The Daily Fizz: Knowing what ‘great’ looks like

Casey Sapio - USA Today Images 2019
Gary Randazzo

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.

Up Next: 

Arizona at No. 6 Oregon. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MST and televised on ESPN. 

Comments (6)
No. 1-6
Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo

Editor

Whatever it is, it's systemic. As others have written, there are some talented defensive players at Arizona right now. There's been talent on the defensive side of the ball during the Rich Rod Era. However, for some reason, the talented individuals aren't adding up to a talented defense. Rich Rod preached "Hard Edge", but that mentality certainly didn't stick. I do like the "size" of some of the player's Sumlin has brought in and is currently recruiting and just like offense, you have to built a defense from the trenches out. Everything can't just be about speed.

Rockdoc
Rockdoc

Good write. thanks ugh! we started poorly with Hawaii but were better not just 2nd half but early in season. i wish we could just get an answer on why. dont we think something specific would be know? its sad to feel helpless after being somewhat hopeful. anyway, keep us utd. much appreciated

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

Nice take. In addition, Arizona has had a Defensive Coordinator whose defenses have gotten worse each of the 4 years he has been here.

Then he hired someone as a position coach who had never coached LBs before. No wonder Schooler is about to revolt, according to my sources. How has this buddy system of Arizona coaches worked out? Well they had to pluck an analyst -- the lowest guy on the totem pole of the coaching rung (doesn't even coach) to take the place of fired Coordinator. Smacks of desperation. In fact is exactly an ect of desperation let's not kid ourselves.

In all of this, Sumlin has the overall responsibility. This team really has no defensive identity, and the offense has been averaging the same number of points as last year, which was 10 points less than RR's so-so team of the year before; 41 vs 32.

I agree with those who say Sumlin isn't going anywhere. Arizona doesn't have the stomach to fire another failed coach, whose buyout is $7.5 million in January.

With putrid classes ranking near the bottom of the conference 2 years running, who knows what will happen this year, but it doesn't look like it is getting dramatically better.

The result? Arizona will lose 5,000 season ticket holder after this season, and next year the interest in Arizona football will be even less than this year.

Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo

Editor

I was excited during the stretch of wins from Texas Tech through UCLA. I agree that the defense looked inspired. I'd even say that if not for the defense, Washington might have scored 80 points the way the offense and special teams were performing.

I do know that year after year recruiting classes that rank 9th of 10th in the Pac-12 has really started to add up. Further, the fact that Arizona doesn't even have the allowable number of scholarships on the roster is a brutal reality that impacts all phases of the team's performance.

I just think there was a long stretch of recruiting skill players and then "fitting them in" on the field. You have recruited wide receivers playing cornerback. You have safeties getting reps at linebacker. You have linebackers and tight ends playing defensive end. Well-intentions or not, the methodology was not sustainable and it's basically collapsed on itself now.

These next two recruiting classes for Sumlin may be the most important classes since year 2 of Mike Stoops. If it were me, I would have every recruit be personally evaluated and benchmarked against JJ Taylor. If they have half the heart, commitment and work ethic of JJ Taylor, then they get a scholarship. Taylor is as tough a football player as I've ever seen.

Seriously, though, I think Arizona needs to change its overall approach to the game and start emphasizing defense more than offense on the recruiting trail. Outside of the importance of the offensive line,which should never be overlooked, a school like Arizona can still land enough skill players capable of having a solid offense in the Pac-12. However, without dramatic personnel improvements on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona will be nothing more than a once in a decade contender in league when all the stars perfectly align.

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

Great work. Not only is the defense horrid, but the team gave up 2 weeks ago and it was easy to see the body language showed a wretched attitude.

While Chuck Cecil can't be expected to work a miracle, as you infer he could instill a different attitude in the unit.

Even when blitzing Arizona has the fewest sacks of any team in the conference. No quick fixes.

Losing by 40 is not out of the question and anything within 20 is probably a moral victory.

Wineknow
Wineknow

Gary, I thought our D looked good earlier this season - especially against Colorado and UCLA - and neither team is horrible. We have better a LB's unit than we have had in 2 decades. We have life size D1 defensive linemen - who may not be great, but are, for the first time in a long time big enough. We have fast and big DB's - who are just every young. seemed to me they were coming together. We do pressure the QB, just don't get many sacks or TFL's. MY point: do we just need to mature bit?


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