Arizona Wildcats’ Defensive Evaluation

Before we go into detail about Arizona’s 56-38 loss and how the defense seemed lost throughout the game against Oregon State. I wanted first to say that people have to remember that current interim defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil has only had a week with the players, so excepting a drastic change in performance right off the bat is delusional.

In the first half, there wasn’t much to be optimistic about as Arizona saw it’s defense give up 385-yards in total offense. Oregon State did whatever they wanted to do on offense scoring 35 points during the first half. They did this with a balanced attack going for three rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.

You could point out many issues in that half from secondary to the linebacking core. Although, the main issue is something very simple, something that is an essential part of winning games, that is the battle at the line of scrimmage. When you look back at the tape, Arizona’s defensive line was being pushed back five, sometimes even 8-yards past the line. Oregon State was able to dominate Arizona’s defensive line from the get-go consistently.

The second half saw some improvements from the defense, where they were finally able to get some stops and momentum going in the right direction. The defense was able to slow Oregon State down, holding them to 187 total yards in the second half.

The effort was not enough as Oregon State put up 21 points in the second half to capture their third road victory of the season 56-38. All afternoon Arizona struggled to slow down the two-head monster of Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson, who combined for 219-yards with four touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough star wideout Isaiah Hodgins went off with seven catches 150-yards and two touchdowns. Thus, highlighting Arizona’s communication issues in the secondary.

Some telling statistics about the Arizona defense are third-down conversion percentage, rushing yards allowed, and turnovers.

Let’s go down the list, starting with third-down defense. Coming into the game, Arizona was already one of the worst in the FBS at this stat ranked 119th in college football. During the game, Oregon State went 7-for-10 while converting three third downs of 6-yards or more. When you are putting offenses in tough third-down situations and somehow still giving up chunk plays, it’s clear there are communication issues defensively.

Along with the defensive line issues, Arizona allowed 244-yards on 42 rushed averaging 5.8 yards a carry. The front seven has been struggling during Arizona’s 4-game losing streak allowing 802-yards rushing and a total of 13 rushing touchdowns. If Arizona wants to see any improvements on defense, they need to get back to basics and slow down opponents’ rushing game.

The most concerning statistic is turnovers; at the beginning of the season, Arizona led the FBS with nine interceptions flipping the field and putting the offense in a good position. During Arizona’s 4-game losing streak, it’s defense has only been able to come up with three turnovers, and most of the turnovers came late during garbage time. Against Oregon State, Arizona was unable to create a turnover that could have given the defense a lift. When you are a struggling defense, you need to create turnovers to not only flip the field but to relieve pressure off of the struggling defensive line.

Those are three areas where Arizona needs to improve to see any improvement on the defensive side of the ball. It is more than a coaching issue as proof to the 56-38 thumping the defense took. Arizona needs to improve at the basics if they are going to be competitive on defense. One thing is for sure; interim coach Cecil has his work cut out for him moving down the final three-game stretch of the season.

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