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Defensively Speaking: Arizona review

by Kevin Bruce

This was a game that we had to win…period. I suppose all the remaining games are too but in particular this contest was one we were supposed to win, on the road with no excuses. Boom!  Mission accomplished while having some fun. Excellent.

Yesterday’s performance was entertaining which included some interesting highlights, tendencies and schemes. We saw how CP will attack a predominantly Read Pass Option (RPO) with an occasional spread formation. In this case it was a depleted Arizona RPO offense lead by a seventeen year old QB who really couldn’t throw effectively yet. He will learn and be a force to reckon with eventually but just not this year.

What Coach Pendergast dialed up was a modified high pressure defense using his base 4-3 hybrid (2 DLs) with some situational blitzing, delayed/read blitzes with a big dose of zone coverage and nickel packages. Fairly complex to read but not nearly as high pressured as we saw against ASU two weeks ago. Also it seemed that the level of intensity was slightly off compared to the ASU game by my eye but sufficient for the day. I assess this intensity by looking at ball pursuit, number of tacklers, hard hits and watching closely the first quarter energy level and effectiveness. Early in the first quarter U of A produced a touchdown scoring drive of 5:40 seconds capped off by a 3 yard option run by the freshman QB with no defender touching him. Oops! Fortunately we came back hard and picked up four turnovers and a goal line stop. In totality these big plays turned the first half TOP battle distinctly in our favor 20:20 vs. 9:40. We took control of this game by a combination of Darnold’s 3rd down conversions, good running, opportunistic throwing and effective defense (both red zone and field).

Thoughts while shaving:

  • CP really puts Porter in some tough positions!! A 260 pound hybrid OLB/DE with QB responsibility on options is a tough assignment without some help from the inside or better still safety who has better angle and speed. Tate took advantage of this mis-match several times and in the red zone it was Cam Smith who was caught in no-man’s land, got screened off and QB Tate scores untouched. That’s a lesson to be remembered for later on this season.
  • Btw Cam Smith (one tackle) had another quiet game which is two in a row. No criticism just an observation that he is in a scheme that doesn’t showcase his skills and impact as before. Whereas Hutchings (five tackles including one sack) is progressing wonderfully in this his last season. Will see how this trend develops as Smith still has produced quite a few tackles but much fewer impact plays. He is moved out frequently for the nickel package which makes the big play more difficult. Keep your eyes on this situation. I like him on the field and he does well in pass coverage for a big man.
  • Coverages were predominately zone coverages with Cover One (one safety high) and Quarters (four equal zones with a nickel back on slot or aother receiver with an occasional read blitz).
  • Our 3rd/4th down conversion defense was pretty stout holding the Cats to 6 of 16 and a goal line stand. That 4th down goal line pass the QB missed was wide open btw but Tate didn’t plant his feet and follow thru with his pass which was too high by a lot. This is a result of good cumulative defense. But a seasoned QB likely makes that throw.
  • Nice game by Hawkins with five tackles, excellent run support and secondary play. McQuay, Harris, Jackson and Marshall all had good moments and were generally in position to make plays. Biggie had his “handsie” PI call which is I think happened in every game this season so far. It’s his own technique I guess. I did like his inside coverage better. He turned his hips faster and seems to be getting more comfortable with inside cover.
  • We saw delayed blitzes from LBs and also secondary personnel. I giggled a bit watching Betiku (#99) drop into a sort-of pass coverage late in the 4th quarter…not sure that was called but just instinctual. Nobody was close by but he was ready!


  • I really liked watching this team have some fun yesterday. It’s been a tough seven game stretch up until this upcoming bye week.
  • Rueben Peters is one of my unsung favorites when Helton lets him loose as the blocking fullback. Oh my does he whack people! Hardest hits on offense or defense were some of his blocks. That is power football with real POA blocking and a pulling guard etc.…awesome!
  • A special shout out to Matt Boermeester. He’s got a great leg on kickoffs with no returns yesterday and just clanked a 55 yarder while kicking the threads first.

Final point; when we put it all together somebody is going to get totally steamrolled which I hope is at least in the Pac-12 Championship game. In the meantime use the bye well, play good football Thursday October 27th (7:30 pm) against Cal and have some fun playing a great game.

Kevin Bruce played linebacker for the Trojans from 1972-75 and was part of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA. 

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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