Arizona defense vs Nevada

Arizona’s defense again came through at the end. Photo by Wildcat Universe

For the second consecutive week the Arizona Wildcats played as a favorite and won. For the second straight week, however, the game was closer than the oddsmakers predicted and the Cats had to withstand some anxious moments at the end.

Against Texas-San Antonio the problem was red zone offense. Saturday night against Nevada, the UA wasn’t able to deliver a knockout punch on either side of the ball.

Arizona built two-score leads in the second and fourth quarters but could not extend the margin into rout territory.

The first half went great for 28 minutes. The Wildcat defense forced two field goals and two punts and the offense scored touchdowns on three of four drives. One more stop before halftime would’ve preserved the UA’s 21-6 lead and control of the game but Nevada went 75 yards in two minutes to grab momentum before halftime. The third quarter started UA punt / Nevada TD / Nevada 2-point conversion and the Cats were back to square one.

Arizona rebuilt the lead to 35-21 early in the fourth quarter and was driving for the killshot. Going for it on fourth-and-10 at the Nevada 35, quarterback Anu Solomon made the great decision to tuck the ball and attack the open space in front of him. He then made a freshman decision and started his slide too soon, coming up inches short of the first down and keeping the Wolf Pack on life support.

Nevada, of course, immediately went 74 yards to cut the lead to seven and forced a punt to ensure We The People had to sweat out another close finish.

Just like against the Roadrunners it was left up to the UA defense at the end and just like in San Antonio the Cats got the stop and held on.

That’s the positive angle, and it is very positive. It’s hard to complain too much about close wins because “not blowing people out” still ranks pretty high on the Not Good Enough scale.

The ugly side of Not Good Enough is losing to 4-8 Stanford at home in 2007 or New Mexico 36, Arizona 28 in 2008. Winning and being a couple plays away from comfortable victories each week isn’t a bad place to be.

It’s also worth noting that the Wolf Pack’s only lead was 3-0 and that lasted all of three-and-a-half minutes. UTSA never led in the second half in Week 2. The games have been tight but Solomon hasn’t been asked to try and lead a late comeback.

The Wildcat D has come in from the bullpen to pick up two saves so far this year but there are certainly concerns with that unit. Not only did Nevada rack up 321 passing yards but the UA failed to force a single turnover. Arizona has only produced two turnovers in three games, both interceptions, and that’s a red flag.

There haven’t even been many near-turnovers. You don’t hear a lot of “Almost intercepted!” calls on pass plays. The Cats aren’t causing fumbles only to have the offense recover them. This defense isn’t good enough yet to go toe-to-toe with the high-powered offenses in the Pac-12 and shut people down. Arizona needs to turn teams over to give its offense a chance to outscore people.

One of those high-powered Pac offenses – or at least a gaining-power offense – comes to town this week with Sonny DykesCalifornia Golden Bears. The bad news is Cal is 2-0 (twice as many wins as all of last year!) and didn’t play over the weekend, giving them an extra seven days to prepare for the UA.

The silver lining is even if the Bears find success against the Arizona defense they won’t be taking six, seven, nine minutes per possession like Nevada did. The Bears only had one scoring drive longer than five minutes against Northwestern and had five touchdown drives shorter than two minutes versus Sacramento State.

This game also features a couple subplots that could make things interesting. It’s Dykes’ first game in Tucson since bringing Willie Tuitama and the “Air Zona” offense to the desert as Arizona’s offensive coordinator under Mike Stoops. Does he have any tricks up his sleeve for his old fans?

Then you have the first-ever football whiteout:

Will the Wildcats be distracted? The gimmick hasn’t always worked for the basketball team. Add in the fact that the footballers have a 1-5 record when wearing in the all-whites in the past six years and you have lots of reasons to be nervous.

(I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know for sure the last time Arizona wore white jerseys at home. Maybe the 1982 ASU game?)

And if that’s not enough, it’s – you know – Cal. Long-time Wildcat fans know all about how painfully bizarre this series has been for both sides.

Three-and-Oh is exactly where Arizona is supposed to be at this point. The Harder-Than-It-Has-To-Be Cats will now have to be the Better-Than-They’ve-Been Cats to try and get to One-and-Oh in Pac-12 play.

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