The Arizona Wildcats have seen rapid improvement on defense over the last few weeks largely due to the new personnel changes that have taken place, which in turn has led to more pressure, sacks and turnovers.
We’ve seen PJ Johnson slide over to defensive end and the emergence of JB Brown and Jalen Harris, all while Colin Schooler continues his tear. It’s helped lead to Arizona’s nine sacks and six forced fumbles all in the past four weeks.
On the back end, in an effort to get the three best players on the field, the core trio of safeties right now bring Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jarrius Wallace and Scottie Young Jr. together.
“I think it clicks because we all communicate,” Wallace told the media Tuesday. “It’s really about us communicating. We communicate with each other, all on the same page and we all know what we’re doing and where we’re supposed to be at, it works, it fits.”
The three have alternated safety positions. Young, previously at free, is now at spur. Wallace, who emerged as a free after stepping for an injured Young, is now at bandit. And Flannigan-Fowles, who spent nearly all four years at Arizona at bandit, is now at free.
But despite the movement, Wallace believes that the group is in a better spot because of it.
“It really helps because you know where this person is going to be so you know where you need to be,” he said. “Knowing where he is going to be that makes it easier for you to remember where you have to be.”
Between the three safety positions, there isn’t too much of a difference. The spur position plays more of a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Bandit and free share the same responsibilities, just split the field up differently.
“It’s really just the difference between field and boundary,” Wallace said of bandit and free safety. “It’s no different, I can play either one of them, or anyone in the secondary can play either one of them.”
Wallace has usually always played safety growing up, idolizing the late Sean Taylor during his time at Miami. Defense has just always been in him.
“Tackling. And able to catch interceptions. Catch interceptions like Scottie had, Schooler had. So that was kind of fun.”
Wallace, who nabbed Arizona’s first interception of the season in Week 3 against Southern Utah, has quietly become one of Arizona’s best defenders thus far, helping lead the charge through Pac-12 play. We’re starting to see a more effective unit thanks to a stable lineup, a new sense of aggressiveness and active hands.
Arizona came away with three interceptions on Saturday, and two went for touchdowns.
Colin Schooler’s pick that ended with Azizi Hearn scooping and scoring was one of the more crazy defensive plays since Shaq Richardson tipped the ball back in play to Scooby Wright against Oregon in 2013.
“I was right behind him when he caught it,” Wallace said of Schooler’s interception. “I knew he was going to catch it, and I was happy about it, I was excited and it was a crazy play. after that”
And when the defense gets things rolling, the energy for this young group skyrockets.
“Best feeling ever, scoring a touchdown on defense. We work on getting turnovers and really have fun as a defense and that’s us having fun and getting into the end zone.”
Arizona’s defense is giving up just 18 points a game during Pac-12 play, compared to 36 last season. In the second half this season, Arizona has only allowed 17 points against Pac-12 foes.
After a shaky start against BYU and Houston, the defense has landed back on its feet. The group will still give up drives, but they’re generating the turnovers they desperately missed early on.