Arizona Wildcats deploy SWAT defense
With the injuries and inexperience surrounding the Arizona defense last season, the Wildcats were limited to a hopeful base defense. In the end, they couldn’t hold the opposing offenses.
2013 is different and more dynamic.
In three games, Arizona has gone from the worst defense in the conference to fourth best, largely thanks to the new and improved third down “SWAT” defense.
“It’s for the [hardcore players],” senior linebacker Jake Fischer said about the new third down defense. “You get your best rushers out there, you get your best cover players and just make plays.”
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel didn’t implement the SWAT defense last season because of the team’s lack of depth and inconsistency. But now the team is more familiar with what the coaches are asking for, and it’s clear what needs to be done.
“Keep them at a manageable third down distance, then disrupt the quarterback and hopefully force him to cause a turnover — or at least not get a first down,” Fischer said.
On the third down for Arizona, the team gets quicker at defensive back and brings in more pass rushers at linebacker and the defensive line.
Outside linebackers Sir Thomas Jackson and Derrick Turituri enter as defensive ends, looking to get into the backfield. Nose tackle Kirifi Taula also subs in to bring more athleticism in the middle of the defensive line.
Safety William Parks and cornerback Devin Holiday enter and replace linebackers Marquis Flowers and Scooby Wright.
Senior cornerback Shaquille Richardson moves to free safety as other free safety Jourdon Grandon inches closer to the line in the bandit position.
“It’s our best guys against theirs,” cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said. “Got to clog up the running lanes, and the best thing against a pass offense is a pass rush.”
Arizona’s SWAT defense will be tested Saturday as Washington enters the game with the nation’s third-highest third down conversion percentage. Through three games, the Huskies have been successful on .659 percent of 41 third down attempts.
Washington features a talented, diverse offense that is centered on junior tailback Bishop Sankey and senior quarterback Keith Price. Fischer said the key is going to be to contain Sankey to short runs on first and second down so the Huskies are forced to throw on third. If the defense holds the Huskies to third and long, it will then be up to the SWAT team to bring pressure and hopefully get the ball back into the offense’s hands.
Limiting Sankey and Price, though, won’t be easy. Sankey is currently second in the nation in yards per game, averaging 148.7 rushing yards per game. Price is the most efficient quarterback in the conference in terms of passing and eighth most efficient in the country. His passing efficiency rating is 186.1.
The SWAT team is still a work in progress, and the third down defense needs to be more consistent before facing a test like the Huskies, but the talent to make the necessary plays is out there.
“[The SWAT defense has] been good at times and not so good,” Rodriguez said, “but we’re getting more athletic bodies on the field, which is what you need on third and long.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella