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Arizona Wildcats football: The defenseless defense

Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade can't break up a 25-yard pass to Brice Butler in the fourth quarter. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

You want the horrific numbers first? Or the hollow explanations? Or the worst part of all — the lack of potential solutions?

The topic here is Arizona’s defense, if it’s OK to use that word: defense. That doesn’t quite seem right. There has been none of that.

Let’s just call that unit the “Wildcat Eleven Softer Underneath than a Couple of Kleenex” … or WESUCK.

OK, so time to swallow some numbers (best taken on an empty stomach):

Arizona in its four-game losing streak this season — which includes a 48-41 loss at USC on Saturday afternoon — is allowing 564.75 yards per game.

Pause and think about that. Five hundred and sixty-four yards.

The Wildcats allowed Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley to set a school record with 468 passing yards. Robert Woods had a career-best 255 yards receiving, five off the school record.

All this a week after LaMichael James rushed for an Oregon-record 288 yards against Arizona.

Arizona Wildcats football: We set records!

A couple more stats and then I’ll stop:

For the season, the Wildcats are allowing teams to complete 74 percent of their passes.

In the past four games, the Cats are allowing 7.9 yards per play.

“Defense continues to be our issue,” coach Mike Stoops said after the game.

“Our inability to stop them just periodically — not consistently, just periodically — would give us a chance. We lack playmakers. Right now we are young and inexperienced up front with our defensive line and linebackers.”

He also said, “We continue to break down in the secondary and at the linebacker positions, and that’s an issue in giving up big plays.”

Like on USC’s second play, when Woods turned a short play-action pass into an 82-yard tackle-shredding catch-and-run. There’s another theme: tackle-shredding.

“That second play was a busted assignment,” Stoops said. “We were rotating three (guys) and I don’t know how that got out of the gate, but it set the tempo for the whole game.”

Yep. Arizona allowed four passes of 20-plus yards in the first quarter, after which they trailed 17-0.

USC went on to score on its first six drives and eight of its first nine. Do you know who Kyle Negrete is? Probably not, because he’s the USC punter, who was the most unnecessary guy in the L.A. Coliseum.

“We just couldn’t come up with a stop,” Stoops said. “It’s hard to win when you can’t make them punt.”

At this point, piling on the UA defense is like play-calling against the Arizona defense — too easy.

So, what can the Wildcats do about this? Is it going to get any better?

Personnel-wise, there isn’t much to do.

“We’ve got what we got,” defensive coordinator Tim Kish told reporters. “We have to dig deep and pull it out of ourselves because there is no free agency in this market.”

Perhaps safety Adam Hall can return Saturday for the game at Oregon State (or soon thereafter), but let’s be realistic about what kind of immediate impact he can make as he comes back from an ACL injury. Same deal for linebacker Jake Fischer, who might came back later this month.

This was Matt Barkley after setting a USC passing record; notice the lack of grass stains on his uniform. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Or maybe they should redshirt.

The biggest injury loss is cornerback Jonathan McKnight. His replacement, Shaquille Richardson had an interception against USC — hey, some Wildcat finally made a play on defense — but he has not been up to the task.

The possession after his interception, Richardson was beaten deep by Marqise Lee, who was down inside the 1. That is more indicative of the type of highlights Richardson has been involved in this season.

To recap: Arizona has gotten nothing this season from Hall, Fischer and McKnight. It basically has gotten nothing from defensive tackle Justin Washington. He’s been ineffective and out as a starter, stemming, at least in part, from a summer “stomach issue” that caused him to shed weight, Stoops said last week.

Those are four of the best players on defense. Gone, gone, gone and invisible.

So, some of this no-defense defense has nothing to do with scheme or bad recruiting or poor coaching. It’s just stupid rotten luck.

But, you know, maybe Arizona should mix in a blitz now and then … just for the heck of it.

“Players have to make plays,” said senior safety Robert Golden.

“Our coaching is great, and they’re giving us everything we need to know. We just have to make plays. I feel like we didn’t challenge the way we should have. We are disappointed. No one wants to start 1-4.”

And no one really wants to start an ugly 1-4.

It could get better. Really. Perhaps only incrementally, but it could get better.

Arizona has played against Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, Barkley and Woods.

That’s five first-round talents (Blackmon, Luck, James, Barkley and Woods), plus a strong-armed 27-year-old quarterback (Weeden), a slick read-option quarterback (Thomas) and an all-conference-caliber runner (Taylor).

Throw in a couple of elite offensive linemen from Stanford (Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro) and USC left tackle Matt Kalil … and Arizona might have played against eight future first-round picks on offense in the past four weeks.

That’s insane.

Oregon State doesn’t have that kind of talent. Neither does UCLA after that … or, really, most of Arizona’s opponents the rest of the way.

Maybe that’s a comfort.

Maybe against lesser talent and lesser offenses, Arizona can tackle and read the right assignments and, for the love of Tedy Bruschi, come up with a sack. The Cats haven’t had one in four games (not counting the statistical freebie when Weeden tripped and fell).

One thing for sure, though. All those future opponents can’t wait to take their shot at Arizona.

Related: UA-USC game blog: Trojans hang on for high-scoring victory

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