Arizona Wildcats football's defensive woes return
It was a night game, not a day game; it was in Los Angeles, not in Tucson; and USC won, not Arizona, but the Wildcats’ 38-31 loss to USC felt like déjà vu.
For the second straight game against the Trojans, Arizona’s defense was shredded, only this time it wasn’t Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. The Wildcats beat then-No. 10 USC 39-36 in 2012, but gave up 618 yards of offense and a Pac-12 record 345 receiving yards to Lee.
On Thursday night, Arizona gave up 297 yards on 15-of-30 passing to the much-maligned USC quarterback Cody Kessler.
Many of those yards were given up on 63-yard and 62-yard touchdowns, as the Trojans jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Had Lee played, USC certainly would have gained more yards than the 546 it did.
The defense spoiled what could have been a great game for senior quarterback B.J. Denker. The Southern California native threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns.
Remember, Denker only threw for 87 yards against NAU, an FCS team. USC was fifth in the Pac-12 in pass defense going into the game.
The defense didn’t have any sacks or interceptions or force any fumbles. It improved after the 14-0 start, but that’s not saying much.
Last season, Arizona was 118th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense. After some easy wins, getting a bunch of pick sixes, returning players that were injured and adding some talent, like true freshman linebacker Scooby Wright, UA fans had hope the defense had turned the corner.
But that was not to be.
Going into Thursday night’s game, Arizona was No. 9 in scoring defense, No. 19 in passing yards allowed and No. 23 in total defense.
Those stats were inflated by playing NAU, UNLV and UTSA to open the season.
The defense was impressive against Washington, at least for most of the game, but the rain severely limited the Huskies’ offense.
Bishop Sankey ran the ball for a school-record 40 times for UW and senior quarterback Keith Price was a pedestrian 14-for-25 for 165 yards. A week later at No. 5 Stanford, Price was 33-for-48 with 350 yards.
Going into the game, Kessler was 91st in the country in passing yards with 832 in four games and passing yards per game, with 166.4.
Kessler had 218 yards passing at the half. That’s more yards than he had against Hawaii (when he had 95), Washington State (41) and Utah State (164) and almost as many as the 237 he had against Boston College.
Yes, USC was expected to get a boost from losing Lane Kiffin, but this is the Trojan team that lost to Washington State at home, barely beat Utah State at the Coliseum and lost 62-41 to an average ASU team. USC only scored seven points against WSU and 10 against USU.
In addition to missing Lee, who injured his knee against ASU in the Trojans’ last game, the team was also without Tre Madden, who hurt his hamstring.
Senior linebacker Jake Fischer was hurting, but his being limited doesn’t explain the continually wide-open Trojan receivers.
If Arizona’s defense doesn’t improve, it had better hope Denker turns out to be more like Nick Foles or Matt Scott, or this season will be a rough ride.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520