Defense 'not Desert Swarm anymore'

By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 9, 1996

The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona defensive lineman Daniel (48) Greer applies pressure to Iowa quarterback Matt Sherman. The Wildcats hassled Sherman all day, sacking him six times.


IOWA CITY, Iowa - Perhaps Arizona defensive lineman Joe Salave'a said it best.

"We're not the Desert Swarm anymore, but we are still a good defense," Salave'a said after the Wildcats' 21-20 loss to Iowa on Saturday.

Arizona's defense especially showed that all is not lost this season. Yet even though the Wildcats are far from dead, they still have some work to do before they can share any nicknames with defenses from the past.

"Our team is hurting, but we're still breathing," UA head coach Dick Tomey said.

For critics, Arizona's failure to stop Iowa from running down more than seven minutes of clock at the end of the fourth quarter proves that opponents can now push the Wildcat defense around. Yet for a young defense, it also proved it could hold its own ag ainst an offense that many predicted would be explosive this season.

All of Iowa's 21 points came off of turnovers, including a fumble recovery in the end zone. And even though the Hawkeyes' Heisman Trophy candidate Sedrick Shaw did run for 115 yards on 23 carries, Arizona allowed only 123 net yards rushing and 81 yards pa ssing for the game.

"We didn't stop them in the end, and that is obviously the key," Tomey said. "But we didn't play bad defense as a whole."

The UA defense also proved it could make big plays, sacking Iowa quarterback Matt Sherman six times and making 14 tackles for a loss.

In the third quarter, Salave'a sacked Sherman and forced a fumble that was scooped up by defensive tackle Steve Tafua and returned 20 yards. The play led to a 39-yard field goal by senior Matt Peyton. It also conjured images of the old defense.

"We made some big plays, but we have to make more of them if we want to win," Salave'a said.

The defense remains the heart and soul of the Wildcat philosophy. As has been common in the Tomey era at Arizona, UA won the coin toss but elected to put the defense on the field first.

"We still know our defense can do the job," Tomey said. "We showed we had a better pass rush today, but we are still finding out about ourselves. The jury is still out on whether we have a good defense or not."

That means Arizona will have a lot to work on before entering Pacific 10 Conference play. The Wildcats will have to shore up their running game, continue to put pressure on the quarterback, and - most importantly - play big when it counts the most.

"We are really going to concentrate on getting better," UA linebacker Armon Williams said. "This is a game we could have had if we had done our jobs."