If Jeff Casteel had his way, Arizona’s defense would be a little deeper, a little bigger, a little more talented and a lot more productive.
But the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator will take what he can get. And this year, that’s improvement.
A season after ranking either last or second-to-last in the Pac-12 in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense, the UA at least turned in a respectable performance during the regular season.
- The Wildcats rank sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense this year, allowing 24.7 points per game. Last year: 11th at 35.3.
- UA is seventh in pass defense, giving up 235.5 yards per game. Last year: 12th at 292.8.
- Casteel’s group is seventh in rush defense, giving up 169.8 yards per game. Last year: 11th at 206.2.
- Finally, Arizona is eighth in total defense at 405.2 yards per game. Last year: 12th at 499.
“I think everyone was more comfortable in Year 2 and it was easy to see on the field,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “And I think we’ll continue to get better and better on that side of the ball through recruiting.”
Casteel spent a few minutes chatting with reporters after a recent practice and gave a mini state-of-the-defense address. Here are the highlights:
On the defense’s strides: “We’ve made some improvement, but we are still a work in progress with that. We’re a little bit better than we were last year, but we still have to continue to improve. Our effort has to improve. At times we’re not consistent enough. We have to become a more consistent defense. We have to continue to rep them, where they’re comfortable playing full speed. We still have some depth issues, so some of those older guys get run down and it makes it tough on them. But we’re making some strides.”
On getting extra practices before the AdvoCare V100 Bowl on Dec. 31: “We’re repping a lot of the kids that are redshirt guys that have been down on the scout team, and they get a chance to run our stuff a little bit. That’s a good thing. Plus, we’re trying to let some of our older guys heal up a little bit and get some young guys some reps. We get 14 or 15 practices and then we get back in March and hit them again, so that’ll be good. We should be ahead at that point.”
On his impression of some of the younger players: “A lot of the younger kids, it’s the first time they’ve heard our terminology in a while, and they’re still not in some of the meetings and stuff, but they’re doing a good job and getting reps and running around and trying to make some plays.”
On linebacker Scooby Wright and where he can develop the most: “With his knowledge of the game, number one. Physically, his quickness. There’s a lot of fundamental things like his hand placement and things like that, that he still has a ways to go. He’s a worker in the weight room and he’s going to continue to get bigger, faster and stronger. I think studying film and getting the mental part down on it (is important). He’s a good football player. There’s just a lot of room for him to grow and he’s a worker and he’ll do a good job doing it.”
On the challenges of Boston College: “There’s a lot of them. They’re similar to Stanford in the way they attack people with multiple tight ends, linemen and have a 230-pound back. They’re very good at attacking both lines of scrimmage. They’ve got a good play-action game. They found their stride the last four, five, six weeks of the season by getting into those big sets and pounding people and putting people into conflict with the play-action game. So it’s going to be a challenge and we haven’t seen that type of offense this year because we didn’t see Stanford.”
On Boston College running back Andre Williams and if he reminds him of anyone: “He reminds me of a real good running back. I don’t know if we’ve seen anyone like him. He’s a big, strong, kid with good speed. He squares his shoulders. He puts out punishment on guys, especially when he gets through the line of scrimmage, especially when you don’t slow him down. He’s a bull coming through there. He’s a very talented guy, obviously, with the awards. When you turn on the film, you can see why he was up for so many awards. He’s a good football player.”