Dan Pettinato's knee aches, his team is struggling and his fellow Arizona Wildcats are falling like flies.

And yet the UA defensive lineman is thrilled to be back.

Two months after suffering a partially torn ligament in his right knee during a scrimmage, Pettinato is on the field and feeling, well, not great.

Let's just say he's healthy enough to be playing. And productive.

"I'm probably still not fully 100 percent, but I'm fighting through it," he said.

"Everything's safe and ready to go. I'm just trying to push through some of the pain."

Since returning to the field Sept. 22 at Oregon, Pettinato - a 6-foot-4-inch, 265-pound defensive tackle/end - has registered 12 tackles. He started the Wildcats' last two games, losses to Oregon State and Stanford, and figures to play with the first group when the UA faces Washington on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

The Wildcats (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12) are trying to snap a three-game losing streak and register the first conference win of the Rich Rodriguez era.

They'll have to do it with a skeleton crew. Thirteen starters missed practice time last week during the team's week off, and a half-dozen or more could be out come Saturday.

That Pettinato is playing at all is a testament to both his toughness and the Wildcats' desperation on the defensive line.

Starter Dominique Austin is out indefinitely with a foot injury, while backups Reggie Gilbert (ankle) and Kirifi Taula (leg) are week to week with their injuries.

Taimi Tutogi, a converted fullback, is playing defensive end in pass-rushing situations. Sione Tuihalamaka is playing both nose tackle and end. Justin Washington, who was suspended in training camp and playing with the scout team as recently as a few weeks ago, saw the field against Stanford.

Pettinato, a native of Grass Valley, Calif., suffered the knee injury during the team's August scrimmage at Fort Huachuca. He's "a big, tough guy" to be back and playing, Rodriguez said.

And it's a good thing, because the Wildcats can use him.

"We needed some guys who can hold a point (at the line of scrimmage), and Dan has battled injuries all year, but he's healthy now and he's done a good job," Rodriguez said. "He's a young guy, but he had a chance to play a lot last year, so he has some experience."

Pettinato first cracked the Wildcats' rotation as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and finished the season with 16 tackles in three starts.

Rodriguez was hired in November and, within months, changed the defensive scheme.

Gone was the 4-3, which relied on two ends and two tackles to form a pass rush. It was replaced with defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 "odd stack" scheme.

In the 3-3-5, two ends - technically, one's a tackle and one's an end - try to fight through double-teams on the outside while the nose tackle, who lines up over the center, basically serves as a space-eater. If the defensive linemen do their jobs, they create lanes for linebackers and safeties to make stops.

Fighting through double-teams is less-glamorous work than sacking the quarterback, sure, but just as important. In fact, it's the reason why Pettinato hurried back.

"It's basically the same for us," Pettinato said. "I'm still basically a defensive end, a defensive tackle, and have outside contain."

Chuck Osborne, part of 'Desert swarm,' dies

Former Arizona Wildcats nose guard Chuck Osborne, a standout on the "Desert Swarm" teams of the mid-1990s, died Tuesday at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 38.

No cause of death has been given. UA officials were notified of Osborne's death at Wednesday's senior staff meeting. Athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted his condolences later in the day.

Osborne, a 6-foot-2-inch, 290-pound defensive tackle, played at the UA from 1992 to 1995. He led the 1994 team with 11 sacks. As a senior in 1995, he famously forced ASU quarterback Jake Plummer to fumble in the teams' rivalry game. Teammate Joe Salave'a recovered and ran for a touchdown, and the Wildcats won 31-28.

The St. Louis Rams selected Osborne in the seventh round of the 1996 draft, and he played in 15 games as a rookie. Osborne caught on with the Oakland Raiders a year later and had brief stints with the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers in 2000.

That year, Osborne watched Dick Tomey's final game as UA coach from Arizona Stadium.

A native of Los Angeles, Osborne spent the past few years in the Bay Area before moving to La Jolla. He was widowed and had no children.

Ryan Finley

Up next

• Who: Washington at Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)