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Play of Arizona’s safeties has been key to defensive strides

<span data-author="5158751">arizona-wildcats-college-football-safety-pass-defense-demetrius-flannigan-fowles-scottie-young </span> Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are still toward the bottom of the Pac-12 in almost every defensive category, including pass defense, where the 248.7 yards allowed per game is ninth in the conference.

But while the overall numbers aren’t particularly great, there is one place that Arizona excels when it comes to stopping the pass: against slot receivers. In fact, two of the five best individual slot defenders are Wildcat safeties Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Scottie Young Jr.

Flannigan-Fowles, a senior, looked particularly good in the games right before the bye. He had a season-high nine tackles against Colorado, two for loss, and the week before recording a career-best three pass breakups against Oregon.

That’s a far cry from how he looked earlier in the season, when Flannigan-Fowles struggled on coverage and also whiffed on several open-field tackles. As a result he lost the starting “bandit” job he’d had since the beginning of his sophomore year in 2016, instead coming off the bench against Southern Utah and Oregon State.

“It motivated me that I had to pick my play up,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just relaxing and playing ball. I’ve been here before.”

Since returning to the starting lineup Sept. 29 against USC, Flannigan-Fowles has bounced back and forth between bandit and free safety, with Young taking the other spot (and sometimes lining up at spur).

All told, Arizona has played nine different guys at the three safety positions including true freshman Christian Young, who is now working at cornerback. That rotation has created depth but also versatility, Flannigan-Fowles said.

“Everybody can play. Everybody’s comfortable playing,” he said. “When their name gets called they’re comfortable. Washington State throws a lot, so if somebody covers a deep ball and they need a breath and somebody comes up and they’re not surprised. It’s not their first snap.”