UA FOOTBALL

Cats need discipline, even with their eyes

2012-09-21T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:29:45Z Cats need discipline, even with their eyesRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Dominique Austin first looks for the feet.

After he sees which way the opposing offensive tackle is leaning, Austin - a defensive end - peeks into the backfield and identifies the formation.

He then calculates the down and distance in his head and, using the hours and game tape watched and piles of information gathered during the week, guesses which play the defense will run.

The entire process takes three seconds, if that. Then the ball is snapped.

The 22nd-ranked Arizona Wildcats will need to play the game of their lives Saturday if they hope to upset third-ranked Oregon in Eugene. To do it, they'll need to stay disciplined on defense and avoid the traps, fakes and play-action moves that are the hallmark of the Ducks' "Blur" attack.

"Every man has to be on their toes and in their gaps and in their alignments," Austin said. "Otherwise, we'll be lost."

UA coach Rich Rodriguez has a phrase for it: eye discipline.

"And even still," Rodriguez said, "you can get out of place if you walk the wrong footsteps."

The Ducks, like Arizona, run a zone-read offense that relies on deception at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Marcus Mariota lines up in the shotgun formation with either one or two running backs next to him. When the ball is snapped, he has three options: hand the ball off, fake it and run himself or fake it and pass. Quarterbacks running the zone-read attack will try to "read" the defensive ends at the snap; if the ends "crash" inside, the quarterback runs to the edge. If the ends "stay home," the ball is handed off.

The complicated offense and anticipatory defense has turned every snap into a guessing game between the defensive line and the quarterback. Depending on the front, the quarterback will also read the linebackers or safeties.

Oregon (3-0) isn't necessarily unique among college teams. The Wildcats' first three opponents - Toledo, Oklahoma State and South Carolina State - all ran some version of the zone-read play, and Arizona has used its own version of the offense to post a perfect nonconference record.

Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich said eye discipline is critical against any opponent.

"Where your eyes go, who you're looking at, what you're concentrating on, all before the ball is snapped," he said. "Being in the game and getting your head in the game, we've been told that since we were little kids. Here, it means thinking about what's going on before the ball's even snapped."

And after it's snapped?

"Well, there are a million more after that," Kirelawich said."

Arizona's defenders gather the most information during games, passing the tips to each other between drives.

Like tackling or kicking PATs, eye discipline - and identifying the opponent's tip-offs - is an acquired skill.

The Wildcats' defensive players all learned their pre-snap reads during spring drills, refining their skills during long film sessions inside McKale Center. Once games began this month, they pored over the opponent's films, looking for tiny tip-offs that may indicate what the offense is doing on a single play.

Picking it up is "not an overnight deal," Kirelawich said, which is a main reason why the 3-3-5 defense tends to improve during the course of the season. The Wildcats are also developing a little bit of depth on the defensive line; Dan Pettinato made his 2012 debut a week ago after recovering from a knee injury. Ohio State transfer Willie Mobley is seeing more playing time, and fullback-turned-pass-rusher Taimi Tutogi continues to improve at his new position.

Sione Tuihalamaka is playing both nose tackle and defensive end and has so far liked the adjustment.

Even if his new position requires looking at the opponent's feet.

"That's the most important thing," he said. "You've gotta keep your eyes open and be ready for anything that comes your way."

The Rodriguez report

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

Injury report

• Out: Greg Nwoko (hip)

• Doubtful: None

• Questionable: Terrence Miller (shoulder)

• Probable: None

Team captains

• Week 4: QB Matt Scott, TE Drew Robinson, DE Dominique Austin, P Kyle Dugandzic

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Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 7 2 0 0.778 10 3 0 0.769
USC 6 3 0 0.667 8 4 0 0.667
UCLA 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Arizona State 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 5 4 0 0.556 9 4 0 0.692
Colorado 0 9 0 0.000 2 10 0 0.167

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 8 1 0 0.889 12 1 0 0.923
Stanford 5 4 0 0.556 7 5 0 0.583
Washington 4 5 0 0.444 8 5 0 0.615
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 7 0 0.417
Washington State 2 7 0 0.222 3 9 0 0.250
Oregon State 2 7 0 0.222 5 7 0 0.417
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