Head coach Mike Stoops is not a happy man. He is a defensive coach. He played defense in college at Iowa from 1982 -1984. Throughout his coaching career, he has been tasked with many defensive positions. A quick list of his coaching positions: Volunteer coach for LB/DB, DE coach, Co-Defensive Coordinator/DE, Co-Defensive Coordinator/DB, Assistant head coach; DC/DB, Associate head coach; DC/DB. It’s safe to say that he knows defense. So when he makes a statement such as, "We're not playing good enough to compete for a championship at this time", that worries me.
Now, I’m feeling very good about the Arizona Wildcats heading into this season. I still pick them to win the Pac-10 outright. But comments like that from a man like coach Stoops, whose opinion on defense I highly value, have me a little worried. It hasn’t shaken my faith in the Wildcats football team. It’s more like there is a building dread in my gut. It is less a factor of real concern about the defense, than it is the uncertainty of it all. We won’t have an inkling how good or bad the defense as a whole might be until Friday, September 3rd. And the anticipation is killing me.
But there is reason for hope. The D-line looks to be great. With DEs Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore pressuring opposing QBs, and hopefully forcing some bad passes. CB Trevin Wade should be impressive this season, and will surely surpass his mark of 5 INTs in 2009. Robert Golden has been moved to the other CB spot, and should perform above average at the position. SS Marquis Flowers, FS Adam Hall, CB Shaquille Richardson, CB Jonathan McKnight, the list of potential stars goes on and on.
Yes, the lack of starting experience at LB is troubling. But what are we as fans so concerned about? That the defense will be worse than last year? What are we really losing with the three departed starters at LB? Experience, for a certainty. But as far as the 2009 statistics go, not a lot. 6% of team sacks, 17% of team INTs, 21% of team TFLs, 22% of team solo tackles, and 0 defensive TDs.
So the defense will be worse than the offense this season. That’s ok. The offense looks to be something truly special. The defense doesn’t have to match up to that standard. The Wildcats don’t need a dominating defense. Just a ‘good enough’ defense. The offense may be able to outscore enough opponents to win the Pac-10. Lost in all of the coverage of how poorly the defense is faring against the offense in practice, is the possibility that the Arizona offense is just so good that the defense looks bad in comparison. We won’t know for sure until the Sep. 19th test against the Iowa Hawkeyes, but I have to believe that it is a strong possibility given the large number of playmakers on the Arizona offense. Both QB Nick Foles and RB Nic Grigsby are in the conversation for the Hiesman trophy. Especially if the Wildcats start the season 3-0. Which I predict they will.
My hope is that coach Stoops is wrong. That seeing his defense fair so poorly against the offense in practices is what has him so concerned. That can’t be easy for a head coach with a solid defensive background to tolerate. I do believe he has a keen defensive mind, however. So it is difficult to maintain that hope. Maybe the LBs will be a major weak spot. Maybe the defense as a whole will be entirely unacceptable. I just hope that coach Stoops is wrong, and that the defense is ‘good enough’.