For a lack of a better word, the Arizona Wildcats defense seemed a bit clueless on Thursday night. Arizona dealt with more injuries than any team in the nation typically sees on a given night, but the defense just couldn't seem to get it together. Arguably the best college football player in the nation in Scooby Wright III went down, who is a large component of this defense. But it's hard to believe that the defensive line struggles that hard to get any pressure without Scooby coming through. Now, Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 isn't designed for defensive linemen to get the glory, but the defensive line is where the troubles begin for the Wildcats.
The defensive line was far from stellar on Thursday night. The starters consisted of 5th year senior Reggie Gilbert, redshirt sophomore Luca Bruno and junior Sani Fuimaono, neither recording more than two solo tackles on the night. They all have great size, Gilbert and Bruno both at 6-4 and just over 260lbs, with Fuimaono listed at 6-1 288. Parker Zellers also comes into the mix at 6-1 247lbs, and his lack of size has apparently helped him on the line.
Since Jeff Casteel has arrived in Tucson, the defense has improved drastically when it comes to tallying sacks. 16 sacks in 2012, 23 in 2013 and 38 in 2014. A large portion of those 38 in 2014 came from Scooby Wright, who had 14 sacks -- 10 more than the next guy.
The Wildcats also recorded a sack in all but one game last year, the Pac-12 Championship Game.
This year, Arizona didn't get off on the right foot, already failing to record a sack. To be fair, Scooby Wright hardly played at all, but the defensive line was putting no pressure on the quarterback and couldn't stop the run. That left a ton of responsibility on the linebackers, many of which lack experience.
The game was closer than anyone expected, but Arizona still had a two possession lead throughout most of the second half. Despite being down by two scores, UTSA was still able to use a majority of their playbook, partially due to the pressure on the offensive line.
The three down linemen hardly touched Blake Bogenschutz, with the majority of his hits coming from the secondary. With no pressure, UTSA was able to run the ball effectively, or give Bogenschutz plenty of time to pass. He picked apart the defense and was able to read the field to make his throws in a well-balanced attack. He also set UTSA school records in total offense and passing yards in a game.
Against a high-powered offense, this could stir up some trouble for Arizona's defense if they struggle to adjust without Scooby Wright. It all starts with the defensive line, sending pressure, being able to contain the outside and fill the gaps in the middle for the linebackers. If executed poorly, the linebackers are left with a handful of responsibilities, resulting in passes right through the defense, particularly with UTSA's tight end David Morgan II, who ended the night with 9 receptions for 101 yards.
Arizona was without Anthony Fotu, who should be able to provide some help, but going down the list of defensive line talents, there doesn't seem to be anyone who can come in to give them the necessary boost. It makes you appreciate Dan Pettinato a little more, and makes you wish hopefully about the future with Josh JJ Allen coming to Tucson this spring, alongside four other defensive line commits for 2016.