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Arizona football notebook: Treydan Stukes’ coming-out party in 2020 Territorial Cup, Wildcats’ tackling tactics, limiting emotional penalties

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It wasn’t his first college game, but the 2020 Territorial Cup was the first time anyone actually noticed Treydan Stukes on the field. And he was out there a lot during the extended garbage time that comes with a 70-7 loss.

“I had no idea if I belonged out there,” Stukes said Tuesday, roughly three years removed from him logging 53 snaps and collecting seven tackles, which is still tied for his career high. “But we were down to them bottom of the roster, so I had no choice. The game felt significantly faster than high school, I remember being a little tippy-toey at the start.”

Stukes will be playing in his fourth T-Cup on Saturday, his third as a starter. He’s one of 13 players on the 2023 UA roster left from that team, and he said the mood in the locker room after that 2020 loss was “about as low as it could get.”

When asked Tuesday if someone had told him after that game that three years later the Wildcats would be 8-3 and alive for the Pac-12 title game, Stukes laughed before responding.

“I might not have believed you,” he said.

Saturday will be Stukes’ 37th game for Arizona, 23rd as a starter. In 10 games this season he has 42 tackles, three for loss, and eight pass breakups as well as second career interception in the second half of last week’s 42-18 win over Utah.

Arizona Tackle Swarm

According to Pro Football Focus, Arizona has missed 97 tackles in 11 games this season, an average of just under nine per game. That may seem high, but it’s not. And it’s much lower than a year ago, when the Wildcats were dinged by PFF for 152 tackles (12.7 per game).

Oregon (78) and Utah (86) are the only Pac-12 teams with fewer missed tackles than the UA, while eight schools are averaging more than 10 per game with Oregon State’s 153 the top tally in the league.

The improved tackling has been especially evident during Arizona’s 5-game win streak, during which it has averaged 7.2 misses compared to 10.2 during the 3-3 start.

The secret?

“We swarm the football,” defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said. “One guy misses, the next guy’s there. When you swarm to the ball, good things happen. You see our defense and that’s what we talk about what we’re looking for, is running to the football and tackle.”

Jacob Manu leads the Pac-12 with 98 tackles, and 59 of those are assisted ones. For the season nearly 49 percent of Arizona’s tackles as a team have been assisted, compared to 43.7 percent in 2022, while some of the worst defenses in the conference like USC and Colorado each have more than 65 percent of their tackles come from solo efforts.

Penalty prevention

Arizona was one of the least-penalized teams in the country last season, averaging 5.4 flags and 50 penalty yards per game. The anomaly was the Territorial Cup, when it was flagged 10 times for 125 yards while ASU had eight for 94 yards.

Several were unsportsmanlike penalties, with both teams having played ejected. The 2021 game was no different, as Arizona had 12 penalties (including an ejection of Dorian Singer for allegedly spitting on an ASU player) and the Sun Devils had 10.

ASU has nothing left to play for after Saturday, but Arizona does. There’s a bowl game, and maybe a spot in the Pac-12 championship.

“We can’t let anything extra (happen),” offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll said. “There’s more to play for this season, this isn’t the last game of the year. We got to take that approach and we got to be smart about it. There will be emotions, there will be tempers, all the things that come with a rivalry game. We just have to be really smart about it.”

Arizona had a season-low 22 penalty yards last week against Utah, but the previous game at Colorado it had eight flags for 87 yards. There have been two games with double-digit penalties this season.