Arizona Football

This Date in Wildcat History: Arizona takes No. 1 Miami to the brink on day Desert Swarm was born

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SEPTEMBER 26, 1992

Has it really been 20 years ago from today that the Desert Swarm was born? Doesn’t it seem like yesterday — ok, not so long ago — that place-kicker Steve McLaughlin lined up for that 51-yard field-goal attempt that missed just right against the top-ranked Hurricanes in Miami?

Arizona place-kicker Steve McLaughlin reacts after missing a potential game-winning field goal at No. 1 Miami in 1992 (YouTube video, click on picture to access video)

On the Desert Swarm’s birthday, we reflect on what evolved into the best defense Arizona has produced over a two-year span.

Arizona’s Double-Eagle Desert Swarm or 34 Flex defense, the brainchild of former UA defensive line coach Rich Ellerson and executed along with defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff, was an eight-man front that was predicated on stopping the run.

The formation: Five defenders on the line. The defensive end lines up inside the tight end on the strong side of the offensive line. In partnership with the neighboring defensive tackle, the nose tackle lines up in a slanted position, attacking the neck of the center, which makes him hard to double-team and negates what teams can do on the weak-side (away from the tight end). A “flex” tackle plays a few yards off the line of scrimmage on the weak side. Another lineman plays wide, a few feet away from the left tackle.

The strong safety overhangs about five yards off the line and plays more like a linebacker. In coverage, the remaining three defense backs play a Cover 3. If you understand coach lingo and diagrams, check out this PDF file on the Desert Swarm formation.

Unique to the Desert Swarm was the defensive tackle on the right a couple yards off the line and the defensive end to the left separated from the line (YouTube video still)

In the 1992 near-upset of Miami, the Wildcats allowed the Hurricanes only two yards on 22 carries.

The following season, culminating with a 29-0 shutout of the same Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl, the Desert Swarm allowed 331 yards rushing on 368 attempts (an NCAA-best 30.1 yards per game).

Happy Birthday, Desert Swarm. Those were the days.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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