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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

The pressure is on

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Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Three NFL-caliber defensive ends and a standout defensive tackle made pressuring the quarterback the last of Arizona’s worries in 2010.

The senior trio of Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D’Aundre Reed tore up offensive lines to rack up 33 sacks in 2010, while then-redshirt freshman Justin Washington burst onto the scene to tally six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss.

Elmore led the conference in sacks for the second consecutive season, and the Wildcats boasted the third-most sacks in the Pacific 10 Conference.

But with Brooks Reed, D’Aundre Reed and Elmore chasing NFL dreams, and Washington yet to make an impact, the Wildcats’ once-lethal pass rush has vanished in 2011.

“We haven’t even begun to get where we need to be,” defensive line coach and former UA defensive tackle Joe Salave’a said with a sarcastic laugh.

The Wildcats have only totaled three sacks through two games, two of which came against NAU. The third came as a result of Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden falling down untouched.

Arizona’s defensive line will face Stanford, with its notoriously physical style of offense and the No. 1 quarterback in the country, this weekend.

“We’ve been average. We need to play better,” head coach Mike Stoops said of pressuring the quarterback. “Obviously this will be a physical challenge up front. Any time you play Stanford, it’s going to be a physical game. We need to play better on both lines of scrimmage.”

Arizona gave Weeden all day to throw on Thursday and it resulted in 397 passing yards, two touchdowns and a school-record 42 completions for Oklahoma State.

If Washington, senior defensive ends CJ Parish and Mohammed Usman, and the rest of the defensive line don’t bring pressure this Saturday at Arizona Stadium, the Wildcats can expect much of the same against a poised and talented quarterback in Andrew Luck.

“Until this game is changed, I’m a firm believer that your defensive line play will dictate the outcome of the game,” Salave’a said. “That line play has got to be there and if not, I don’t care if we have Deion Sanders covering, it ain’t going to happen. With Luck at the helm, we need it even more.”

That pressure won’t come easily against one of the best offensive lines in the country. Stanford ranked second in the NCAA in sacks allowed last season as Luck was sacked only six times through 13 games.

But Duke, Stanford’s opponent on Saturday, sacked Luck twice and proved that it isn’t impossible to penetrate the Cardinal offensive line. The Wildcats are out to regain their pass rush and show and the Cardinal isn’t invincible.

“They always come with that hard-nosed physical stuff and we’re ready for it,” Washington said. “We’ve been hitting the weights heavy. It’s more man-versus-man, like who’s the strongest. So I’m trying to prove I’m the strongest. We’ll see.”

The Wildcats’ defense is fading quickly in the young season, yielding 426.5 yards per game after giving up an embarrassing 594 yards against the Cowboys last week. The UA’s secondary has taken most of the blame, but the lack of pressure has given quarterbacks ample time to throw, leaving the secondary stranded.

“When you have that great D-end and D-line pressure the ball has to come out fast so you don’t leave your secondary guys out there on an island,” said senior safety Robert Golden. “We want to get a lot of pass rush so we can sit on routes when the ball is coming out. We can really play our technique when the ball is coming out fast.”

While Arizona’s missing running game and sub-par secondary have been stealing the headlines, the defensive line needs a shot in the arm as well as it heads into the Pac-12 opener.

Arizona should hope Washington returns to form and Parish and Usman turn their high energy into pressure if the Wildcats want to compete on Saturday and beyond.

“The great news is we’ve got another test this week,” Salave’a said.

De Rego time

Mohammed Usman and CJ Parish may have found help on the outside.

San Jose Community College transfer Lamar De Rego, who originally committed to Oregon State, made his Wildcat debut against Oklahoma State. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end showed well, picking up two tackles in limited time.

“He’s another high motor guy. He’s not your overly big guy but he can get around the corner and be all over the place,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said. “Now we’ve just got to make sure that we critique, evaluate and help him out with some of the body placement and hand stuff.”

While De Rego is learning the ropes of Division I football on the fly, he will continue to see action as Arizona searches for the right combination at defensive line.

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