Arizona ranks 99th nationally in total defense, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who paid attention to the Wildcats in the first three weeks of their highly anticipated 2018 campaign. After giving up 104 total points in their first three games against BYU, Houston, and Southern Utah, it appeared as though Arizona’s defense was incapable of heeding their own mantra to“bear down” to stop anyone. However, since the start of conference play, Arizona’s defensive unit has shown some signs of life, allowing 55 points and squeezing out a 2-1 record to keep them alive in their hunt for the PAC-12 South title.
Oddly enough, Arizona’s overnight defensive turnaround is hard to pinpoint. In their first three games, the Wildcats gave up 1,406 yards to seemingly inferior competition, and in their last three games, Arizona’s defense has given up a shockingly similar 1,395 yards against PAC-12 opponents. Their rushing defense is abysmal, allowing 197.3 yards per game, a stat that bodes well for the Utes, while their pass defense is equally soft, giving up 231 yards on average. So how has Arizona suddenly been able to hold opponents to an average of 18.33 points per game? Turnovers.
Through their first three games, the Wildcats mustered one total interception and two forced fumbles (both recovered by the offense). In contrast, their last three games have seen three interceptions and eight forced fumbles (three of which have been recovered by the Arizona defense).
Leading the way for Arizona’s ball-hungry defense is sophomore safety, Scottie Young Jr, who has pulled in half of all interceptions this season on his own. Considering Utah’s earlier tendency to overturn the ball, this is a matchup to keep on eye on Friday night.
Young is joined by sophomore linebacker Colin Schooler, who on his own has an interception returned 50 yards and a forced fumble on the season. Schooler is most easily compared to former Arizona standout, Scooby Wright, after amassing 66 total tackles on the season along with one sack.
Moving the ball against Arizona should not be difficult for the Utes, especially if the same offensive effort that was on display against Stanford shows up again Friday night. The hard part will be keeping the ball out of the defenders hands.