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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Toledo takedown

    UA linebacker Sterling Lewis latches onto Toledo running back DeJuane Collins in the Wildcats 41-16 win over the Rockets Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Lewis had a team-high 12 tackles as he filled in for an injured Xavier Kelley.
    UA linebacker Sterling Lewis latches onto Toledo running back DeJuane Collins in the Wildcats’ 41-16 win over the Rockets Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Lewis had a team-high 12 tackles as he filled in for an injured Xavier Kelley.

    The biggest question coming into the season for the Arizona football team centered on a young and inexperienced defense. After the conclusion of Arizona’s first two games, the only question remaining about the defense is how stingy it will be the next time around.

    The Wildcat defensive unit may once again have received second billing to the offensive group in their 41-16 win over Toledo Saturday night at Arizona Stadium, but the defense went far from unnoticed in a dominant showing.

    Arizona held Toledo to just 74 yards rushing and kept a talented receiving corps – including two 2007 All-Mid-American Conference performers – to 170 yards. Adding that to two goal-line stands against the Rockets, opponents combining for a 7-for-27 third-down conversion ratio and an average of 178 yards allowed per game, and the Wildcat defense seems to have turned the corner to resemble a defense the Stoops family name is known for.

    “”There’s a lot of stuff being said about our defense that we’re all just taking as motivation,”” said UA defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. “”(People are saying) there are a lot of inexperienced players on the defense and it’ll be hard to get things done, but we’re just trying to go out there and show what we can do.””

    Mitchell and the rest of the Wildcat defense showed it should be a tough group to score on. Twice, the Rockets had drives of five minutes or longer that resulted in a first-and-goal, and twice the Wildcat defense turned them away with only a field goal.

    In fact, Toledo’s lone touchdown came after a Willie Tuitama pass completed to Terrell Turner was fumbled away inside the Arizona 10-yard line and returned to the 3-yard line. The Wildcats might have bent at times, but they certainly didn’t break. The notion of continuing to bend without breaking, however, doesn’t sit well with UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

    “”That is not in our vocabulary. We don’t want to get used to that,”” Mark Stoops said. “”But when they do get a long drive you certainly want to gut it up and hold them out of there, and that’s what we did.

    “”We’ve got a lot of things to improve on. There’s some communication things. They had us a little off balance, but I’m just very happy with (the defense’s) determination,”” Stoops added. “”We were dead set on not letting them score. I think if (the Rockets) didn’t get the ball on the (3-yard line) then we would have had a chance to (not allow a touchdown).””

    While the Wildcats couldn’t post back-to-back shutouts, they did prove they’re a high-energy, deep and hungry group that flies to the ball and is capable of making big plays. Mitchell registered the defense’s first sack of the season and had eight tackles with 1.5 going for a loss.

    Junior linebacker Sterling Lewis had the most surprising contribution to the game as he recorded a team-high of 12 tackles in relief of Xavier Kelley who suffered an ankle injury in the first half. While Lewis’ effort could have been a shock to outsiders, his teammates expected nothing less from him.

    “”I think (Sterling) came out of nowhere to everybody else,”” said senior linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”If you’re with us over the spring, camp, everybody knows what (Lewis) is capable of doing as well as Vuna (Tuihalamaka), Adrian (McCovy) and Xavier Kelley.

    “”But for them to be new faces this year, of course everybody is going to be shocked, but that was just expected from him,”” Palmer added.

    Lewis, though happy to see the field and contribute to the win, deflected all praise away from himself and back toward his teammates.

    “”Our D-line did a tremendous job (Saturday) plugging up the holes for me and Ronnie Palmer,”” Lewis said. “”If me or Ronnie wasn’t there, the safeties came down to fill in. Everybody played a good part today.””

    While the young group of Wildcat defenders is happy with its effort in the first two games, they are aware that it’s far from the desired destination: bowl country. After all, the Wildcats’ next opponent, New Mexico, won in Tucson last season on its way to its fifth bowl game in six years.

    “”It’s a great start. It’s the start we were looking for, but it’s still a long, long road ahead,”” Palmer said. “”We’re going to enjoy the win, and when Monday (today) hits, we’ll get back in the film room.””

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