Robert Golden told you so.

A month ago the Arizona Wildcats cornerback predicted his defense would surpass the modest expectations set forth by coach Mike Stoops and a skeptical, nervous fan base. He swore, even when few believed, the UA's seven newcomers could handle a schedule that includes games with Iowa, Cal, USC and Oregon.

But like this?

Through four games, Arizona (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-10) ranks third nationally in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. The Wildcats have allowed just three touchdowns, all in a Week 3 win over Iowa.

In the Golden Age of Passing, one where hapless Arizona State is posting 325.75 yards per game through the air, Arizona is surrendering just 129.5 yards per game.

"I'm very proud of our defense," Golden said following Saturday's 10-9 win over Cal at Arizona Stadium. "People underestimate us. We came out with a chip on our shoulder. We came out with our hair on fire.

"Every time, we step out there and prove people wrong."

Just about every position has a surprise star:

Defensive line

Preseason worry: The Wildcats would be unable to replace nose tackle Earl Mitchell, who was selected by the Houston Texans in the third round of the NFL draft.

Surprise! Justin Washington has become the Wildcats' most unlikely hero. The redshirt freshman defensive tackle registered a sack on his first-ever college play at Toledo, setting the tone for a hot month. Through four games, Washington leads the team with four sacks and seven tackles-for-loss; his 20 total tackles are third on the team.

"He's a young man who's really come into his own," defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo said. "He's a really sharp kid."


Preseason worry: Arizona's three projected starters were too green to be productive right away. Junior college transfers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls and sophomore Jake Fischer had never started a Division I game and struggled in training camp.

Surprise! All three were not only ready to play, but produce. Vassallo leads the team with 22 tackles, and Fischer is second with 21. Earls, a transfer from the North Dakota College of Science, intercepted a Toledo pass in the season opener and recovered a fumble against The Citadel a week later.


The concern: The UA's cornerbacks and safeties would struggle to grasp the added nickel and dime packages that co-coordinators Greg Brown and Tim Kish implemented during the off-season.

Surprise! A half-dozen Wildcats have combined to put opposing offenses on their heels. Starting cornerback Trevin Wade has an interception return for a touchdown, and nickelback Joseph Perkins put away Cal with a pick in the final minute of Saturday's game. Freshmen Shaquille Richardson, Jonathan McKnight and Marquis Flowers have played in nickel and dime packages and have impressed. Richardson has recovered a fumble.

Cats' Rankings

3rd nationally in scoring defense (11 points allowed per game)

4th in total defense (230.75 yards allowed per game)

7th in passing defense (129.5 yards allowed per game)

11th in passing efficiency allowed (98.38)

24th in rushing defense (101.25 yards allowed per game)

Up next

• Who: Oregon State at Arizona

• When: Oct. 9, 4 p.m.

• TV: Versus

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