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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football: Scheme and personnel all to blame in Wildcats’ defensive meltdown

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Alex McIntyre
Colorado wide receiver Shay Fields (1) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Arizona cornerback Dane Cruikshank (9) at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Wildcats lost to the Buffalos 49-24.

After the first offensive series for Colorado, it became clear that Arizona’s defense would have its work cut out in yet another beat down by a Pac-12 Conference opponent Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.

The result of the Buffaloes opening drive was a touchdown scored by the Pac-12’s third leading rusher, tailback Phillip Lindsay, who finished with 119 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The Buffaloes exposed Arizona’s run defense almost everytime Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre called a run play. Who knew the key to keeping the Buffaloes’ lead in the Pac-12 South was exploiting Arizona’s 95th-ranked run defense.

It did not matter whether it was quarterback Sefo Liufau running the ball or tailback Lindsay, the end result was plays that picked up large chunks of yardage and kept the offensive flow moving for Colorado. The upperclassmen duo combined for seven touchdowns in the game.

While the Wildcats did all they could to slow down their opponent’s talented back field, they also found themselves without answers for quarterback Sefo Liufau’s passing ability. Big pass plays hurt Arizona throughout the game and with the front seven’s ineffectiveness against the run, the Wildcats’ defense had no way to stop the bleeding.

Colorado wide receiver Shay Fields beat Arizona cornerback Dane Cruikshank to the corner of the end zone, as the junior caught a perfectly thrown ball by Liufau. It was one of Fields’ two touchdowns on the night. Colorado established a comfortable double-digit lead toward the end of the first half and never looked back.

Liufau’s connection with his receivers was spot on and the precision allowed the Buffaloes to record two quick scores before half time, extending their lead over the woeful Wildcats. The senior racked up 56 yards on the ground, adding to his 213 passing yards. The Wildcats rank 11th in the Pac-12 in passing defense.

Costly pass interference penalties on Arizona re-energized the Buffaloes’ offense, allowing it to score three times more times off penalties. Defensive back Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles was flagged twice for being too aggressive in man coverage, as Arizona shot themselves in the foot on drives where it appeared the defense would record a stop.

“I’ve been coaching football a long time and I don’t know if I have ever had 13 penalties for 130 some yards,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. “Some were good calls and some I’ll have to watch the film to see about.”

The Wildcats failed to keep the deficit reasonably close, as the defense allowed its opponent to score more then 20 points. The season opener against BYU remains the only time Arizona has held a team to less then 20 points in a game.

One positive takeaway was a turnover seen in the fourth quarter when Brandon Rutt picked off Liufau, marking the Wildcats’ first turnover in five games. 

“More guys gotta make more plays and step up,” said senior Paul Magloire when asked why turnovers have been hard to come by for the defense so far this season.

Rodriguez’s eighth loss of the year showcased all that is wrong with the team this season. Too many costly penalties, the inability to stop the run and the lack of turnovers have handicapped not just the defense but the team as a whole.

The sheer incapability to stop opposing team’s offenses week in and week out should raise questions as to whether the changes made at the defensive coordinator spot in the offseason were necessary.

“I think scheme is always important from a coordinator standpoint, but I’m also reminding myself that everybody is learning this thing for the first time, even the seniors,” Rodriguez said when asked if the defense has improved under new d-coordinator Marcel Yates. “We’ve had some bumps and bruises certainly not playing great defense, but were trying.”

Arizona’s defense hasn’t progressed at all under Yates, who was brought in as defensive coordinator in January. Ranked among the worst total defenses in college football, Yates’ defense allows opponents a head turning 475 yards per game, worse than last year’s 463 yards per game.

With no turnaround whatsoever from a defensive stand point, and given the way the rest of the team is performing, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see changes elsewhere, starting potentially with Rodriguez.


Follow Noah Sonnet on Twitter.


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