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Football: defense doesn't rest for Stoops

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona junior safety Darrell Brooks (6) attempts to tackle Wisconsin running back Booker Stanley during the Badgers 9-7 victory over the Wildcats Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 20, 2004
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Throughout head coach Mike Stoops' entire football career, his job has revolved around defense.

He was a defensive back at Iowa. He's coached every defensive position from defensive end to running the defensive unit at Oklahoma last year.

So it should be no surprise through the first three games of his first head-coaching job, his team has been, well, downright defensive.

The Wildcats fell 9-7 to No. 20 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, but like the rainbow that hung over Arizona Stadium following the game, the defensive unit was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

Arizona held the nationally-ranked Badgers to just nine points and 262 yards of total offense while on the field for 70 plays and just under 34 minutes, compared to the Wildcat offense running just 48 plays.

Although the Arizona defense preformed well on paper, several players felt that the unit still didn't make the plays when they needed to.

"We put ourselves in a situation to win and we didn't capitalize," said junior safety Darrell Brooks, who ended the game with eight tackles, including two for a loss. "It's on the defense more than anybody."

"We played as a team, but it wasn't enough to get it done," said junior safety Lamon Means, who finished the game with a team-high 12 tackles. "It's not progress, the only thing that matters is a win."

Brooks said the Badgers' three fourth-down conversions were times the Wildcats defense should have stepped up.

Twice in the game's final 20 minutes Wisconsin went for and got conversions on fourth down, including one on each of the Badgers' two scoring drives.

"When you put yourself in a situation like that, you expect to come out on top," Brooks said.

"Lack of executions in critical situations down the stretch was the difference," Stoops said. "They were able to make all the plays, and we didn't make nearly enough in the last quarter. We had two fourth downs in critical situations, and they made two great plays. We made them work, and we played hard all night."

Wisconsin scored all of its nine points in the game's final quarter, including the game-wining field goal that came with less than four minutes left after a 16-play drive lasted more than seven minutes.

Arizona responded by reaching the Badgers' 30-yard line, but sophomore Nick Folk kicked the potential game-winning field goal wide left with 43 seconds left.

In the game's first two-and-a-half quarters, the Arizona defense held the Badgers scoreless and, for much of that time, outside of the Wildcats' side of the field. A big reason for their early game success was turnovers and the defense's ability to force the Badgers to punt.

The Wildcats also forced two fumbles, recovering both.

"We came up with some big turnovers," said Stoops. "I think this defense is more than capable. They're very good."

The Wildcats were forced to sit through an 88-minute delay because of lightning, but the defense seemed more affected by the Badgers' depth on both lines than the unexpected intermission.

In three games, the Arizona defense is allowing less than 290 yards a contest and 11.7 points per game.

"We just have to keep knocking on the door and knock it down one of these days," Stoops said. "There's a fine line between winning and losing, and we need to cross it the next time we have an opportunity."

Up next for the Wildcats is their Pacific 10 Conference opener this week, at home against Washington State. The Cougars scored 49 points in their win over Idaho Saturday, meaning the UA defense will be expected to continue its strong performance next weekend.

"I didn't see anything out there that didn't give us great hope and expectations," Stoops said.

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