clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Defense Optional: UA, USC Shootout on Tap

Desert Swarm was a nickname that captured Arizona's aggressive defenses of the early 1990s. Those Wildcat teams consistently ranked among the nation's best in all facets, and produced some of the top overall teams in program history. An anchor of the Desert Swarm, 1992 Outland Trophy winner Rob Waldrop, must have shuddered when watching his alma mater let Oregon hang 56 points on it last Saturday.

Indeed, the days of Desert Swarm have washed away like trash down Euclid on a heavy monsoon day. In those Swarm days, the defense had to buoy an often inept offense. The Dick Tomey era was characterized as much by its defense as it was offensive series of "draw play, off-tackle, incomplete pass, punt."

The script has completely flipped. While a porous defense gives up points in bunches, Nick Foles tries to keep pace.

Saturday in the Coliseum, UA faces a program that in recent seasons has boasted some of the most formidable defenses college football has ever seen. Some regard the 2008 Trojan defense as perhaps the best ever. That version surrendered just nine points and 222 total yards per game thanks to names like Maualuga, Cushing, and Mays.

USC may call Los Angeles home, but East Coast artist Notorious B.I.G. had the most pertinent words for the Trojans' defense since: "Things done changed."

Last year's team finished sixth in the Pac-10 in points yielded at 26.7 per game.

Though early wins over Utah, Syracuse and Minnesota saw the opponent fail to crack 20 points, last week's rout at Arizona State sent up a warning flag. ASU scored 43 points on the Trojans, the highest outpouring on USC since its loss last October to Oregon.

Combine the elements of two decidedly down defenses, add in two of the nation's most talented receivers in Robert Woods and Juron Criner, sprinkle in NFL-potential quarterbacks Foles and Matt Barkley, and the ingredients for a Conference USA-style, give-D-coordinators-heart-attacks recipe are there.

There are myriad reasons Arizona is off to a 1-3 start; Foles is not one of them. He continues to establish his reputation as UA's greatest quarterback ever with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions, despite limited protection and a minimal running game.

The running game has shown gradual improvement, but certainly not to the extent necessary to compete with Pac-12 heavyweights Stanford and Oregon. Freshman Ka'Deem Carey's increased responsibility has inched along that progression. Yet, UA remains No. 119 in the 120-team Bowl Subdivision with the run.

These Trojans are a healthy 35th nationally against the run, and last season despite allowing nearly 150 yards via the ground per game, held UA to just 51. That doesn't bode well for UA, but it's critical UA try to pound more than it has through the first four weeks.

Last week, ASU rushed for 169 yards. The Sun Devils have been among the less efficient running teams in the Pac throughout Dennis Erickson's tenure, but attacked USC on the carry 36 times. As much as Foles should be able to air it out, UA cannot abandon the run.

Ultimately, whichever defense can muster some level of improvement is going to leave the Coliseum victorious. We aren't talking a three yards in a cloud of dust football.

UA must find some sort of defense to win this game, regardless of how prolific Foles performs. USC is most vulnerable when Barkely is forced into bad decisions - thus far, the Wildcats have failed to do so against any opponent, including equally turnover-prone Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Should USC continue this recent trend of opponents scoring five-plus touchdowns on the UA defense, Mike Stoops may consider petitioning for an extra year of eligibility for Waldrop - or perhaps borrowing a defensive stopper like Kyle Fogg from Sean Miller's basketball team.