The Arizona Wildcats struggled on defense in 2017, but if there was one thing they could hang their hat on, it was their ability to create turnovers.
Arizona was fourth in the conference in takeaways (25), thanks to a league-best 19 interceptions.
Its cornerbacks, in particular, were ballhawks. According to Pro Football Focus, redshirt sophomore Lorenzo Burns and junior Jace Whittaker both led the Pac-12 in plays on the ball, each with 12.
A pair of returning Arizona CBs lead the conference in combined plays on the ball from last season pic.twitter.com/2VV28FrhhX— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 13, 2018
Burns, UA’s No. 2 corner, had a league-high five interceptions and seven pass breakups. Whittaker, the No. 1 corner, had three picks and 13 pass breakups. (I’m not sure why PFF only credits him with 12 plays on the ball, but I digress.)
But with any stat, context is needed. The Wildcats allowed a league-worst 286.1 passing yards per game last season, and teams threw 493 passes against them, which was the highest mark in the Pac-12.
That means Burns and Whittaker simply had more opportunities to make plays on the ball than other cornerbacks in the conference.
Still, it is encouraging to see them get recognition like this, and there is still something to be said for cornerbacks that can force takeaways, especially since Arizona only forced 14 turnovers in 2016.
Whittaker and Burns are both returning in 2018, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep this up under a new coaching staff.