The Arizona Wildcats found plenty of success in year one under Rich Rodriguez. They improved from 4-8 in 2011 to 8-5 in 2012 with signature wins over the Oklahoma State Cowboys and USC Trojans and they were able to win a bowl game. But much of that success came despite their defense, which ranked as one of the worst in the Pac 12 last season. Will a full year in the system help the Wildcats turn it around on defense in 2013?
Rodriguez is hoping so. In all, Arizona will get back 20 players who started a game last season, giving them excellent depth and experience across the board. However, those same players they are getting back for 2013 are the ones that couldn’t hold up in 2012. Each and every player will have to step up their game next fall if they have any hope of improvement and that means making more tackles, staying true to their assignments and creating some turnovers.
And it’s not like they don’t have a ton of room to improve. In 2012, the Wildcats ranked in the bottom four of the league in just about every defensive category including: scoring allowed (No. 11, 35.3 ppg), yards allowed (No. 12, 499 ypg), interceptions (No. 10, 12 ints), sacks (No. 12, 16), red zone defense (No. 9, 83.9 percent), opponent first downs (No. 12, 339) and third down defense (No. 9, 43.7 percent). That’s bad defense that likely cost Arizona another two to three wins in 2012.
It’s unlikely that any team coached by Rich Rodriguez is going to be remembered for their defense. But if Arizona can field a halfway decent defense in 2013, the Wildcats will take the next step towards becoming a legitimate contender in the Pac 12.