October 2, 2014 — it was the play that broke Oregon fans’ hearts. Late in the fourth quarter, the Ducks were driving for the game-tying touchdown. Marcus Mariota dropped back for a pass, but with his receivers covered, he was forced from the pocket. Scooby Wright III, the Arizona linebacker, tackled Mariota behind the line and stripped the ball. Tally a sack for Wright, game over and Oregon suffered its first and only loss of the season.
There’s no doubt Wright is an exceptional player. The 6’1 sophomore from Windsor, CA leads the Pac-12 Conference in tackles and holds down third place in sacks with 18. Despite its play against the Ducks in October, the Arizona defense is average at best. It ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense, and 11th in rush defense.
Arizona’s playmakers are all behind the line of scrimmage. Jared Tevis, a 5’11 safety from Tuscon ranks fourth in the conference in tackles. In the defensive backfield, senior cornerback Jonathan McKnight leads the team with 13 passes defended (pass breakups) and has one interception. Even with their contribution, the Wildcats only rank ninth in the conference in pass defense.
In their first meeting of the season, Arizona’s high-powered offense outgained Oregon on the ground and sacked Mariota three times. Some write off Oregon’s poor performance off to a gimpy quarterback and depleted offensive line, but excuses don’t win football games. In the Pac-12 Championship, the Oregon line will need to neutralize Wright, prevent him from sacking Mariota and open holes so that Tevis and McKnight are forced to tackle Oregon running back Royce Freeman and slot back Byron Marshall far downfield.
For more about the Arizona Wildcats, check out Rory Davidson‘s excellent article: An Analysis of Those Pesky Wildcats on FishDuck.com.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline