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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Defense looks for swagger

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Entering the 2009 season, the Arizona football team’s defense had a chip on its shoulder.

Despite the loss of linebacker Ronnie Palmer and safety Nate Ness, this year’s squad wanted to prove it could be a better defense without household names on the roster.

After a 19-6 win against Central Michigan University to open the year, it seemed as if the Wildcat defense would be one of the more daunting in the Pacific 10 Conference. The Wildcats flew around the field with a bounce in their step and a spark in their eye.

Fast forward two weeks and, while the players remain the same, the swagger and confidence are missing.

“”We have a lot of young guys out there and we pride ourselves on taking away the ball, but we just have to make sure that we play sound right now,”” said senior and defensive co-captain Earl Mitchell. “”The difference between this year and last year is that then, we were playing more desperate. We don’t have the big-name guys right now and we just need to have that same mentality as we did last year.””

Last week the Wildcats had a problem stopping their opponent. During a 27-17 loss to Iowa, Arizona gave up 133 yards on the ground and another 205 through the air. But the Hawkeyes converted 10 of their 19 third-down attempts and that — coupled with a nearly 15 minute advantage in time of possession — points to a different problem facing the UA defense: making big plays in big situations.

Outside of cornerback Trevin Wade’s interception return for a touchdown, Arizona couldn’t come up with a momentum-changing play to turn the tide in its favor. Whether it was fatigue or just better execution on Iowa’s part, the Wildcats didn’t step up when they needed to most.

“”We need to improve and we’ve got to win competitive plays in quality games. That’s how you’re going to win, and lots of times there’s no easy way around it,”” said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “” You’ve got to win each snap and you’ve got to win third downs.””

After the loss in front of 70,585 fans in Iowa City, Iowa, the young Wildcat defense knows it can’t have any letdowns and expect to win games in hostile environments. Unfortunately for Arizona, its next two games are also away from Tucson, as the team will open up Pac-10 play this week at Oregon State before taking on Washington on Oct. 10.

Senior and defensive co-captain Cam Nelson said the team needs to do all it can during the days before the game to best prepare itself for the tough road ahead. Apparently, the word has spread throughout the team that now is the time to put the pedal to the metal. One way or another, the Wildcats need to get fired up and keep the intensity level high throughout the game.

That’s the only way to get their swagger back.

“”As a matter of fact, you’ve got to bring it even if you’re on the road because everyone in the stadium wants you to lose,”” said senior linebacker Sterling Lewis. “”You’ve got to come prepared and try and get the win against that team on that week. We’re always hungry and trying to show people that we’re here for real.””

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