FORT HUACHUCA — If you’ve been listening to Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez, you know his top concern has been defense.
He was barely joking at Pac-12 Media Day when he said, “We make up for our lack of size with our lack of speed,” and UA’s first fall scrimmage Saturday night did nothing to alleviate his worries.
A lack of size and speed? That’s not all.
Rodriguez lit into his defense following the scrimmage, harping on another critical factor that is, as of now, lacking.
“If you’re out there, our expectations are that you play with a certain physicalness, and that wasn’t there today,” Rodriguez said.
The flip side is that the offense, especially when led by senior starting quarterback Matt Scott and junior college transfer B.J. Denker — the clear No. 2 already — was highly efficient. The offense scored on its first six possessions, including five touchdowns.
Scott completed 16 of 18 passes for 193 yards. Denker was 12 of 17 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
While the offense looked good, Rodriguez cautioned, “When you don’t tackle nobody, it happens that way.”
Overall, Rodriguez lamented that it a “below-average scrimmage.”
And there is now not quite three weeks to the season-opener, at home vs. Toledo on Sept. 1.
“We can’t go out against Toledo — we can’t go out against anybody — playing like this,” said junior linebacker Jake Fischer.
The defense was missing a few potential contributors who are banged up — walk-on freshman linebacker Shadow Williams worked with the starting unit — but Fischer said that was no excuse. Besides, it wasn’t so much execution that Rodriguez was talking about, it was more about not being “soft” on defense.
“You hope they have a sense of pride, which I think they do. We’re got a pretty good group of kids,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s hard with young guys because they don’t really know what they don’t know. But we have a really good defensive staff and they will do all they can to get out of it. … We just have to make sure (the players) understand the expectations.”
True freshman Javelle Allen followed Scott and Denker at quarterback, completing 6 of 7 passes for 57 yards. Allen did lose a fumble on a run; the ball was recovered by safety Marquis Flowers for the defense’s only turnover of the scrimmage, which was held at Bujalski Field on the Fort Huachuca post.
The team’s other true freshman quarterback, Josh Kern, saw very limited time near the end of the scrimmage, completing his only pass for 6 yards.
Senior Terrence Miller led the receiving corps with six catches for 91 yards. Sophomore Tyler Slavin caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Austin Hill had five receptions for 53 yards. Dan Buckner caught four passes for 44 yards.
True freshman J.T. Washington had a team-high 31 yards rushing on four carries. Sophomore Ka’Deem Carey rushed four times for 25 yards and a score.
“It was a pretty good day,” Scott said, talking about the offense.
“The tempo was a little bit better today, and we’ll continue on from here. I think it’s going to be hard to keep up with our offense, with our fast-paced tempo and everything.”
“I feel like our offense is going to be one of the best in the Pac,” he said.
“They’re senior-driven. They have heavy leadership. They have so many weapons. It’s good for us. Like I told the linebackers afterward, ‘I’m not making any excuses. But think of this as an opportunity, because we’re going against a very good offense and against (a quarterback) who is capable of starting on any Pac-12 team every week.’”
It was that offense that stood and watched after the scrimmage while Rodriguez gathered the defense and joined them in doing punishment push-ups — about 35 of them — after he dressed down the unit.
Scott, who admitted that “a couple of days ago, the defense whupped us,” said he didn’t mind seeing the defense have to do the extra work.
“I’m a winner. I hate losing,” he said.
“At the end of the day, the loser has to do something. It feels good watching them do push-ups and we’re not.”