The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 97 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
If Arizona’s defense last year had a scent associated with it, the smell would be unpleasant. It’s time for senior linebacker Marquis Flowers to bloom and help freshen things up for Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
The Wildcats ranked No. 118 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense last season. They allowed 499 yards a game, just behind Colorado’s 498.5 mark for last in the Pac-12.
Flowers is one of Arizona’s most decorated players out of high school when he starred at safety and running back for Goodyear Millenium. He played in the U.S. Army All-America game in January 2010 in San Antonio. He was a PrepStar Dream Team All-American and Arizona Republic’s top-rated senior prospect.
For Flowers to make the All-Pac-12 team this season — and improve his NFL draft status — he must become more of a dominating force at his new “Sam” linebacker position. He shifted from safety to linebacker last season because of the team’s lack of numbers on defense.
The Sam Linebacker is the strong-side linebacker, a versatile run and pass coverage player in Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense. He provides strong run support and fills gaps on the run, but he also is required to drop for pass coverage in short zones. He also plays man-to-man coverage on either the tight end or the number two or three receiver.
The bottom line is a player at that position requires versatility and speed, two traits Flowers possesses.
Flowers has weathered the change in coaching staffs — Mike Stoops and his assistants recruited him to Tucson — and his move from safety to linebacker with a healthy attitude.
“When Coach Rich Rod first came in, you didn’t know what to expect, but we all bought in,” Flowers said during the New Mexico Bowl press conference after the UA’s 49-48 win over Nevada.
“We’d like to get a couple more wins, but we can’t change the past. We got a good one today. I think we’re going to go into the off‑season with a full year, Coach Rich Rod, and our strength and conditioning staff know what we’ve got to do to come out and compete for a Rose Bowl next year.”
Flowers, who had 10 tackles and an interception against Nevada, started and played in all 13 games at Sam Linebacker last year. He had his best game against USC, which recruited him heavily out of high school.
Flowers accounted for three takeaways and seven total tackles in Arizona’s 39-35 win over USC. On the game’s opening possession, he stopped a 13-play USC drive with an interception at the UA 26-yard line to set up a 7-play, 60-yard touchdown drive for the Wildcats.
In the second quarter, Flowers quelled another USC attack deep in Arizona territory with a strip of running back Silas Redd, and later in the frame, he preserved a three-point Wildcat lead with with his second interception of the afternoon. His three takeaways were part of a five turnover day for the Arizona defense, its highest single-game total since 2008.
Flowers and the UA defense, which allowed just one third-down conversion in five second-half attempts, held USC scoreless on six of the final seven possessions of the game. If the UA can have more of those performances in 2013, led by Flowers, it will not be among the cellar-dwellers of FBS defenses.
Flowers finished second on the team behind fellow linebacker Jake Fischer in tackles with 100 total (57 solo and 43 assisted). He led the Wildcats in tackles for lost yardage with 13 for 57 yards. He also had a team-high 5.5 sacks for 39 yards. He forced three fumbles and recovered one, intercepted three passes for 18 return yards and broke up three passes.
Flowers hopes to become the eighth UA player to lead the team in tackles for lost yardage in consecutive years. Others include notable linebackers Spencer Larsen (2006 and 2007), Lance Briggs (2001 and 2002) and Marcus Bell (1998 and 1999).
No linebacker has led the UA outright in sacks in consecutive years since Arizona officials started tabulating that stat in 1976. Flowers can become the first.
The top No. 97 to wear the uniform for Arizona? Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com believes its defensive tackle Jim Hoffman (1991-1994), an unsung member of the UA’s famous Desert Swarm defense. He did not win honors or lead the UA in tackles, but he was a steady force who players Tedy Bruschi and Rob Waldrop depended on to clog up the middle.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.