The Daily Fizz: Knowing what ‘great’ looks like
Arizona is not immune to beating Oregon. In fact, the last three times an unranked Arizona team faced a nationally-ranked Oregon team, the Wildcats emerged victorious. Last year, Arizona routed No. 19 Oregon 44-15 in Tucson. In 2014, Arizona upset second-ranked Oregon 31-24 in Eugene. The prior year, Arizona crushed No. 5 Oregon 42-16 in Tucson.
Within this context, Arizona has every reason to feel optimistic entering Saturday night’s road game against the sixth-ranked Ducks.
However, we’re not discussing optimism today. The intent of this article is to highlight the harsh reality of exactly how bad Arizona’s defense has been this season. Particularly, when measuring the Wildcat defense with one of the nation’s elite defenses.
If fans want to know what a great defense looks like, consider an Oregon defense that is only allowing 15.8 points per game to this season. Consider a Ducks gang of 11 only giving up 313.4 yards per game. How about an Oregon defense that is only allowing opposing offenses to convert on 35.0% of third down tries, or only allowing opponents to score 72.4% of the time once they reach the red zone.
By comparison, Arizona’s defense is giving up 481.2 yards per game, while opponents are averaging 37.3 points per outing. Granted, Arizona’s wobbly special teams play, combined with an up and down offense are each contributing to opponent scoring totals, but the onus still falls heavily on the defense where opposing offenses are converting third down attempts a whopping 47.9% of the time, while converting red zone trips into points at a ridiculous rate of 95.0%.
While the college football world remains enamored by great offenses, it’s still the great defenses that contend for conference titles and national championships. By this measure, Arizona is a far ways off from being a team capable of contending for a divisional title, yet alone a conference or national title.
There’s a distinct difference between being in games and actually winning games. During Arizona’s current four game losing streak, the Wildcats were never truly in the game because their defense, flat out, could not stop the opponent. Who cares if you’re matching touchdowns with the opponent when you’re trailing by 10 points? No matter how you shake it, you’re still down at least a field goal. This was how Arizona’s 41-31 loss to Stanford felt. After the first quarter where Arizona led 10-7, the Stanford never tailed for the remaining three quarters. It was always Arizona playing catch up.
In losses to USC and Oregon State, the Wildcats didn’t stand a chance the way defense and special teams were performing. The Wildcats trailed the Trojans 34-0 in the fourth quarter, while the Beavers held a 42-19 advantage five minutes into the third quarter. Despite the shortcomings of the Wildcat offense USC and OSU still scored a combined 97 points. It’s too much. It’s way too much.
I’m not smart enough to know how to fix this mess, but I am smart enough to know that attitude and a take no prisoner mentality must play a role. I say this because two of Arizona’s all-time defensive greats, Tedy Bruschi and Antoine Cason, were not 5-star recruits. Bruschi was a 2-star recruit that the entire country overlooked. Cason was from the Greater San Diego Area and didn’t get a sniff from Southern California powers USC and UCLA. However, each combined raw talent with an unparalleled attitude that not only made them great, but made Arizona’s defense great.
During the offseason, so much has to change. How the Wildcats go about making radical change is up to them, but it has to be the type of change that gets Arizona back to holding opponents down rather than simply trying to outscore them over the course of 60 minutes. This whole excuse that today’s modern day brand of football is all about the offense is a farce, and those who say it are lying to you?
Oregon certainly understands that defense matters, and hopefully someday soon the Wildcats will understand it too. The cool thing is if Arizona were to figure this defense thing out, my bet is special teams play will naturally improve as well.
Arizona at No. 6 Oregon. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MST and televised on ESPN.