UA DEFENSE

Arizona football notebook: Young, thin defense 'hung in there'

2012-09-03T00:00:00Z 2012-09-03T20:30:26Z Arizona football notebook: Young, thin defense 'hung in there'Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 03, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats had just missed another chip-shot field goal, one that would have won the game, when linebacker Jake Fischer and his teammates met on the home sideline for a quick pep talk.

The message: "That just happened. So what?"

"One play doesn't define a whole game," Fischer said. "On both sides of the ball, we should have done so much better. It fell to us. We didn't play as well as we should have."

But the Wildcats' defense still played pretty darn well. The scary-thin and super-young group seemed to overachieve in the Saturday's 24-17 overtime win over Toledo.

Debuting its 3-3-5 "odd stack" scheme, Arizona limited the visiting Rockets to 358 yards of offense. The Wildcats surrendered two touchdowns during a chaotic second quarter, then buckled down and held Toledo to just three points in the second half and overtime combined.

Not bad for a group that started a walk-on (Sir Thomas Jackson) and a converted safety (Marquis Flowers) at two linebacker positions, a former walk-on (safety Jared Tevis) at safety and a former practice-squadder (Dominique Austin) at defensive end.

"I'm proud," coach Rich Rodriguez said, "of the way they hung in there."

Few, if any, could match Fischer's production. Playing in his first game since the 2010 Alamo Bowl, the junior racked up a game-high 13 tackles and 2 1/2 tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble.

Fischer did it all while playing 94 plays - every defensive snap - from scrimmage.

He said there was "a ton of emotions" coming back from a torn ACL. He missed all of 2011 following surgery.

"I worked my tail off to get back," he said.

Mistakes kept Cats from offensive records

Arizona's 624 yards of offense marked the second-best single-game performance in program history. Still, Rodriguez said, the Wildcats could've - and probably should've - gained more.

"It almost makes you think, 'Gosh, it could have been 800, easy,' " Rodriguez said.

Arizona had two touchdowns called back because of penalties, and Scott overthrew a few wide-open receivers. Receiver Richard Morrison dropped a touchdown pass at the end of the Wildcats' first drive, and the team settled for a field goal; later in the quarter, he fumbled the ball away at Toledo's 6.

"When we watch the film, we're going to say, 'Boy, we missed a touchdown here and a touchdown there,'" Rodriguez said.

Wildcats avoided MACatastrophe

The Wildcats' overtime win kept the Mid-American Conference's breakthrough day from getting any better. Ohio stunned Penn State 24-14 earlier Saturday, and Northern Illinois nearly upset Iowa on the road. Bowling Green played tough at Florida before falling 27-14.

"Everybody's going to say, 'Well, you should beat a MAC team,'" Rodriguez said. "But MAC teams won a lot of games (Saturday), or came close."

Things won't get any easier this week. UA's next opponent, Oklahoma State, opened its season Saturday with an 84-0 win over Savannah State, the program's biggest rout since 1916.

Rodriguez groaned when, late Saturday, he was informed of the Cowboys' score.

"Thanks for ruining my night," he said. "You had to bring that up, huh?"

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