The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

62° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Backers improving together

    Linebacker Dane Krogstad returns his first career interception to the Oregon State 13-yard line during Arizonas 17-10 loss to the Beavers on Saturday. The offense came up empty-handed in a microcosm of the season, where the linebacker-led defense is continually let down by the offense.
    Linebacker Dane Krogstad returns his first career interception to the Oregon State 13-yard line during Arizona’s 17-10 loss to the Beavers on Saturday. The offense came up empty-handed in a microcosm of the season, where the linebacker-led defense is continually let down by the offense.

    Overshadowed by the Arizona’s football team’s pitiful offense this season has been the defense’s quick rise to one of the better units in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    Such has been exemplified by the improved play of starting linebackers Spencer Larsen, Ronnie Palmer and Dane Krogstad, whose health has allowed the unit to leapfrog – statistically at least – the team’s vaunted secondary.

    “”It’s just given us a lot more stability in our defense, and you can see just it leads to consistent play, not having to move guys around, position to position and piecemeal things,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”They’re comfortable in their positions.””

    Stoops has stressed the importance of players making plays all season long, as Arizona’s offense has battled to stay out of the bottom 10 nationally. (It sat at 115th out of 119 NCAA Division I-A teams after the Wildcats’ 17-10 home loss to Oregon State on Saturday.)

    In response, the linebackers have stepped up their play, and the change has shown up on the stat sheet:

    • Larsen and Palmer rank 1-2 on the team in tackles with career highs of 62 and 47, respectively, through eight games. A pair of secondary players – former safety Darrell Brooks and senior safety Michael Johnson – held those spots to end 2005.
  • When Palmer, a sophomore, finished with 10 tackles against the Beavers, it marked the sixth time this season that either he, Larsen or Krogstad led Arizona in that category. That happened six times all of last season.
  • The Wildcats are also playing better against the run, allowing 3.7 yards per carry compared to 4.6 in 2005.
  • Larsen, a junior, attributes improvement against opposing teams’ rushing attacks to the same cause as his breakthrough year.

    “”The biggest difference, I think, is how well our defensive line is playing,”” he said. “”Any linebacker is only as good as the guys he has up front. &133;All of our defensive linemen have played great. When they play great, the offensive line can’t focus on getting (the ball) behind us.””

    Staying in the lineup has also helped. Various injuries kept Larsen, Palmer and Krogstad from starting a single game together last season, as seven different players got starting time.

    The trio has remained intact thus far this season, and Larsen said it has helped them believe more in one another on the field during games, “”especially when times get tough.””

    “”In the first quarter of last game, we gave up 14 points and about 200 yards and gave up basically nothing the whole rest of the game,”” Larsen said. “”We trust in each other to get things corrected, and we’re on the right track.””

    Krogstad, also a junior, picked off his first career pass in the second quarter against the Beavers, returning Matt Moore’s pass 29 yards down the right sideline to Oregon State’s 13-yard line.

    In light of the offense’s ineptitude – it came away sans points after getting first-and-goal from two yards out – Krogstad said he wished he had scored on the play.

    While he joked that strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond hadn’t made him fast enough in workouts during the week – as Edmond stared him down within earshot a few feet away — Krogstad added that the linebackers have felt pressure of late to help keep games within a score or two.

    “”That’s the mentality that we have to have no matter what,”” he said. “”(Even) if we have the No. 1 offense in the nation, we got to go in there thinking ‘get shutouts.’ As a defense, that’s your No. 1 goal, for them not to score points. When we don’t get that done, it’s a failure for us.””

    Both Larsen and Krogstad said they see many improvements the linebackers can make through the end of the year – improving speed, physicality, focus.

    The unit addresses those concerns at weekly lunch meetings in the team’s McKale Center film room.

    “”We’re up there for an hour, focused, just looking at all the stuff on film and just try to get as mentally prepared as possible as a group,”” Krogstad said. “”I think that kind of brings us together closer on the field, because we’re able to point things out that we saw on film and we know what we’re talking about. I think that helps.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search