New defense proves a boon to Wildcats

2011-11-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:08:21Z New defense proves a boon to WildcatsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 20, 2011 12:00 am  • 

TEMPE - Over and over this season, it seemed, the Arizona Wildcats were the victim of wrong side of the highlight reel.

An opposing wide receiver or running back would be streaking down the sideline, with a UA player's back the only evidence of defense.

Entering Saturday's "Duel in the Desert" game against Arizona State, only 13 teams in the country had a worse passing defense.

But it was the team's crew of pass defenders - playing a newfangled 3-4 defense, with three defensive linemen instead of the Wildcats' usual four - that rescued the rivalry game with a 31-27 win.

"We've had our moments, not many of them from a positive standpoint," UA coach Tim Kish said with a smile.

The most memorable moment came with a bit more than two minutes remaining, when linebacker Jourdon Grandon caught a tipped pass near the Wildcats' 15-yard line.

ASU had been driving, down four, with intents of winning the game and moving into prime position for the Pac-12 South championship.

It marked Grandon's first interception of the game, by a hair.

As the half expired, he dived for a Brock Osweiler pass that was first called an interception, only for it to be ruled incomplete after replay.

Osweiler, the Pac-12's second leading passer entering the game, wasn't as effective as his final statistics would indicate.

With running back Cameron Marshall fighting a knee injury, Osweiler was asked to throw 65 times.

He completed 36 passes for 487 yards.

"We had some big stops," Grandon said. "We made sure we kept everything in front of us."

The Sun Devils' offensive highlight was wide receiver Gerell Robinson, whose history with the Wildcats is painful.

Robinson, from Chandler, was once thought to be the jewel of the Wildcats' recruiting class. He was listed as a quarterback who could have played receiver.

But in October 2007, Robinson announced he was retracting his verbal commitment to the Wildcats. He said then that he had "greater upside as a receiver" and "had been leaning toward receiver for some time."

He was ranked the best player in the state and the eighth-best athlete in America by Rivals.com.

Robinson, who was offered scholarships by USC, Tennessee, Florida and others, eventually chose the Sun Devils.

"Losing him has to sting," Rivals.com's Jeremy Crabtree said.

Saturday night, he was the best player on the field. Robinson caught 11 passes for 199 yards, the best in the history of the "Duel in the Desert."

The Sun Devils' Larry Todd holds the all-time receiving yards record, with 194, set in the 1964 rivalry game. ASU's Aaron Cox had 191 in 1986 and the Sun Devils' Ron Fair had 175 in 1989.

Robinson moved past 1,000 career receiving yards in the second quarter. He became the first ASU player in six years to join the list; Derek Hagan was the most recent.

Robinson passed 100 receiving yards Saturday for the fifth time in six games.

He was not targeted on the most important play of the game.

Not coincidentally, that's when the UA defense made its best stand.

The Sun Devils drove from their own 20-yard line to the UA's 20 when they were faced with one last pass.

As the clock expired, Osweiler fired to Mike Willie on the right side of ASU's end zone.

Catch the ball, and ASU wins.

Anything else, and it doesn't.

Shaquille Richardson batted away a pass from Willie on the right side of the end zone to cement the victory.

"They're a very happy team," Kish said.

The Wildcats sprinted across the field, dressed in all white, and grabbed their school flag.

They tried to plant it in the middle of ASU's pitchfork logo at midfield, but were rebuffed by the Sun Devils.

A scrum erupted, but Arizona ran off the field happy.

Like ASU's passes, the UA had that one covered, too.

"This game was won as a whole," UA offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "And I'm thrilled."

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