The Arizona Wildcats are coming off a game in which they allowed 329 rushing yards, the most this season, and now face a Colorado team that ran for 409 of them in Tucson last December.
That should be a huge cause for concern, yet Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown remains committed to the scheme and approach he’s implemented.
“Schematically, we throw a lot at the guys,” Brown said Tuesday. “And we’re still making some critical errors. The missed tackle piece occurs. A converge piece doesn’t always occur. And that’s what we’re trying to get to, making sure that we’re getting everybody playing at a fast level. And I think we’re getting good energy that way.”
Arizona missed 13 tackles against UCLA, according to Pro Football Focus, though Brown refutes that number. He said a player shouldn’t be tagged with a miss if “all of a sudden four of my teammates are cleaning it up for me two yards away.”
“That’s not a missed tackle,” Brown said. “What you want is four or five guys coming that converge on the ball and make the tackle. There were several situations where that occurred. Kenny Hebert is three yards deep into backfield, he throws himself in here, doesn’t make the tackle but three of his teammates come and clean the guy up. That’s what you’re trying to promote.”
Still, it’s hard not to ignore the raw numbers. Arizona is allowing 212.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks 120th out of 130 FBS teams. Then again, in 2021 the Wildcats allowed 270.6 per game, a figure inflated by Colorado’s massive rushing performance at Arizona Stadium.
Brown said Arizona ranks near the top in FBS in terms of percentage of plays in which it has eight players in “the box,” the area described by the defensive line and others immediately behind them.
“We’re doing everything we can, within reason, to have enough guys in the box,” he said. “I mean I can’t put anybody else in there unless you want me to get in.”
While Colorado ran all over Arizona a year ago that’s not been the case for the Buffaloes against anyone this season. They rank second-to-last nationally in total offense (239.6 yards per game) and scoring (13.8 points per game), scoring only 34 points in their four games against FBS opponents.
Colorado is coming off a bye, with head coach Karl Dorrell saying Monday that changes were made to the offense during the time off. Because of that, Brown said the game film from Colorado’s games this season—as well as the 2020 matchup, in which Jarek Broussard ran 301 yards compared to the 256 he has in five games this fall—doesn’t hold much value.
“We’re still in an area of learning that I’m more worried about us than I am the opponent,” Brown said. “I’m being honest as a heart attack. How many defensive coordinators have been here in the last five years? Okay, so there’s a lot of change. And there’s a lot of learning to be done here. And it just isn’t gonna get solved now. I’m not saying that makes excuses for being competitive. We’ve been in one-score games, all the way going back to the start, with the exception of San Diego State.
“I know this: my head’s not down. The players are working their tails off. Just keep chugging along. You feel sorry for yourself, guess what, you feel sorry for yourself. So we’re just gonna keep grinding keep working and good things will happen.”