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June 12, 2013

Only place for the UA defense to go is up

The only place to go from the bottom is up. But staying at the bottom is a realistic possibility, too.

The Arizona defense wasn't at the very bottom of college football a season ago, but it was close. The Wildcats gave up 35.1 points - only 19 teams surrendered more - and 499 yards per game. Only Baylor and Louisiana Tech yielded more.

Had it not been for an ability to create turnovers, the damage could have been much worse.

It has to get better, right? Various evaluators seem to think so. Phil Steele's preseason magazine has three Wildcat defenders slotted on the All Pac-12 team: linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. His recognition could even be considered conservative, given rover Jared Tevis was an all-conference honorable mention honoree in 2012.

With three selections, the UA defense is actually more represented than the offense. The Wildcats are not lacking for talent on that side of the ball.

Similarly, the team rankings on the popular Electronic Arts video game franchise NCAA Football were released this week, and remarkably, the defense outranks the offense.

OK, so the projections of a video game mean nothing come fall Saturdays. But it is indicative of a surprising public perception that Jeff Casteel's side is in line for a rebound.

Improvement wouldn't be difficult. Defensive improvement is also the cornerstone for UA to contend for a Pac-12 South title.

The Wildcats retain 10 from last season's starting 11, which fits the philosophy of experience begetting results. However, head coach Rich Rodriguez joked in an interview on SiriusXM's "College Sports Nation" last month that returning a bevy of starters wasn't worth all that much if the returners are not executing.

To that end, uprooting the issues causing UA's struggles in 2012 is critical.

The big numbers UA allowed could be partially attributed to Rodriguez's uptempo offensive philosophy. Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey and the rest of the offense worked with remarkable efficiency.

The Wildcats' 27:20 average time of possession was among the lowest in college football. That's by design, but the defense must have a special level of conditioning and depth to spend nearly 33 minutes a game on the field.

It's something conference rival Oregon has mastered. The Ducks routinely rank near the bottom of time of possession, yet hold opposing offenses in check.

At Pac-12 Media Day in 2012, Fischer said practicing against Rodriguez's offense was "like playing Oregon every day."

The tempo of practices should help, but the secret UO has found for an effective defense to complement a quick-strike offense is a lot like the popular 3-Hour Diet philosophy: several small meals a day will keep you leaner than fewer, but higher calorie meals.

The Duck defense spent almost as much time on the field as UA's over the course of a 60-minute game, but the average individual possession was shorter. To wit, UO saw 985 opponent plays on the season - UA saw 1,085. Only Northern Illinois faced more snaps than the Wildcats.

It's another statistic where the only place for the UA defense to go is up.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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