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Arizona Preview: Defense

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What's there to be afraid of against a defense ranked 108th in the country?

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

DE Reggie Gilbert (SR, 6-4, 262), NT Sani Fuimaono (JR, 6-1, 288), DT Luca Bruno (SO, 6-4, 264), DE Jeff Worthy (SR, 6-2, 287)

Arizona runs the exotic 3-3-5 defense, which is very rare in college football.  If you recall, Rich Rodriguez hired his old DC at West Virginia, Jeff Casteel to come to Arizona to implement this system.  With any defense that only has 3 down linemen, it puts a lot of pressure on them to take up blockers to free up the other 8 players on the field.  They do a decent job, holding opponents to 4.08 yards per rush, good for 70th nationally.

They don't rush the passer exceptionally well, averaging less than 2 sacks per game.  No one on the team has more than the 2.5 sacks of backup DE Jeff Worthy.  They don't boast great size either, with none of the linemen in the two deeps going over 300 pounds.

Linebackers

SLB DeAndre' Miller (SO, 6-3, 230), MLB Jake Matthews (JR, 6-3, 221), WLB Paul Magloire Jr. (JR, 6-1, 210)

The obvious name missing from this list is Scooby Wright.  Quite possibly the best defensive player in college football in 2013 and 2014, he has struggled with injuries during his junior campaign, and is expected to miss the game this weekend.  Jake Matthews has filled in admirably for Wright, totaling 36 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks.  Now with a couple games as a starter under his belt, expect him to be much more assured in his role come Saturday.

Even with Matthew's leadership, between Miller, Matthews, and Magloire, they've forced 1 fumble, and intercepted 0 passes.  It's clear that this group is lacking in creating big plays when Wright is injured.

Secondary

SPUR Will Parks (SR, 6-1, 194), BANDIT Tellas Jones (JR, 6-0, 189), CB Cam Denson (SO, 5-11, 168), CB DeVonte Neal (JR, 5-10, 173), FS Jamar Allah (SR, 6-1, 186)

Here's where the Arizona 3-3-5 defense gets interesting.  Unique to this formation are two "in the box" safeties, which are called the SPUR and BANDIT.  To run the 3-3-5 successfully, you have to have two versatile defenders that can blitz and stop the run, but also drop back into coverage like a traditional safety.  Shaq Thompson played a similar "rover" type of role at UW, and you can think of him as a perfect mold for this type of position Arizona fields.  Highlighting this versatility is the 189 pound BANDIT Tellas Jones who leads the Wildcats in tackles for loss.  He also has 30 total tackles and is an important piece of this defense.  SPUR Will Parks is another versatile playmaker, who leads the team in tackles, pass break ups, and forced fumbles.

Parks and Jones are arguably the best defenders on this Arizona squad, so it's surprising their pass defense is doing so poorly.  They've allowed over 280 yards per game and 17 touchdowns on the year.  Even if you take out WSU QB's Luke Falks 500+ yard 5 TD game, this unit still has not performed well.  Despite that, you will probably see Parks and Jones around the ball almost every play.  FS Jamar Allah as a fumble return for a TD to his name this year and is second on the team in tackles with 36 (tied with Jake Matthews).

Overall

Looking at the numbers, this defense is pretty bad.  They rank in the bottom half of the conference in just about every category, and are near the bottom in quite a few.  As with most games, winning the turnover battle will be crucial on Saturday night.  Washington's offense has a propensity to cough it up, but Arizona has forced the 3rd least turnovers in the Pac-12.  They also struggle getting off the field on 3rd down, and Wildcat's opponents are converting over 45% of their third downs.

Arizona also ranks near the bottom nationally (in addition to 3rd down defense) in 1st down defense, 4th down defense, and red zone defense.  In fact, their red zone defense is the worst Washington will face all season.  In 34 red zone trips, they've allowed 33 scores.  That's 26 touchdowns and only 7 field goals.  Honestly, letting opponents into the red zone 34 times isn't that bad, but letting them score 97% of the time, is.

So, what scares about this defense?  Truth be told, not a lot.  Even though Oregon ranked similarly in a lot of defensive  categories, this Wildcat defense just seems devoid of big time players.  Scooby Wright was their guy they relied on to make game changing plays: a key sack to stall a drive, an interception, or a forced fumble.  He delivered, and without him, I'm concerned about their ability to make stops.  However, that concern is against most offenses, not Washington's.  Now, this could be the game that Washington's offense finally has the "breakthrough" game.  Most people will tell you freshmen typically start growing up and getting up to speed (literally) by game 8 or 9, right around where we are now.  If this is the game the offense finally clicks (having a reliable rushing threat, finally, really helps) then I don't think Arizona has enough to stop Washington.  If we see the same offense we've seen the last couple of weeks, and most of the season, I have no doubt that the Wildcat's exotic 3-3-5 will cause Washington problems all night.

So, how many points do you think Washington will score on Arizona this Saturday night?