When the schedule turned to Pac-12 play for the Arizona Wildcats, one major thing had been lacking from the defense. A playmaker.
Yes, Scooby Wright can make big tackles, and come up with big stops. Will Parks can lay down the boom. Jonathan McKnight can cover wide receivers like nobody's business.
But who was generating turnovers? Nobody.
Through the first three games, Arizona had two takeaways. Through three games last year, Tra'Mayne Bondurant by himself had three interceptions.
Bondurant wasn't in the rotation the first three games for a myriad of reasons. While never technically suspended by Rich Rodriguez, the senior safety was only being seen on select third downs, and on special teams. He was in the doghouse for what happened at the beginning of fall camp, but he was also out of shape due to missing those early practices and summer workouts.
"He got out of the dog house and on to the porch," Rodriguez said after the Cal game. "He's not in the house yet, but I'll watch the film and if he played well he might actually get in the house now. He's a guy that's got the ability to make plays and we've been struggling with that defensively."
While Bondurant is no longer actually playing safety, he seems to have found another role that fits him at will linebacker. In the two games he has played there, he has 12 total tackles, 2.5 of them for loss. Before he found himself in the starting lineup, Scooby Wright was the only guy who was able to get in the backfield.
"He's doing both (linebacker and safety)," Rodriguez added. "The only reason is that some of the schemes we're playing against, you're playing with an extra safety instead of a linebacker anyway. So he'll play both."
Remember, Marquis Flowers made the transition from safety to outside linebacker, and made a huge impact last year as well with his athleticism compared to most linebackers.
Bondurant also brings an energy that was missing, and the guys certainly feel the difference between the first three games and the last two.
"Energy was in the defense when Tra'Mayne wasn't there," Will Parks said. "But he brought that extra energy. That 'bang-bang' energy with him to the field."
"It was pretty exciting for me personally when he got on out on the field because Tra'Mayne's like a big brother to me," Parks continued. "I was just smiling. Tears of joy when he was out on the field making all types of plays being around the ball and being active."
The offense has proven that it can win games. But with Bondurant on the field and settling into his new role, the defense has gradually improved over the last eight quarters of football, and it all starts with getting his natural ability out there.
Without Bondurant playing, who knows where this team would be right now.