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August 26, 2013
Arizona takes the field Friday night for its 2013 season opener without quarterback Matt Scott. The All-Pac-12 Conference selection was integral to the fluid transition to head coach Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
A new signal caller is a considerable question mark in UA's debut, and a potential weakness for visiting Northern Arizona to exploit.
"We are going to try to take advantage of [UA] having a new quarterback," NAU cornerback Anders Battle said.
Battle, a senior leader of the NAU defense, knows the key to the Lumberjacks cutting down the Wildcats is keeping their high-powered offense out of the end zone.
And the most effective method for slowing one of the nation's high-scoring offenses is to take the ball away. NAU must put the game in likely starter B.J. Denker's hands to have the best chance of creating turnovers.
Battle called it "putting [NAU] in the best position to win." Truly, it's a proven formula against the Wildcats.
Opposing defenses that successfully slowed UA's 38.2 point per game offense in 2012 did so by causing turnovers. The Wildcats were minus-11 in turnover margin in their five losses. Not so coincidentally, Championship Subdivision teams have flourished when winning the turnover battle against their BCS competitors.
When James Madison upset nationally ranked Virginia Tech in the 2010 season, the Dukes capitalized on a four-takeaway advantage. Likewise, North Dakota State won consecutive games against BCS conference competition in 2010 and 2011 with a plus-two turnover margin each time.
For NAU, chief to winning the turnover battle is Battle. The All-Big Sky Conference honoree did a little bit of everything for the 8-3 Jacks last year, including lead the team in both tackles and broken-ups passes, and forced a pair of turnovers.
His cohorts in the secondary, safety Blair Wishom and cornerback Lucky Dozier, combined for seven interceptions a season ago. This is a defense adept at generating takeaway opportunities, evident in a plus-four turnover margin on the campaign.
UA will look to establish the rush initially, getting All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey in rhythm to open the field for the pass.
To counter, expect NAU defensive coordinator Andy Thompson to counter with eight, and perhaps even nine players in the tackle box early. Stopping the rush was a signature of the 2012 Lumberjacks, which held opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry.
Selling out on the rush from the outset puts pressure on the first Wildcat quarterback to start without prior, significant game experience since 2009. And he does so without a wide receiving corps Rodriguez called the team's biggest trouble at last month's Pac-12 media day.