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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Defense fixing red zone problems

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

The red zone is never a safe place for defenses. But for the Arizona football team, it’s practically the gallows.

So far this season, the Wildcats have failed to stop opposing offenses from putting points on the board each and every time they sneak the ball within the 20-yard line. In fact, Arizona has not only allowed points anytime an opponent is in the red zone, but it has given up a touchdown 10 of the 12 times that has happened this season. The end result: 76 points against the Wildcats.

In its game against Iowa, Arizona’s only loss this season, the Hawkeyes scored all three of their touchdowns on running plays in the red zone and later tacked on a 20-yard field goal to convert 4-4 in red zone trips for the day. The Wildcats went on to lose by 10. What a difference some defense would have made.

“”We absolutely need to improve,”” defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “”Sometimes it comes down to making plays and jarring the ball loose or making some negative yardage plays. But either way we really need to improve.””

While Iowa managed to reach the end zone with only running plays during its 27-17 win, Arizona’s front men are not solely to blame for the opponent-scoring frenzy they have seen in the red zone thus far.

Of Arizona’s 10 allowed touchdowns, four have come through the air as opposing receivers have outmaneuvered Wildcat defenders to the ball.

This weekend against Washington, Arizona will need both facets of its defense to improve, as Huskies quarterback Jake Locker presents a dual-threat — especially in the red zone, where he has scored on three rushing touchdowns this season.

“”(The red zone) is tough because you start running out of room,”” said senior cornerback Devin Ross. “”You really have to tighten up and pick up the intensity to keep (opposing) teams from scoring.

“”We’ve watched tape all week (on Jake Locker) and we’ll be prepared,”” he added. “”We give everyone the same respect.””

With all the trouble Arizona’s defense has had stopping teams near the end zone, it comes as little surprise that the Wildcats are only mildly more successful at stopping teams on short-yardage third and fourth-down conversions.

On third downs, Arizona finds itself in a similar position as its red zone defense — dead last in the Pacific 10 Conference. Wildcat opponents have converted more than 41 percent of the time. A stirring example of Arizona’s struggles came against Iowa when the Hawkeyes were faced with a crucial third and 23 midway through the second quarter. The Wildcats’ defense broke down and Iowa running back Adam Robinson legged out a 43-yard run, stealing the momentum and setting up the Hawkeyes’ second touchdown of the day.

Outside of Arizona’s loss to Iowa, the failures to stop teams on third down have yet to significantly impede the Wildcats. However, this has not stopped Stoops from focusing his defense’s attention on the situations.

“”Teams have been managing the ball well and they have been respecting the football in the red zone against us,”” Stoops said. “”Somehow we need to come up with some stops. I think (fixing the issues) is really putting it all together — through the air and on the ground — and just making the key stops in those situations.””

With some of the Pac-10’s toughest opponents remaining on Arizona’s schedule — including No. 7 USC — the Wildcats will surely need to fix the defensive holes they have.

In terms of winning football games, strong defense on third downs and in the red zones may not be the only thing determining a team’s success.

Washington State leads the Pac-10 in red zone defense, but sits last in terms of overall record. However, it is a necessary element Arizona’s defense needs if it wants to be in the chase for the conference title come December.

“”You can’t win games if you’re still standing out there after a third down (play),”” linebacker Xavier Kelley said. “”It’s a long day if you’re out there on the field the whole time. Plus, if you let a team drive down the field on you through consecutive third downs, it’s going to be tough to hold them out (of the end zone).””

“”We need to improve on those third-down, fourth-down conversions,”” he added, “”and then we’ll be all right.””

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