During the 2004 season, the UA football team arguably made its biggest strides in the right direction on the defensive side of the ball, reducing its points allowed per game from nearly 36 to 25 with basically the same unit.
Head coach Mike Stoops came to Arizona known as a defensive coach, and the unit should get even better next year after a season under his scheme.
Stoops stressed the importance of causing turnovers all season long, and the Wildcats finally made big plays, getting five in their 34-27 win over Arizona State.
"We always preach the turnover battle. You have to win the turnover battle to beat a good football team. It shows the character of our team and our kids," said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. "A vast majority of these guys are coming back and as the system continues to build, we'll have more confidence."
Mark Stoops finished his first year at the helm of the defense and should only improve in time as a coach as well. It would be no surprise if the UA defensive effort is the Wildcats' most productive during the 2005 campaign.
Key Returners: sophomore Yaniv Barnett, senior Brad Brittain, junior Paul Philipp
Key Losses: Carlos Williams
Williams showed his worth in the Wildcats' 34-27 win over rival Arizona State, forcing two fumbles, recovering another and helping block a field goal. His inside presence will be missed, but Philipp and Barnett both saw ample time inside and will be looked at to fill the void. Sophomore Lionel Dotson is listed as a defensive end, but also saw time in the middle due to injuries and discipline problems. He did a nice job with limited experience and could be productive anywhere on the D-line.
Key Returners: senior Copeland Bryan, sophomore Lionel Dotson, senior Marcus Smith
Key Losses: Andre Torrey
The loss of Torrey might be the biggest of any player on the field for Arizona. The senior was arguably the Wildcats' best pass rusher, and he leaves big cleats to be filled. Smith will most likely be the first one to be looked at as the next big-time, play-making defensive end. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been mediocre at times as well. He will need to be more consistent to ease the loss of Torrey.
Key Returners: senior Sean Jones, sophomore Dane Krogstad, freshman Brandon Lopez, Freshman James Alford
Key Losses: Pat Howard, Kirk Johnson
The linebacking core will be key to any success the Wildcats will see on defense next season. Stoops said he expects Lopez, who redshirted this season, to step in and challenge for a starting role. The unit will also get some big help as Spencer Larsen is expected to return to Arizona after leaving the school two years ago for his Mormon mission.
Key Returners: senior Darrell Brooks, junior Marcus Hollingsworth, freshman Michael Klyce, senior Lamon Means
Key Losses: senior Tony Wingate
Brooks and Means could return as two of the best safeties in the conference. Brooks ended this year as an All-Pacific 10 Conference second-teamer, and he will only get better with a more experienced crop of players around him. The Wildcats are relatively deep at safety, but Stoops said he liked what he saw out of Klyce during his redshirt year, so Klyce could get some playing time.
Key Returners: sophomore Antoine Cason, sophomore Wilrey Fontenot, junior Kiel McDonald, junior Dramayne McElroy, sophomore B.J. Dennard
Key Losses: none
Cason and Fontenot stepped up and played as well on the corner as you can expect two freshmen to play. Cason earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors, and both players should be that much better with a year under their belts. McElroy and McDonald will both return after injury, plagued seasons and add more speed to the UA secondary. Dennard might also return to the defensive side of the ball after getting moved to receiver to close out the 2004 season.
Key Returners: senior Danny Baugher
Key Losses: Long snapper Ben DalMolin
Baugher has been the Wildcats' punter the last several years, but he has been inconsistent. At times he can be the best punter in the Pac-10, and at others he simply struggles. DalMolin has been the long snapper the last two years, and Arizona needs to find someone to fill his shoes.
Potential Changes: Stoops and company will have to fill the void left by Steve Spurrier Jr., who left to coach with his father at South Carolina. Spurrier acted as the on-field coordinator with UA offensive coordinator Mike Canales, handling duties from the coaches' box. Spurrier might not be the only coaching spot that could become open on the Arizona staff. Canales has been rumored as a potential head-coaching candidate at Utah State, where he played quarterback for the Aggies. He also has several ties to state of Utah, having received his master's degree at Brigham Young while coaching for the Cougars and at Snow College.