Opinion: Run Defense key to defensive success for Arizona Football

The 2022 Arizona Football season is just weeks away and coming in into the season, defensive success for the Wildcats will depend on its run defense. 

Aside from a few key areas, the defense for Arizona Football was fairly rough last season, ranking 57th overall in total defense, and 101 overall in scoring defense. And at the forefront of the porous play was the play of the Wildcats’ run defense.

Allowing teams to rush for 180.9 yards and 17 touchdowns, the Wildcats surrendered an average of 4.59 yards per carry according to NCAA.com. Those metrics had Arizona ranked 99th overall.

An area that needs to improve significantly is the rush defense if Arizona Football is to be a competitive group in 2022.

Blame 2021’s woes on personnel (or lack thereof), injuries, scheme, etc.; however, heading into 2022, Arizona should be in a better position in the box.

The Good?

For starters, the Wildcats return several key starters and contributors up front including Jalen Harris, Kyon Barrs, JB Brown, and Paris Shand.

They also have added USC transfer Hunter Echols, UCLA transfer Tiaoalii Savea, as well as a few, key freshmen this off-season up front as well.

Beyond that, the linebackers, even with the loss of Anthony Pandy, should be in a better position. They do return a healthy Jerry Roberts, and Malik Reed, Kolbe Cage, and Ammon Allen all have a year under their belts.

So on paper, with another year in Jedd Fisch’s system, the returnees should be better. Plus, the incoming talent also gives the Cats more depth and skill for defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen to work with.

The Bad? 

While the returning depth is huge for the Wildcats for the sake of continuity and familiarity, this is still largely the same group that ranked near the bottom in rushing defense. Even with the new pieces, there is still reason to believe it is not enough.

They also lost some key additions from the defense from last year including Anthony Pandy, Treshaun Hayward, Kenny Hebert, Rashie Hodge, and Mo Diallo.

Beyond that, this will be the fourth different defensive coordinator that the Wildcats will have used in the last four years (the second in two years under Coach Fisch).

Arizona just hasn’t had much stability on defense at the coordinator spot. Johnny Nansen is in his first year with the Wildcats, and there is reason to believe that this group could be a little rocky to start the season, especially as they adjust to his scheme.

The Optimistic?

As we are well aware, previous defensive coordinator Don Brown was nicknamed Dr. Blitz for a reason. He loved bringing pressure, mixing up looks, and sending guys with their ears pinned back.

On the flip side of that, Arizona didn’t quite have the personnel for it, and with blitzing heavy defenses, it leaves fewer players to cover screens and short passes, or in this case, players to defend against running plays.

Now, I am not citing the blitzing solely for Arizona’s woes in stopping the run; however, I do truly believe it played somewhat of a factor. So, a simple scheme and defensive philosophy change should yield better results.

Plus, I am a big believer in players improving from year one to year two. And with several guys returning from 2021 that spent a year in Fisch’s system, and more importantly, Tyler Owens’ Strength and Conditioning program, the Wildcats should be more equipped to succeed.

With the season just a few weekends away, we will see what kind of group we have!

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