Arizona Football

Nansen on Arizona’s Defense: ‘playing with great effort, like where we are at’

This is what people are saying/asking about Arizona football this season: how many wins will it get and what about that defense?

The first question might be dictated by the second. The next refrain is usually can the offense score enough to give the team a chance to win?

So, what about Arizona’s defense, one that was – and hasn’t been, um, good – over the last few years? Well, it’s better. Or, better stated, it has better players.

Second-year defensive coach Johnny Nansen, once again, has his work cut out for him. But again, he has new personnel, better talent, scheme, and optimism. Given where the defense was a year ago, it can only get better. Right?

“It’s coming along,” he said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Last year it was new, because before then it was a man free type of defense where you just covered a guy. Now we’re playing more of a zone, so there’s a lot of teaching and there’s a lot of learning, checks and things like that. So, I like where we’re at. Am I pleased? No, there’s a lot of things we need to work on, too many penalties. That’s not going to help us. Our technique’s got to be clean. But the one thing I like, we’re playing with great effort, so I like where we’re at.”

That’s a good thing.

Arizona is less than two weeks out before its season-opener vs. Northern Arizona. Lot’s of things to tie down, but Arizona looks to have some players and needed depth to have an impact.

There’s even good competition at one of the linebacker spots between Daniel Heimuli and Oregon transfer Justin Flowe.

“Neck and neck,” Nansen called it.

Still, on a night where little tackling was allowed – so no one would get hurt – Treydan Stukes continued to look good, as did many of those in the defensive back field, including Genesis Smith, Gunner Maldonado and Dylan Wyatt.

The defensive line looks different, bigger stronger, quicker.

Taylor Upshaw and Isaiah Ward looked good.

Upshaw and Manu had sacks.

There’s still a long road ahead. Saturday’s second scrimmage – and last before the first game – was at times sloppy yet entertaining. Arizona’s offense looked like it will move the ball, but still both sides combined for 20 penalties.

Cleanup in McKale is still needed.  

“Obviously the penalties were the biggest concern,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said. “We had 10 penalties on offense, eight on defense, two in the kicking game. It was a great wake up call. They know it now, and they’ll talk about that, and the leaders talked about it. That is not the standard, or the expectation.”

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