UA FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Run defense slip-sliding away

UA is wary of Utah RB after letting last 2 foes total 534 rushing yards
2012-11-14T00:00:00Z 2014-08-07T17:51:31Z Arizona football: Run defense slip-sliding awayRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In losing their collective ability to make tackles and force stops, the Arizona Wildcats have gained something even worse: a reputation.

So there's really no questioning what Utah's going to do when the teams meet Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

"We really expect Utah to come out and try to run the ball down our throats," UA linebacker Jake Fischer said.

"If you have a guy that runs that hard, and an offensive line that's very phhysical, you know that's what they're going to try to do - especially because of the way we've done against the run."

Lately, teams have run all over Arizona. The Wildcats have surrendered 534 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns over their last two games. UCLA ran for 308 yards and seven scores on the way to a Pasadena shellacking, and Colorado put up 224 in the UA win last weekend. The showings bloated the per-game average of all of Arizona's opponents by 20 yards.

The Wildcats have surrendered 1,872 yards - or 1.06 miles - of rushing through 10 games this season. The 187.2 rushing yards surrendered per game ranks 11th in the Pac-12 and 91st in the country.

Arizona (6-4 overall, 3-4 Pac-12) can improve by:

• Forcing punts. The Wildcats can start by halting drives. The UA's last three opponents have punted only a combined nine times, a season-low for a UA defense that has lost its way of late.

Arizona's first seven opponents punted a little under six times per game. The Wildcats can improve their chances of winning - after Utah, the team plays rival Arizona State in Tucson - by making just a few more stops per game.

The Cats' offense is averaging 37.9 points per game, which gives the defense some room for error.

"With the way our offense is scoring, all we have to do is make a couple stops, and we'll be in every single game," Fischer said. "We've done it well in certain parts of the season."

• Making third down a first priority. Fischer and his teammates believe the problems stem from the team's inability to stop third-down conversions. The UA's opponents have converted on 43 percent (67 of 157) of their third-down attempts this season. That number jumps to 48 percent (31 of 64) in Arizona's four losses.

The opposition is also converting on exactly half (9 of 18) of its fourth-down conversions. The Wildcats blame missed assignments and a lack of execution for the mistakes, though the team has also been hit hard by injuries.

• Swarming to the ball. The Wildcats "aren't going to all of a sudden grow and get big in three days," first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The UA must instead swarm to the ball. Rodriguez referred to his undersized, inexperienced defense as "a bunch of fire ants" earlier this season. The unit will need to channel its inner insect to stop one of the league's top rushers.

Utah's John White IV averages 103.1 rushing yards per game, the fourth-best total in the conference. The hard-charging senior has 13 touchdowns on the ground this season.

"He runs hard. I think he runs the hardest of all the running backs that we' ve played," Fischer said. "The kid, he does not give up."

Stopping White is "all about will," Fischer said.

"People have to knuckle down and be ready to play this week, or we're going to get exposed," he said. "Its all about desire and knowing what you have to do; if you know what you have to do, you can play all-out."

Extra points

• Quarterback Matt Scott participated in Tuesday's practice on campus, providing some hope that he'll start Saturday against the Utah. Scott was knocked from the Wildcats Nov. 3 loss at UCLA with a concussion; Rodriguez has since been mum about his chances of playing against the Utes. If Scott is unable to go, B.J. Denker - who started last weekend's game against Colorado - would start under center.

Scott is "progressing very well," Rodriguez said Tuesday, but offered no further details.

• The UA is expected to pursue a medical redshirt for wide receiver Terrence Miller, who has been sidelined this season with a foot injury. In four games, Miller - a senior from Moreno Valley, Calif. - caught 13 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Miller missed the UA's first two conference games and; he returned to catch a touchdown pass against Stanford, but hasn't played since.

The NCAA could grant Miller a fifth year of eligibility based on his injury history; the fact that the wideout has yet to use a redshirt year works in his favor, Rodriguez said.

"He's one that we're hoping we can get," Rodriguez said.

On StarNet: Check out the latest UA football news conference at azstarnet.com/video

Up next

• Who: Arizona (6-4, 3-4) at Utah (4-6, 2-5)

• When: 8 p.m. Saturday

• TV: ESPNU

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Arizona's run Defense, By The Numbers

10

Rushing touchdowns scored by three Wildcats' opponents in the last two games; their first eight foes scored 14 rushing touchdowns

187.2

Rushing yards allowed per game by the Wildcats this season

534

Rushing yards allowed by Arizona in its last two games, a loss at UCLA and a win over Colorado

11th, 91st

Ranking, in the Pac-12 and nationally, of Arizona's rushing defense

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Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
USC 6 2 0 0.750 7 3 0 0.700
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714 8 2 0 0.800
ASU 5 2 0 0.714 8 2 0 0.800
Arizona 5 2 0 0.714 8 2 0 0.800
Utah 4 3 0 0.571 7 3 0 0.700
Colorado 0 7 0 0.000 2 8 0 0.200

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857 9 1 0 0.900
Stanford 3 4 0 0.429 5 5 0 0.500
Cal 3 5 0 0.375 5 5 0 0.500
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286 3 7 0 0.300
Washington 2 5 0 0.286 6 5 0 0.545
Oregon State 2 5 0 0.286 5 5 0 0.500
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