TUCSON, Ariz. — A week after saying he wanted more from his defense, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez got it — sort of. To be specific, the defense three forced turnovers in the Wildcats’ final scrimmage before classes begin next week and two weeks before they open the season against Toledo.
Still, Rodriguez would like to see more oomph from his team. He’s been talking about it most of the week in practice.
“There were a lot of great plays out here today,” Rodriguez told his team after Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage at Arizona Stadium. “But we didn’t have as much enthusiasm as I thought we would. This is a great stadium, a great playing surface, and we want you to have fun out here. We start getting into game week from now on.”
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Saturday’s scrimmage was closed to the media, but the school’s Wildcat Club members saw some big plays on both offense and defense.
Despite giving up 668 yards (449 passing and 179 rushing) on defense, senior free safety Mark Watley said the defense improved notably from last week to this week. The defense won 50-49 in the coach’s scoring system.
“There is progress … it was more physical, and we ran to the ball,” Watley said.
The defense came up with a big play early, picking up a fumble after allowing a big play right off the bat. Sophomore cornerback Jourdon Grandon forced the fumble after a Dan Buckner catch, and sophomore safety Blake Brady jumped on it.
The offense followed with a touchdown, as freshman Clive Georges hauled in a 36-yard pass from freshman quarterback Javelle Allen.
The defense settled in nicely over the next few possessions, though, and came up with another turnover before too long. The unit forced a pair of three-and-outs before backup quarterback B.J. Denker moved the offense down the field on a 90-plus yard drive. But on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the offense fumbled a handoff exchange in the backfield and the defense recovered.
Scott and the first-team offense recaptured momentum on the next possession. Starting with the ball at midfield, the redshirt senior marched the offense down to the 10-yard line before facing a fourth-and-goal, which was converted when Scott found junior Richard Morrison in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard score.
The two sides played evenly the rest of the way. Denker led a 60-yard drive that got inside the 10-yard line before a missed field-goal attempt by Jaime Salazar. Scott found Sean Willett all alone behind the defense for a 54-yard touchdown strike. On the next two possessions, the defense registered three-and-outs and held the offense to a John Bonano field goal.
Scott’s only drives in “overtime” were highly efficient. He found tight end Drew Robinson over the middle for 22 yards on the first play, and Ka’Deem Carey took the handoff on the next play and outraced the defense to the pylon for a 3-yard score. Then, on the first play of his final series, Scott pitched to Morrison on a reverse, and the slot receiver scooted 25 yards untouched for the score.
Arizona’s scrimmage concluded with three “final plays,” with the ball spotted on the 3-yard line with 1 second remaining on the clock. The defense won all three plays, forcing incompletions by Denker and Scott before freshman safety Vince Miles intercepted Allen on the 1-yard line to end the scrimmage.
“We have to get better at what we can control,” Rodriguez said. “The one thing we can always control is our execution, and that has to be the focus starting tomorrow.”