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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No Foles means defense must carry the weight

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The No. 9 Arizona Wildcats hosted the Oregon State Beavers at Arizona Stadium Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Tucson, Ariz. Oregon State upset the home team 27-29.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The No. 9 Arizona Wildcats hosted the Oregon State Beavers at Arizona Stadium Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Tucson, Ariz. Oregon State upset the home team 27-29.

Asking a top 10 defense to elevate its play may seem crazy, but with star quarterback Nick Foles on crutches, Arizona will have to lean on its defense more than ever over the course of the next few weeks.

“”We need to step up our level of play just to help our offense get going and just to give (the offense) the excitement to just go out there and score out some points,”” said senior defensive end Ricky Elmore.

After solidifying itself as one of the Pacific10 Conference’s most lethal offenses, the Wildcats’ offensive attack suddenly becomes limited with Matt Scott now under center and Foles in street clothes.

Ever since Foles took over the starting job, the Wildcats have becomean offense-first team with a defense that has come to exceed expectations. But with Scott, Arizona shifts to a defense-focused team hoping to score enough points to keep pace.

“”If (the offense) has some bugs they have to work out the first couple of drives and can’t get in the endzone,”” Elmore said, “”we have to step up and get some turnovers or some three-and-outs just to keep getting them the ball so they can get into the flow of things and score some points.””

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Foles made almost anything seem possible offensively – see the game-winning drive against Iowa or the improbable Foles-led win over Cal. But an unproven Scott is making his first start of 2010 and it remains to be seen how the offense will respond.

Despite players and coaches having confidence in Scott,  there’s no denying that the offense has taken a hit, meaning the Wildcats’ new mantra will become defense, defense, defense.

“”We know what Matt’s capable of, but we also understand the situation,”” said junior linebacker Paul Vassallo. “”It does change things up switching quarterbacks midseason, so as a defense we just know we have to be spot on like we were last week and good things will happen.””

Arizona ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 13.3 points per game. The Wildcats also come in at 10th in yards allowed per game at 284.33. Despite the stellar play, the defense isn’t satisfied.

“”I think we’ve exceeded expectations so far for us, but we’re not where we want to be,”” Elmore said. “”We dropped down in the defensive rankings (from) where we were the first five games, so I think a lot of guys want to respond this week and slow down a really powerful offense and prove how good our defense is.””

Although they are clearly capable of shutting down opposing offenses, it’s a different mindset when you’re asked to shoulder the load and carry a team. With fewer big plays on offense, the defensive unit needs to rekindle the ball-hawking, playmaking style that was on display against Iowa.

Through six games, the defense has been the unquestioned bright spot after facing criticism leading up to the season. But despite that success, the last six remaining games just got a whole lot more interesting without Foles.

“”I think I can speak for everybody to say we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we know we have six more games and so these six don’t define what we’ve done and we still have a lot of work that needs to be done,”” Vassallo said.

Arizona still eying Rose Bowl

Despite falling to Oregon State two weeks ago and the crushing loss of quarterback Nick Foles last Saturday, goals haven’t changed for the Wildcats. Since the first day of training camp, they’ve still been breaking huddles with “”Rose Bowl,”” and that will still continue despite the circumstances.

“”No, no, no, no not at all,”” said Vassallo when asked if their goals have changed. “”We dropped one to Oregon State, but still our expectations are Rose Bowl. Every break, every huddle. Things have not changed, that’s still our number one goal. I don’t think anyone’s going to be satisfied unless we get there.””

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