The Arizona Wildcats defense will have a huge task on their hands come December 19th, trying to defend New Mexico's triple option attack, which racks up the 5th-most rushing yards per game in the nation. Rich Rodriguez will have 13 days to game plan for this offense, and it's all about responsibility.
"It is different. You have to be very sound, assignment-wise. Your guys have to be disciplined so you'd rather have more than two weeks, but at least we have two weeks," Rodriguez said about the triple option after Tuesday's practice.
"Particularly back end. The safeties and linebackers in their fits and their responsibilities. Who's got the inside zone, who's got the quarterback, who's got the pitch," he said when asked about where a lot of the pressure lies when defending the option.
Among that group of safeties is senior Anthony Lopez, who will be playing his final game as an Arizona Wildcat.
"I've had a great time here. I wouldn't change it for anything. Coach Rod, Coach Caponi, all the coaches have been great to me and I had a great time here. It's going to be bittersweet. It's definitely going to be an emotional time here when I'm done at The University of Arizona," Lopez said.
Lopez has been contributing to this team since he was a true freshman, and over the years, the program has elevated to a new level, reaching four-consecutive bowl games, and a Pac-12 South Championship along the way.
"Like Coach Rod said, our senior class is the most winningest class in Arizona history, and we tried to create a legacy as much as we can for these young guys, and I think we have for these young guys to try and bring home a championship in the next couple of years," Lopez continued.
Reflecting back on his favorite football memories, Lopez has a few plays that come to mind, but one stands out above the rest.
"I definitely think the ASU game last year, on the scoop-and-score in the first drive of the game," when asked about a play he'll always remember.
Lopez hails from Mesquite High School out of Gilbert, Arizona, just about ten miles down the road from Arizona State.
"Yes 100% it did. It made it that much better," he said about the play coming against Arizona State. "With that, the Pac-12 Championship Game was on the line and it was just such a great season for everyone and we wanted the seniors to go out with a win on our home field, and go to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Just an all-around great moment."
Now with just one game remaining, Lopez will end his career with the New Mexico Bowl. About a week ago, no one seemed to have any idea as to where Arizona was headed for their bowl game. Bowl projections had the Wildcats playing in the Cure, Heart of Dallas, Armed Forces and Arizona Bowl, among others, but Lopez and the gang had their eyes on one particular location.
"So after we won the Utah game, we were all expecting to go up and beat ASU and then expecting to go to the Vegas Bowl. I kinda wanted to go to the Vegas Bowl but once we lost I knew that was kind of out of the question so I didn't have a preference where we were going honestly," Lopez said about his final bowl game.
PREPARING FOR NEW MEXICO
Rodriguez said that there was an emphasis on the back end when defending the triple option, and Lopez shares his take on what they've seen on film.
"It's all fundamental football," Lopez said. "You have to do your job and it has to be a team win defensively if we're going to do this. Certain schemes we haven't really figured out yet, but it's between having the tight end, the pitch man or the running back but we'll get that figured out."
Arizona's bye week just so happened to fall on the final week of the regular season, giving this team an unusually long break from the time of their last game to their bowl game, 33 days to be exact. This could be good and bad. Good because this team has seen so many injuries and it gives them more time. Bad because of the long layover and potential to get rusty.
"It definitely helps us. We had 12 games straight and we had guys banged up and we actually have a few guys coming back like Scooby. These 33 days off are definitely going to help the team. Yesterday, today, people have been practicing and shaking the rust off, but we'll be ready by the end of the week to play the game and win."
"Obviously he was the best defensive player of the year last year, so he's a huge asset with his athleticism and knowing the game. He's going to be a big help for us," Lopez said when asked about how great it will be to have Scooby Wright III back in the lineup.
In his four years he's accumulated 60 tackles, four sacks, and returned both an interception and fumble for a touchdown. On December 19th, he'll play in his final game as an Arizona Wildcat, going out as one of the most winningest seniors in Arizona history.