UA's defense

The UA has given up 49 points in each of its last three games. Not basketball games—football games! That’s a sustained whuppin’ of biblical proportions. They gave up 49 points to Cal, which later scored only 13 points in a loss to Colorado, the worst team in major-college football.

I’m tempted to ask the question, “Do you know how hard it is to give up 49 points three games in a row?” But apparently, it’s not hard at all. Oct. 15 was Arizona’s bye week. They probably gave up 30 or so points that day.

To be fair, Tennessee, which sits at the No. 3 spot in the current coaches’ poll, gave up 49 points to Alabama last week — and won! Southern Cal scored 42 points at Utah and lost. Scoring is up everywhere and there are several reasons for it. For one, the most dynamic (although not necessarily the best) young football players gravitate to the offensive side because that’s where the flash, the fame, and the funds are. While a rush end or a middle linebacker might be more important to a team’s success, the money goes to the quarterback and the wide receivers.

Rams fans don’t buy Aaron Donald jerseys; they buy Cooper Kupp jerseys.

For almost a century, the prevailing wisdom in football was that defense wins championships. Hold the opposing team under 20 points, create some turnovers (a fumble recovery here, an interception there, giving your offense a couple extra possessions), and you can eke out a 21-17 victory. It was a formula that worked for generations.

Now that formula has been corrupted by this new emphasis on offense. First team to 50 wins.

It’s interesting. In basketball, players are taught from an early age that defense, like rebounding, is 90% desire. You have to have some skill (coordination, footwork) but a lot of it is heart. You have to want to stop your man (or woman). It’s different in football. There are different positions that require different responsibilities. Linemen have to fight off blocks, linebackers must flow to the ball, and defensive backs have to cover certain areas, perchance to make a play on a thrown pass.

Old person alert: A million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and I played football, I was a defensive back. It was my job to cover receivers who were going out for a pass and to either not let them catch it or to tackle them as soon as they did. My crusty old coach (actually, my high-school coach was in his late 20s) preferred that I do the former, but, failing that, had a strong insistence on the latter.

My coach would get two basketball players who were used to playing man-to-man defense on the court and put them at cornerback, saying “That’s your man. Guard him!”

We hardly ever see that anymore. Defenses have to be these intricate schemes, with different zones and different responsibilities on every play. I sometimes wonder if defensive coordinators aren’t psyching themselves out and making it overly complicated. You know how lawyers will use 40 words when four would do and then employ polysyllabic terms when “wrong” would suffice. Defensive coordinators will use a hyperflex double-drop z-wing spread without considering the possibility that “Guard that dude!” might just work.

Again, we must recognize that Arizona’s is not the only defense that is being shredded. At this point in the season, Oregon is probably the best team in the Pac-12, but the Ducks have a 49-3 beatdown stain on their season record. (There’s that “49” number again. It’s like the 37 that pops up in probability all the time, perhaps because, in math, 1/e is .37. Sorry, I went full math nerd there for a moment. The 49 shows up because bad defensive teams are giving up a ridiculous seven touchdowns in one game.)

The problem is that as a long-suffering and occasionally exultant Arizona fan, it’s driving me crazy that the Fisch Fix is so lopsided. The offense is money! The Cats rolled up 500 yards and nearly 40 points against Washington and still lost by double figures. It seems like that shouldn’t happen.

Arizona was dreadful on both sides of the ball under previous coach Kevin Sumlin and we all knew that it would take time. But this is painful. It just seems logical that it would be easier to fix a defense than to trot out a high-flying offense, but that hasn’t been the case.

Arizona’s next four opponents (USC, Utah, UCLA and Washington State) have a combined record of 21-6. These next four weeks probably aren’t going to be pretty.

I wonder if there is a way to program the TiVo to just record the Cats when they are on offense.

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