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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Secondary problems primary concern for UA football

    After 681 combined plays two weekends ago against Oregon State, the Arizona football team was 1:20 away from having a record of 7-4.

    It took only three attacks to the Wildcats’ secondary before the team found itself watching another loss sail through the uprights at Arizona Stadium.

    Cornerback Devin Ross wound up being the unlucky goat after Beavers wide receiver Sammie Stroughter beat him on a deep route and hauled in a 47-yard lob from quarterback Sean Canfield setting up OSU’s final field goal and the dagger in Arizona’s heart.

    A week later, the pain from the loss has diminished but the determination of Ross and the rest of the Wildcats’ secondary to prevent such collapses this weekend against archrival ASU remains fervent.

    “”It was a bad play and I take full credit for it,”” Ross said of his miscue against OSU. “”But I’ve just focused on bouncing back and coming out more focused and prepared for this next game. It’s a big one Saturday.””

    Ross’ sentiments are shared by his teammates in the secondary as Arizona has seen its once-stellar performances from the first half of the season dwindle during the last five games.

    Through each of the first six games of the season, the Wildcats – who were at the top in the nation in pass defense – held their opponents to less than 200 yards passing while allowing only four touchdowns through the air.

    But over its last five performances, Arizona’s defense has struggled to contain passes and given up more than 216 yards in four of those games. The Wildcats’ opponents have also found the end zone much more frequently by the pass as Arizona gave up six passing scores.

    “”No offense to the teams we played in the past, but the last few games have been Oregon, Oregon State, SC and Cal. I mean those are four very good programs,”” senior safety Cam Nelson said of his unit’s recent struggles. “”They’re all over .500, so that’s one of the things you’ve got to look at. They’ve got good scholarship players just like us, I think that’s one of the bigger things.””

    It will be important for Arizona to tighten its defense this weekend as Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter has a history of burning up the Wildcats’ secondary.

    In each of the three Territorial Cup games Carpenter has started, he has thrown for more than 200 yards, and in the past two meetings the senior signal caller found receivers in Arizona’s end zone five times combined.

    “”He’s a good player,”” UA safety Nate Ness said of Carpenter. “”He can make the craziest throws look really easy. He’ll be a test for us. We’ll have to prepare well for him.””

    Working to Arizona’s advantage will be that the Sun Devils enter Saturday’s Duel in the Desert with one of their weakest offenses in recent years.

    ASU currently sits seventh in the Pacific 10 Conference for scoring offense, averaging 24 points per game while the Wildcats currently average more than 37.

    Passing-wise, the Sun Devils fall below the Wildcats once again in the conference standings as Carpenter and ASU are averaging just less than 230 passing yards per game with Arizona putting up 233 yards.

    Despite their recent lapses, the Wildcats thus far in the year have managed to hold off the passing threats of teams with losing records, including UCLA. The Bruins’ passing offense is decent, however, as they average more 200 yards per game as well.

    “”We don’t need our guys to be Superman out there,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”I just told the defensive guys to play like they’ve played all year.””

    While the Sun Devils do not pose the most imposing threat through the air as in years past, Arizona will surely need to find a way to climb out of its current rut where the opposition has found holes in the defensive backfield.

    With the Territorial Cup on the line, the Wildcats are expecting a challenge, especially with the dangerous Carpenter and his arsenal coming to town.

    But with the much-anticipated matchup only days away, Arizona is not worried about any statistics or trends that may have developed over the last few games. In the players’ eyes, nothing has changed.

    “”We really haven’t paid attention to any of (the stats),”” Ross said. “”We’re not really worried about what team or what quarterback we’re going up against. It’s just about us playing our game and playing team ball.

    “”(Saturday is) a big game; we’re trying to get that trophy back,”” Ross added. “”But nothing’s different, as far as us, we’re just facing a new team and a new game.””

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