Wildcats' D taking gradual steps - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Wildcats' D taking gradual steps

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Posted: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 4:09 pm | Updated: 2:09 pm, Thu Nov 3, 2011.

(AP) — Injuries and young players in the starting lineup have led to some struggles by Arizona's defense.

The Wildcats (2-6, 1-5 Pac-12) rank 113th in the nation and last in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 467.3 yards per game, while opponents are averaging 34.9 points. Arizona causes just one turnover per game, too.

There are signs that it's getting a little better, at least.

The coaching staff had been wanting more big plays on defense and got a few in the 42-31 loss to Washington last week, including three interceptions and two sacks, and are hoping for more against Utah (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday in Tucson.

"We were better up front," interim coach Tim Kish said. "We had six negative plays, which we haven't had all year, two sacks in there. Our three leading tacklers were a sophomore and two true freshmen. There were some really positive things."

However, Washington running back Chris Polk finished with 144 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving and scored five touchdowns. The Huskies finished with 489 yards and were 6 for 6 in red-zone scoring chances.

"That wasn't good," Kish said.

The Wildcats will continue to rely on young players. With sophomore cornerback Shaquille Richardson possibly out with a high ankle sprain, freshman Jourdon Grandon will move to corner and true freshman Tra'Mayne Bondurant will play at nickelback instead of Grandon.

Bondurant had one of Arizona's sacks against Washington in his second start. He made his first start against UCLA in Kish's first game as the interim coach and finished with a team-high eight tackles.

Kish said he saw Bondurant as a rover in the double eagle flex defense Arizona used.

"He's very instinctive," Kish said. "He's got a passion to play the game of football. He's young. He doesn't know any better. I love that."

Bondurant had three tackles in six games before his first start against UCLA. Besides playing linebacker in high school, Bondurant was a quarterback. He credited his coaches and teammates for giving him confidence.

"I knew my opportunity would come, so I just waited it out and stayed working hard at practice and stayed focused and tried not to get frustrated," he said.

Bondurant is playing the role that linebacker Jake Fischer likely would have played if he had not suffered an ACL injury in the spring. Arizona has also likely lost safety Adam Hall for the season to an ACL injury.

Freshman cornerback Cortez Johnson, Richardson's replacement against Washington, is expected to miss Saturday's game because of his second concussion. Senior safety Robert Golden also was expected to miss some practice this week after leaving the game against Washington because of dehydration after he returned an interception 91 yards for a touchdown.

Aside from injuries, Arizona was limited against Washington because four players were suspended for at least part of the game for their roles in a brawl against UCLA. Richardson and Grandon were suspended for the entire game. Cornerback Lyle Brown and safety Mark Watley were suspended for the first half.

On Saturday, Arizona will face a Utah offense that averages 306.2 yards per game, last in the Pac-12, and 23.2 points per game, 10th in the conference.

"Our front four played really well," cornerback Trevin Wade said. "Our secondary did a great job. We've just got to keep building."

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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