Unbeaten UA needs more from 111th-ranked D

BY foxsports • September 14, 2012

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona is No. 1.

No wait: It's No. 1-1-1. That would be No. 111 when it comes to total defense in college football.

UA is just behind Rice (No. 109) and Marshall (No. 110) and just ahead of No. 112 Memphis. And, not surprisingly, ahead of Toledo (No. 118), a 24-17 loser to Arizona in the season-opener.

No. 24 in the polls but No. 111 on one side of the ball. But hey, the Wildcats are 2-0 and hoping to win their fifth consecutive game for the first time since 1998 when they face South Carolina State on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.

Yes, it’s been that long, but streaks are streaks, and UA won two straight to end last season. Two years ago, Arizona started the season 4-0 before the wheels came off of Mike Stoops’ bus at Arizona.

Last season, defense was a big culprit. And going into this season, Arizona’s defense was its biggest question mark. Being 2-0 and beating Oklahoma State has helped mask a bend-but-don’t-always-break defense.

Last week, the defense gave up 636 yards to Oklahoma State, the sixth-highest yardage total allowed in school history. In two games, Arizona has given up 994 yards.

"There are still a lot of questions," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We've done alright ... we've won."

Touche. Nothing like telling it like it is when you're a coach trying to get your team motivated to play South Carolina State, a school with just 4,300 students.

Arizona’s defense seemingly will always be a question, but it came through last week. After giving up two quick touchdowns, UA stopped Oklahoma State on six consecutive possessions, getting a fumble, three consecutive stops on third down, a stop on fourth-and-1 and an interception.

"We’re a group that’s just going to have to hang in there," Rodriguez said. "Any little opportunity we have, we have to take advantage of. We’ve been opportunistic defensively. But we've got to play better. We can play better."

If not this week, it’ll need to next week. South Carolina State is no Oregon, and the Ducks loom large.

Improved defense, in Rodriguez’s mind, is about not giving up as many big plays, getting off blocks better and recognizing schemes better.

"I’ve been proud of how they’ve hung in there," Rodriguez said. "After a guy gets beat, he’s not hanging his head. We’re forcing people to execute."

Rodriguez said UA "gave up a couple of cheap ones" on Saturday, failing to tackle or just missing an assignment.

The tackling has been a consistent. It’s just not up to par.

"That has been one of our major concerns going into every game because (of) the inability to do it in practice every day, because you don’t want to beat your guys up," Rodriguez said. "The first priority or method of tackling is getting there.

"Oklahoma State and Toledo both had fast guys, and we’re going to continue to face fast guys going forward. When we get there, the first guy there has to be able to tackle, and I know we’re not fast enough to get all 11 players there. If you have a really fast team defensively, you can get two or three guys there, not all 11."

HANKINS RETIRES

Arizona’s defense took a hit this week when sophomore linebacker Rob Hankins decided to call it a career after not recovering from a concussion he suffered in camp last month.

Rodriguez said Hankins had been considering retiring since the injury and finally made a decision. Hankins will be part of the team, taking on some responsibilities off the field, Rodriguez said. He was being looked upon to add depth to an thin linebacker group.

Hankins, from Dallas, played in 10 games last year, starting three.


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