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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Stoops pleased with defense

Stoops pleased with defense

All throughout training camp the defense was Arizona’s glaring weakness.

Toward the end of camp, head coach Mike Stoops even admitted that the defense’s lack of progression was “”somewhat scary.””

But if Friday night’s 41-2 win over Toledo was any indication, Stoops and his staff don’t have nearly as much to worry about as they had originally anticipated.

“”I always said that the defense was going to play with a chip on their shoulder,”” said junior cornerback Robert Golden. “”That’s what we’ve been trying to prove is that we want to go out there and show people that we’re a top contender on the defensive side.””

The Wildcats were flying around the field, holding a team that ranked 19th nationally in passing yards in 2009, to 183 total yards — less yards than Arizona receiver Juron Criner racked up by himself.

In a game that the Wildcats went for 518 yards of offense, Nick Foles threw for 360 and Criner stole the show on SportsCenter’s Top 10, you would think the offense would earn the praise of the coaching staff.

But it was the defensive unit, which returned only four starters, that was awarded the Player of the Game award by the coaching staff.

“”That was a collectively good performance by an entire group of young men, so the defense got the award this week instead of somebody individually,”” said co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish. “”You’d like to have that every week if you could.””

Golden and Stoops both noted that they weren’t surprised by how the defense played, but nobody expected them to allow zero touchdowns or field goals after an underwhelming camp.

Friday was only the second time during the Mike Stoops era that Arizona held its opponent without a touchdown, and the Wildcats did that primarily running nickel-and-dime packages, with five and sometimes six defensive backs on the field to counter Toledo’s spread offense.

“”Inserting a fifth DB or a sixth DB to match up and put skill on skill and big on big, those are the things we’re going to continue to do,”” Kish said. “”That’s what the game of football is becoming. We think we’re headed in the right direction with that philosophy.””

They held 2009 freshman reception leader and All-American Eric Page to four catches for 43 yards and proved too fast for the Rockets.  

“”Speed makes up for a lot of mistakes,”” Stoops said. “”We weren’t perfect in a lot of situations but our overall team speed and playing hard let us recover.

“”We’re blessed to have, I think, pretty good overall team speed.””

Between explosive defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, along with an athletic secondary, the Wildcats have one of the faster defenses in the Pacific 10 Conference.

“”Down the road, I think it’s going to bode well that we’re going to continue to play with good speed on our side of the ball,”” Kish said.

The way that the defense took charge and proved that it wasn’t a weakness is encouraging as the Wildcats prepare for teams like Iowa, Oregon and USC.

 

Youngsters gain experience

Arizona was able to use 60 players in its blowout win over Toledo on Friday, and a large handful of them were freshman or first-timers.

Although winning was priority No. 1, the experience that the youngsters gained is huge for the Wildcats moving forward.

“”We gained some maturity and some playing time with some of our younger guys,”” Stoops said. “”I think we had maybe seven carriers of the ball, 10 or 11 guys catch balls and played a bunch of young guys on defense. I think those were all positive experiences and knowing that we can play a whole lot better too.””

Arizona is going to have to rely on a handful of freshmen and underclassmen in 2010, so allowing them to get on the field before the competition ramps up is key, and they were able to do that Friday night.

 

Running game, offensive line and defensive push need improvement

While there were a ton of positives to take away from the Toledo win, there were some things Stoops saw that he wasn’t pleased with. He noted the offensive line, running game and defensive penetration as areas of weakness.

“”I don’t think we came off the ball very well,”” Stoops said. “”Our offensive line could have played a whole lot better.””

Nic Grigsby ripped off a few impressive runs including a 36-yard scamper for a score, but other than that the running game was fairly non-existent Friday.

“”I just didn’t think we ran the ball with enough authority and that’s something that we need to get better at, because we need to have more balance in our offense as you go through the season,”” Stoops said. “”I thought that was really the thing that stood out to me, was probably most disappointing offensively.””

The work from the interior defensive line also left Stoops less than impressed, despite a sack from redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington.

“”I didn’t think we were good inside,”” Stoops said. “”If you don’t get push, it negates our speed on the outside. When we get push and they stay disciplined then they can be more productive players. That’s something we have to get better at inside.””

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