When it comes to the Arizona Wildcats’ defense, the formula for success is simple – put pressure on the quarterback and it will give the defense a chance to make plays.
This was not the case last year as opposing quarterbacks feasted on the Wildcats’ 118th-ranked defense. In their first year in defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel‘s 3-3-5 defense, Arizona allowed 292.9 passing yards per game, while only recording 16 sacks.
Friday’s 35-0 win over NAU was a step in the right direction, as the Wildcats recorded three sacks and forced three interceptions, while holding the Lumberjacks to only 94 yards rushing.
“We’ve been under the defense for another year so we’re a bit more experienced,” Sione Tuihalamaka said after the game. “We’re a little more physical and smarter. We just go out there and play.”
The 6-foot-2, 276-pound defensive lineman was one of the most active players in the game, recording five tackles, including two for loss. It was a nice start to the season for the fifth-year senior.
The Wildcats’ coaching staff has been hoping that one of their defensive linemen steps up this season and in his final year on campus, Tuihalamaka might be that player.
Tuihalamaka, a former three-star recruit from Hawthorne, Calif., has not produced much on the field in his first four years at Arizona despite 38 career games and 25 career starts. He entered the season with 71 career tackles (6.5 for loss), two sacks and one fumble recovered.
However, he has the size and the pedigree – his brother Apaiata and cousin Vui both played for the Wildcats in 2008 and 2009 – to be a key contributor in a potential defensive turnaround.
While Tuihalamaka stood out the most, he was just one of many Wildcats players to put pressure on the quarterback. Defensive linemen Tevin Hood, Reggie Gilbert and Justin Washington combined for six tackles and one sack, while linebacker Derrick Turituri, a pass-rush specialist, recorded one sack.
While NAU’s offense is nowhere near Pac-12 level, it was nice to see the Arizona defense making a quarterback uncomfortable. And if the defense builds off the success from the season-opener, it will ease the growing pains of breaking in a new quarterback.