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Arizona football: Secondary is Arizona's big strength so far in '12

2012-09-28T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:30:12Z Arizona football: Secondary is Arizona's big strength so far in '12Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Intercepting a pass is an achievement brought on by an accident. Picks, like many of sports' greatest moments - home runs and slam dunks come to mind - require athletes to be both informed and opportunistic.

Arizona Wildcats cornerback Jonathan McKnight has registered an interception in each of his last three games. Asked what it means - whether he's doing something right, or opposing quarterbacks are doing something wrong - he thought for a second.

"That's fortunate," McKnight said as the Wildcats prepared for Saturday's game against No. 18 Oregon State. "If I just play my game, things will come to me. As a corner, you have to play with good technique. When you get your chance, you take advantage of it - you're not going to have too many balls just thrown your way."

McKnight has been the star of Arizona's secondary during its hot start. Through four games, the UA leads all FBS teams with 33 passes defended. The Wildcats have broken up 28 passes, second nationally; Shaquille Richardson's seven PBUs are tops in the Pac-12.

"Jonathan has made a couple big plays, Shaq has been solid, and (backup) Derrick Rainey's given us a little lift over there, too," coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The defense's opportunism has made up for some less-than-sexy statistics. The Wildcats are allowing 410.8 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12. However, the team has already faced two of the nation's top offenses: Oklahoma State is first nationally, and Oregon ranks fifth.

Here's a look at Arizona's "back five," and how they've helped pace the Wildcats' defense this season:

• Cornerbacks: McKnight's 17-tackle, three-interception start comes one year after he suffered torn knee ligaments, an injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. The corner is focusing more on production than on his health now - "I'm not really dwelling on it," he said - and has, so far, been rewarded.

Richardson (12 tackles) has taken more of a circuitous route. He surrendered touchdowns in each of the Wildcats' first two games, but has since stiffened up at a crucial position.

"Jon's playing great, but I'm picking it up now," Richardson said. "I had a couple bad games, but I'm on a roll now."

• "Spur": Tra'Mayne Bondurant is thriving at his new position, a hybrid linebacker/safety spot that fits his pit bull persona perfectly. His 6 1/2 tackles-for-loss are tops on the team; few players have shown a better grasp for coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 "odd stack" attack.

• "Bandit": Jared Tevis has gone from walk-on to starter to star. In four games, the Canyon del Oro High School product - and the Wildcats' starting "Bandit" safety - ranks second on the team in tackles (39) and interceptions (two). He has forced three fumbles already, most on the team .

Tevis has also emerged as Arizona's resident enforcer, a big-hitting safety with a knack for separating opposing players from the ball.

Tevis is one of the reasons why Rodriguez calls the safeties "probably the most productive part of our defense."

"The way our defense is geared, the safeties are going to make a lot of tackles anyway. But Jared Tevis has been outstanding," Rodriguez said. "Jared probably could have been our player of the week in every week so far."

• Free safety: Lost in the collection of interceptions and tackles is starter Jourdon Grandon, who has been - quietly and without a signature play - posting a stellar season. The Wildcats' free safety ranks sixth on the team with 18 tackles. His four PBUs are third among UA players. Together, Grandon and other members of the defensive backfield comprise what coaches call an "East Coast defense."

So what if the six starters hail from Louisiana, California, Phoenix and Tucson?

"I don't mind being an East Coast player: They bang," Richardson said. "It's just, 'hit 'em in the mouth on every play.'"

On StarNet: Follow the Cats through the season at: azstarnet.com/wildcats

Up next

• What: Oregon State at Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

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

The Rodriguez report

UA coach Rich Rodriguez's injury report and team captains for this week's game:

Injury report

• Out: LB Greg Nwoko (hip; season-ending); OT Lene Maiava (knee; season-ending)

• Doubtful: None

• Questionable: WR Terrence Miller (thigh); OG Trace Biskin (toe); DE Reggie Gilbert (ankle)

• Probable: None

Team captains

• Week 5: C Kyle Quinn, OL Addison Bachman, S Mark Watley, LB Jake Fischer

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
UCLA 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
ASU 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
Arizona 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
USC 6 3 0 0.667 7 4 0 0.636
Utah 4 4 0 0.500 7 4 0 0.636
Colorado 0 8 0 0.000 2 9 0 0.182

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 7 1 0 0.875 10 1 0 0.909
Stanford 4 4 0 0.500 6 5 0 0.545
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 6 0 0.455
Oregon State 2 5 0 0.286 5 5 0 0.500
Washington 2 5 0 0.286 6 5 0 0.545
Washington State 2 6 0 0.250 3 8 0 0.273
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