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The Daily Wildcat

 

Nonconference football grades for defensive positions

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Rebecca Marie Sasnett
Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat

The Arizona football team has started the year 3-0 for the third consecutive season under Rich Rodriguez and has shown notable improvement on both sides of the ball from last season. The Wildcats open Pac-12 Conference play on Saturday at home against California and will look to start 4-0 for the first time in the Rich Rodriguez era.

Before conference play starts, the Daily Wildcat football writers took the chance to update our positional grades from the Football Guide issue that was released just before the season began.

Defensive Linemen

Just Monday, Rodriguez spoke on his displeasure with the pass rush this season. The Wildcats have collected six total sacks in the first three games, which is tied for fifth in the conference, but only one of those sacks comes from a defensive lineman. Part of that can be attributed to playing a 3-3-5 defense that is built to stop the spread offense, but the frustrating part comes from the lack of pressure on quarterbacks. Opposing QBs have been given ample time in the pocket to make decisions. For that reason, the defensive line has failed.

_Football guide grade: C _

Nonconference grade: D

Linebackers

No positional group suffered more significant losses from last season than the linebacking core. Gone are starters Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers. The duo combined for 192 tackles and were the top-two tacklers on last season’s squad. This year, Arizona is led by sophomore Scooby Wright III and his team-leading 33 total tackles and two sacks. After starting as a true freshman last year, Wright III has stepped into a prominent leadership role this year and has noticeably improved in his awareness. While Jake Matthews and DeAndre’ Miller have each contributed double-digit tackles, the linebackers begin and end with Scooby Wright III.

Football guide grade: C-

_Nonconference grade: B _

Defensive Backs

While the defensive line has struggled, the defensive backs have been fairly consistent this season. Despite Arizona’s pass defense ranking 10th in yards allowed and interception totals ranking sixth in the conference, the passing defense has been adequate. Those high statistical totals can be partially attributed to an explosive Arizona offense that rarely stays on the field for extended amounts of time. The defensive backs have played a considerable amount of snaps with a lead and thus teams are bound to attempt more passes. A similar situation this year is Oregon, which ranks 11th in passing yards allowed but plays at a high pace like Arizona.

_Football guide grade: B _

_Nonconference grade: C _

Special Teams

Not since Nick Folk has Arizona had a reliable kicker. This changed once Casey Skowron earned the kicking job during fall camp. Just a few years ago, Skowron was the Arizona soccer team manager. Fast forward to today and the redshirt junior is 7-8 in field goals and a perfect 14-14 in PATs. He has stabilized a position that has been volatile in recent years. Punter Drew Riggleman has been decent so far, with his 2014 averages close to his 2013 marks. The downside has come from the return game. The average punt return this year (7.2) is almost identical to last year’s paltry marks (7.3). The big difference is in kick returns where the team has struggled to a 16-yard average, down from 20.5 last season. In essence, the lack of a solid return game significantly harms the special team grades.

Football guide grade: C

Nonconference grade: B-

—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseofPayne555

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