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Improving tackling is top priority for Arizona’s defense in NAU game

Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Through two games, Don Brown is perplexed by Arizona’s defense.

It was of the top tackling units in the country in the season opener against BYU, earning a 75.8 grade from Pro Football Focus. A week later, it posted a 41.2 tackling grade in the blowout loss to San Diego State, Arizona’s worst mark since the Grambling State game in 2016.

What happened?

“There wasn’t a lack of effort, there wasn’t a lack of energy. For whatever reason, we didn’t tackle very well, especially through the nine-minute mark of the second quarter,” Brown said. “So I can’t put my finger on it.”

The UA defensive coordinator noted that Arizona had 16 missed tackles against San Diego State compared to just six against BYU.

“And a lot of them early,” Brown said. “You know, you go through that in the first half, and there’s a lot of things here that kind of make that a complicated first half for us. And then in the second half, we give up 40 yards in the third quarter. The only scoring drive was a 3-pointer, and they got the ball on the 20-yard line. And then fourth quarter, kind of much of the same except for one run play in the fourth quarter. Just seemed like we were much more settled in.”

Whatever the reason, the Wildcats will try to turn things around this week against NAU. They returned to practice Monday with a big focus on tackling.

“That’ll be the goal this week,” Brown said. “Make sure we put in the extra time needed tackling and make the fundamental coaching points. Staying inside out, your angles of entry, your clamping ability, getting your head across, not making it an arm tackle. Not trying to deliver the knockout punch. All those things. But the reality is it’s my responsibility and I got to do a better job.”

The players shouldered some of the blame too. Starting safety Gunner Maldonado, who missed three tackles against the Aztecs according to Pro Football Focus, said he needs to improve his leverage.

“When you’re coming from 12, 15 yards you’ve got to know what’s around, what’s (the) space,” he said. “Because if I’m at the line of scrimmage it’s a lot easier to make the tackle. There’s not a lot of room for the running back to go. So when the running back’s past the line of scrimmage I’ve got to really have good leverage, play inside out. That was a big thing against San Diego State: I had bad leverage. Me and Coach (Chuck) Cecil have been talking about that and I’m gonna be working on that.”