The Arizona Wildcats have their defensive coordinator in Marcel Yates. At Boise State, he improved his defense from year one to year two, all while sending the pressure and creating turnovers. I did a defensive breakdown of his stats at Boise State earlier in the week, so feel free to check out this piece for more.
Here, I'll be breaking down some of the more in-depth/technicalities of his defense, and how they fit in with Arizona's roster. Unfortunately, I couldn't dig up stats including blitz percentages on quarterback drop backs and hit percentages.
Yates primarily runs a nickel package, typically a 4-2-5 defense. But at times, much like a lot of teams across the country, Boise State also ran a 3-3-5. But in his base defense, Yates used two defensive ends and two nose tackles on the line. For his linebackers, he used a weakside and middle. When it came to the secondary, he ran the same five positions that Arizona ran under Casteel in the 3-3-5
Boise State's 2015 schedule
The Broncos faced eight bowl-eligible teams, which included a 5-7 San Jose State team who ended up winning their bowl game, advancing to 6-7 on the year. While that's a good amount of bowl-eligible teams for any program, it's also the Mountain West Conference, and they played some terrible teams including Idaho State, Hawaii, UNLV, and Wyoming, who had a combined ten wins on the season.
But in 2015, Arizona and Boise State had two mutual opponents: Washington and New Mexico. Arizona allowed 49 points against the Huskies and 37 against the Lobos, winning the latter of the two. Meanwhile, Boise State only gave up 13 points to Washington and 31 to the Lobos, winning only the former. Both of those games were played at home for Boise State, which has given them a historically distinct advantage.
There's a sharp difference between the Washington games played by both schools, but I don't put a whole lot of stock into Boise State's defensive performance against the Huskies simply because of their quarterback. Jake Browning was a true freshman, having to go to Boise State for his first career start. Because of that, Boise State was able to focus on stopping the run game, allowing just 29 yards on the ground, forcing Browning to win through the air. And with Yates and his secondary, that's not an easy task. And for the last few years, Arizona's secondary has been less than stellar, exposed many times in a pass-heavy conference.
Second half adjustments
Adjustments are crucial. And when it came down to it, Yates did a fairly decent job of holding a team down in the second half. Through all 13 games this season, the defense gave up seven rushing touchdowns in both the first and second half of games. But it was the secondary that made the big jump. In the first half of games, the Bronco defense gave up 10 passing touchdowns. Compare that to just four in the second half all season long. And it should also be noted that of their 14 passing touchdowns allowed, six were when Boise State was up by 15+ points, which ended up happening in nine games.
Whether that might have been adjustments made in the blitzes or their defensive backs able to recognize the timing, routes, and patterns to shut a team down, the defense made great strides in shutting down the air assault.
The rushing defense also improved as the game went on. In the first half of games, Boise State would allow 3.6 yards a rush, but that dropped down to 2.8 yards in the second half. The quarterback ratings also dropped for their opponents in the second half, going from 120 to 100, a very sizable difference.
While Boise State didn't give up very many long plays (20+ yards), they were still able to limit the big plays in the second half as well.
Secondary helping the offense
The secondary was definitely the bright spot for Marcel Yates and his defense. The Broncos had 22 interceptions on the year, good for fourth in the nation. Of those, 14 interceptions came on their opponents' side of the 50, giving the offense a very short field.
4th down defense
An area of concern however, is the 4th down rushing defense. Typically, when a team goes for it and rushes the ball, there's usually only about one yard separating the offense from a first down. Boise State saw a running play seven times this season on 4th down and allowed 4.7 yards on those seven attempts, letting teams be successful on five attempts.
When it came to defending the pass on 4th down, some more concern arrives. Teams completed 6/13 attempts on fourth down, five of which got a first down, and four resulted in a touchdown. Three of those six completions were also plays resulting in a 15+ yard gain.
Red zone defense
Boise State was ranked 11th in the nation when it came to red zone defense. On 34 possessions in the red zone, the defense gave up 17 touchdowns and eight field goals.
But what might be concerning is the rushing touchdowns and the situations they came in. Of the 14 rushing touchdowns allowed all season, six came on first down and seven came on second down. Although, they rarely allowed rushing touchdowns outside of the red zone, with 10 of the 14 coming from inside the 20. By the same token, they only allowed 1.65 yards a carry in the red zone.
Potential starters for Arizona
It's tough to tell without knowing the exact recruiting class, particularly the status of Josh Allen. He'll be waiting until signing day for his decision. With the current roster, here's what the potential 4-2-5 could look like. Keep in mind this is super, super, super rough. We haven't even started spring ball yet, so please keep that in mind before destroying the comment section, or don't.
DE: Jack Banda
DT: Sani Fuimaono
DT: Luca Bruno/Anthony Fotu (suspended until week 6)
DE: Calvin Allen
The defensive line is a bit odd, simply because Arizona technically played with a nose guard and defensive tackle, not necessarily two defensive ends. Arizona really doesn't have a whole lot of depth, so the combination of Parker Zellers and Marcus Griffin could be interchangeable at the end spot. And once Fotu comes back from suspension you could kick Bruno out at end as well. A lot of problems would be solved if Josh Allen commits.
WLB: DeAndre' Miller
MLB: Cody Ippolito
Derrick Turituri looks like he could be missing all of 2016, and Jake Matthews could be missing significant time as well. Carrington Vaughn is a name I'm hearing a lot from players that could be a huge sleeper for Arizona this season. With guys like Marquis Ware and Kendal Franklin in development, Kahi Neves could be in a favorable position. John Kenny and R.J. Morgan seem to be viable options as well.
CB: Jarvis McCall/DaVonte' Neal
CB: Dane Cruikshank/Jace Whittaker
Bandit: Tellas Jones
Spur: Paul Magloire
Free: Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
Arizona has a good amount of options at corner, which doesn't even include Sammy Morrison, Kwesi Mashack or Antonio Parks, who have all spring and summer to develop. Safety could be a concern, but Devon Brewer could help out the depth, maybe Anthony Mariscal as well, depending on London Iakopo, Clifford Chattman and Chacho Ulloa's status. While the corner play is shaky, I would think this new staff could get them to form over this off-season.
You have to like the work that Marcel Yates was able to do in two years at Boise State. Everyone has been wondering about player development for some key guys, including the big guys on the defensive line, Marquis Ware, and so on. With this new staff, they might just be able to get even more out of their guys than they did in the past.