has plagued Arizona all season. In games against FBS teams, the Wildcats have a turnover margin of -1.5, putting them 124 out of 128 teams in the nation.

Coincidentally, the undefeated Huskies rank at the top in Division I, at +1.8 per contest.

“We’re probably not good enough to win games without getting turnovers so that’s been a point of contention for us,” said head coach Rich Rodriguez. “I always remind the guys to play aggressively, when you do that you can create turnovers.”

Averaging .5 takeaways per game also sees the Wildcats near last in Division I (125/128). Down from 1.1 turnovers  last season means most of the games have been an uphill battle, including the 48-14 loss to USC before the bye week. During the current slide, each of the last three losses have been by at least two scores.

With the incoming Cardinal currently ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring (17 points per game) and total offense, the Wildcat’s have the right opportunity to get back on track. Christian McCaffrey, 2015’s AP Player of the Year, and company have also been hit by injuries this season and lost 10-5 at home to Colorado last week. 

Stanford will turn to junior QB Keller Chryst, making his first collegiate start, in hopes he can free up space for McCaffrey and the speedy corps of wide receivers. Chryst already has one touchdown in his career, coming late on in Stanford’s 55-17 drubbing of Arizona at Stanford last season.

“The biggest key to them because they’re big, physical and do such a good job fundamentally, is getting off of the blocks and tackling.” Rodriguez said.

Stanford has scored at least 37 points in the previous five meetings with the Wildcats, winning four. With Arizona’s opponents this season averaging 35 points per game and Stanford yielding 20.3, forcing changes of possession will be a must to stay in the contest.

“We have to … We’re not good if we don’t get turnovers. It’s not doing our offense any justice,” cornerback Jace Whittaker said. “I’m tired of deflections, they help out but we’re still on the field. I wanna get off the field. It gives the offense more juice, they come out there and are able to take more chances.”

The sophomore’s one interception so far this season came in the almost-shock loss to Grambling State. Arizona was able to turn a 21-3 halftime deficit into a 31-21 victory by forcing six turnovers on the Tigers and backup quarterback Trevon Cherry. The impact the defense provided was clearly present in that game as Arizona was able to score 21 points off the takeaways.

According to Rodriguez and junior cornerback Dane Cruikshank a lot of time in practice has been devoted to the jugs machine and strip-fumble drills with the emphasis of the defense getting its hands on the ball.

“I feel like sometimes we’re good with just having three and outs,” Cruikshank said. ”We need to cause more turnovers because that brings the tempo to our offense and gets the fans into the game.”

Avoiding special teams miscues and giving the offense optimal field position to start with is key as showcased in the loss at Utah. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky pinned the Wildcat offense back within their five-yard line three times. The drives resulted in two interceptions and a safety for the Ute’s defense in their 36-23 victory.

With the bye week providing much-needed recovery time for the squad, and Homecoming festivities bringing back alumni, Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff should supply the Wildcats with the energy needed to revamp their season.

Follow Mike Adams on Twitter.

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