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Finding their inner Desert Swarm

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What's the name of this blog again? Oh, right. Arizona football does indeed have a weird history. The Wildcats have never been to a Rose Bowl, or any other major bowl game. They never won a Pac-10 Conference title, never have reached success in even a few seasons' succession.

Never. It's always the word around the Wildcats' football team. Never, ever.

It wasn't long ago that the Desert Swarm defense stifled opponents and Dick Tomey's squad was the talk of the town (and nation). But John Henderson of the Denver Post wonders whether this year -- with head coach Mike Stoops hiring former D-Swarm defensive lineman Joe Salave'a to become the Wildcats defensive line coach -- could be the year they return to the form that propped them into the upper-echelon of NCAA football.

Just add a little Desert Swarm mentality, and maybe Arizona can get over the hump.

"The system was new," Hammerschmidt told Henderson of the Desert Swarm defense. "It was what Oregon's offense is to football now."

This is why we're talking about the Desert Swarm -- last season, it wasn't that the Wildcats fumbled down the stretch of the schedule, it was the failure to stop any talented team from running over, through and around Arizona players. For a Stoops-coached team, moves needed to be made.

Arizona's front seven on defense got steamrolled. Stanford gained 217 yards on the ground. USC had 205. Oregon gained 389. The trio averaged 5.5 yards a carry.    

So defensive coordinator Tim Kish, with the help of the first-year coach Salave'a, are mending the mentalities of their defensive frontline players, writes Henderson.

To give his 2011 defense an idea of what "mentality" is, he turned on a tape of Arizona's defense, circa 1993. The season totals look like typos. In 11 games opponents rushed 368 times - for 331 yards (30.1 yards per game). The Wildcats recovered 20 fumbles. They shut out Miami in the Fiesta Bowl 29-0. The 1992 and 1994 Arizona defenses were almost as good.    

Of course, this is a Stoops-coached team, not Tomey. But it's clear that he's grasped the tradition and the identity of a school he never attended, reaching out to Salave'a after hiring Jeff Hammerschmidt, a former Arizona player, to the staff.

But oddly enough, it was enough for a columnist from the Denver Post (of all places) to consider this:

Arizona's schedule is brutal. Weeks 2-6 read: at Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, at USC and at Oregon State. If the Wildcats get through that in good shape, maybe they will make more history in the desert.