Sept. 25, 2008
Free Video: Head Coach Stoops talks defense
Free Video: Defensive Coordinator Stoops talks defense
TUCSON, Ariz. – Riding a 3-1 start to the season, the Arizona football team gets a well-deserved break in its schedule this weekend with the first of three byes on the 2008 slate. The Wildcats will return to action on Saturday, October 4, when they host the Washington Huskies at 4:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.
While the schedule calls this a “bye” week, it does not mean the team has taken a break from football. Head Coach Mike Stoops and his staff held practices Monday-Wednesday as Arizona began its game preparation for the Huskies next week. The Arizona coaching staff wanted to keep players in their regular game week routine, which includes a lighter, more fundamental practice on Monday before focusing on faster-paced, more physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Wildcats, however, will get to enjoy Thursday and Friday off from practice, before returning for a morning workout on Saturday. Then, Arizona players and coaches will return to their typical game week practice schedule on Monday.
Arizona’s defense will get a stiff test when it faces the Huskies and quarterback Jake Locker. A year ago, the Wildcats trailed 14-7, 28-14 and 41-26 at various moments against Locker and the Huskies, but kept at it. Arizona scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter behind some record-breaking passing by Willie Tuitama to make the best of a 1,000-yard game (combined) and beat Washington 48-41 before a crowd of 61,124 in Husky Stadium. The win sparked UA to a three-game winning streak that included home wins over UCLA and then-No. 2 Oregon.
The Wildcats hope to limit the Huskies’ offensive attack this time around, but the task won’t be easy. Arizona’s defense currently ranks among the nation’s best statistically, but to continue the trend the Wildcats will have to pass the test that Washington – a team that has won its last two games in Arizona Stadium – will offer.
Through four games, Arizona ranks No. 2 in the nation in pass defense, allowing a mere 103 yards per game. The unit ranks No. 5 in pass efficiency defense (85.34) and No. 6 in total defense (221.75 yards per game).
The defensive unit is led by only three returning starters from 2007 – linebacker Ronnie Palmer and safties Cam Nelson and Nate Ness. But the Wildcats have been able to fill vacancies with a group of young and talented players that have shown not only hunger and aggression on the field, but also a sense of camaraderie and accountability.
The list of defensive play-makers includes several unheralded names, including the team’s leading tackler, Sterling Lewis. A junior college transfer, Lewis stepped into a starting role at New Mexico in place of injured Xavier Kelley and has led the team in tackles the last two game and has 31 in his first four games.
The Wildcats debuted four new starters on the defensive line to begin the year, including Earl Mitchell who played H-Back on offense in his first two seasons. Mitchell has recorded 16 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a sack in his first four games, while ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore have combined for 17 tackles and three sacks.
In the secondary, Devin Ross and Marquis Hundley have filled the void left by four-year starters Wilrey Fontenot and 2007 Jim Thorpe Award Winner Antoine Cason. All Ross and Hundley have done is provide lock-down coverage with seven combined pass breakups and 29 tackles. Another member of the secondary, nickel back Corey Hall, has added 13 stops, a sack and two pass breakups and earned the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week honor this week.
Coaches and players know the road gets tougher from here starting with the Huskies on October 4. Arizona officials expect the season’s best crowd at Arizona Stadium as the Wildcats welcome their first Pac-10 foe to Tucson. Tickets can be purchased in by phone (520-621-CATS) or in person through the McKale Ticket Office Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased online.