Zona’s defense needs to arrive soon

Arizona hopes a shift to a four-man front will create more havoc in 2019

Wildcat Breakdown: Dissecting the D

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s Year 4 for Marcel Yates as defensive coordinator at Arizona. If there was ever time for a breakthrough. It’s now.

UA will shift to a four-man front this season and away from the three-man fronts that were a staple of the Rich Rodriguez era and last season in Kevin Sumlin’s initial campaign.

As we always remind at this time of year, Yates set the goals at the outset when he arrived prior to the 2016 season. He wants to be Top 20 in the nation in turnovers and scoring.

Arizona took the ball away from their opponents just 15 times last season (8 fumble recoveries and 7 interceptions). That tied the Wildcats for 100th nationally. Not even close to the Top 20 and down from the 23 they had in 2017.

Turnovers (total season and national rank):

  • 2016 (14) 104th
  • 2017 (23) 25th
  • 2018 (15) 100th

In terms of scoring defense, Arizona ranked 98th nationally, allowing 33 points a game. Again not close to Top 20 but at least it was an improvement over Yates 1st two seasons.

Scoring defense (points per game)

  • 2016 (34) 109th
  • 2017 (38) 117th
  • 2018 (33) 98th

To be Top 20 in takeaways the benchmark is 27 and keep in mind we're not talking turnover margin here, just turnovers for the defense.

To be Top 20 in scoring defense the goal is 20 points per game.

Yates’ other big mantra, one carried by most defensive coordinator, is stopping the run,

Here's what the Wildcats have done in that category the last three seasons:

Rushing defense (yards per game)

  • 2016 (194) 83rd
  • 2017 (185) 86th
  • 2018 (163) 64th

It was a tremendous jump for sure and one that Yates would like to see continue in 2019.

Here are a few more key areas where Arizona has not made the grade defensively:

  • (87th) 3rd down conversions
  • (84th) Sacks
  • (55th) Tackles for loss

One area though where Arizona did sniff the Top 20 was Red Zone Defense. The Wildcats held their opponents to a 77% scoring rate when they reached Arizona’s 20-yard line. That number was 21st overall in Division I football but 14th-best among Power 5 Conference schools.

Last year was a marked improvement overall for the Wildcats defense but as you can see Arizona still has a long way to go to be even a consistently good unit statistically.

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