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Shoddy defense, ‘selfish’ penalties marred Arizona’s win over NAU

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arizona-wildcats-defense-college-football-nau-hawaii-sumlin-whittaker Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was the sixth-most points scored in school history, the yardage amassed the third-most all-time. But for all the good feelings Arizona’s offense created on Saturday night, it was hard not to look past the bad parts of that 65-41 win over NAU.

Coach Kevin Sumlin certainly couldn’t.

“I’m happy about the win,” Sumlin said late Saturday (actually, early Sunday). “But there’s a lot of things that I’m not very happy about. I addressed that in the locker room, and we’re going to continue to address that.”

Arizona allowed 41 points to an FCS school, albeit a solid one, the most it had ever allowed to the Lumberjacks and four more than the Wildcats had yielded to NAU in their past three meetings. The ‘Jacks threw for 373 yards, with six passes going for at least 24 yards, this after Hawaii threw for 436 yards in Week 0.

“We know what kind of team we are, we know what kind of time we want to be and we know we aren’t there yet,” senior cornerback Jace Whittaker said.

The 404.5 passing yards allowed per game is somehow only fifth-worst in FBS, but that early average puts Arizona on pace to obliterate the school record of 298.9 allowed per game in 2011. Ironically, that defense included Robert Golden, who after the loss at Hawaii took to Twitter to offer his coaching services.

Arizona has recorded six interceptions in two games, most in the country, but each of those picks have been the product of either a bad throw or a great individual play by a defensive back. None have been a result of any sort of pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Jalen Harris was credited with a first-quarter sack against NAU, just the second for the Wildcats, who went with more four-man fronts this time around but still rarely flustered veteran Case Cookus.

“We’ve got guys running free back there with little or no pressure on the quarterback,” Sumlin said. “That’s just not acceptable.”

At least those mistakes are fixable, though whether Arizona’s coaches are capable of doing that is a subject for another debate. The same can’t be said for what Sumlin referred to as “selfish penalties” of that were among the 11 times the Wildcats were flagged against NAU.

Safety Christian Young was ejected in the second half after receiving a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Young also had a personal foul against Hawaii, when Arizona committed 10 penalties including one on receiver Stanley Berryhill III for high-fiving some fans after a touchdown catch.

“Celebrate with your team,” Sumlin said. “It’s never about you. It’s about us. We’re not going to tolerate that. That selfish-type attitude bleeds over into other areas. We’re counting on you to do your job. Those type of penalties hurt us all. Trust me, that’s getting fixed as we speak.”

Arizona’s 21 penalties are tied for third-most in FBS, and its 215 penalties are most in the country. Last year the Wildcats were flagged 95 times for 908 yards, both totals the most since 1999.