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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Arizona's pass defense ranked No. 1 in nation




JOHN MOREDICH


October 2, 2008

The University of Arizona's pass defense ranks No. 1 in the nation, and cornerback Devin Ross thinks he knows why.

"They are scared to challenge us deep, to be honest with you," Ross said. "Everybody watches film, and they know we have great DBs and our line is getting pressure. That makes it easier on us.

"Of course, we're going to face better quarterbacks and better receivers. We're going to have to step up to the challenge and play hard and play aggressive."

Washington might not air it out, either, when the Huskies travel to Arizona Stadium for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. That's because redshirt freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch is getting his first start for the injured Jake Locker.

The Huskies might use a power running back set to slow the game and manage the clock. Others have tried the strategy.

New Mexico went away from its deep threats and settled for the run. It worked with the Lobos rushing for 221 yards in a 36-28 win over UA.

UCLA ran well in the first half against Arizona before being forced to throw after falling behind by 21 points.

UA's poor tackling at New Mexico gave opponents hope, safety Cam Nelson said.

"A lot of teams are going to try us on the ground and wait for us to fall asleep in the secondary and then open it up," Nelson said.

Coming into the season, it was thought teams would test new UA cornerbacks Marquis Hundley and Ross, who replaced 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason and fellow four-year starter Wilrey Fontenot.

That hasn't been the case - yet. Opponents have settled for screen plays and short routes. UA is allowing just 103.2 passing yards a game.

"For the most part we have not let guys get behind us very much," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "We have contested things. It has gone according to plan. I have a lot of confidence in this group."

A 37-yard screen to Toledo tailback Morgan Williams is UA's longest pass given up.

The Cats also got caught off guard by a 25-yard trick toss from New Mexico tailback Rodney Ferguson to quarterback Donovan Porterie - only one of two TD passes allowed by UA.

Whatever works.

"I'm surprised. I'm not going to lie," Nelson said when told about Arizona's ranking. "We don't get to watch a lot of the other college games, so we don't keep up with stats. We just try to go out and create takeaways.

"We don't look for stats or the glory. We just want wins."

Nelson knows this is no time to get satisfied.

The Cats (3-1, 1-0 Pac-10) have picked off five passes, but they've faced weak aerial attacks in their first four games.

Toledo ranks 79th nationally in passing, followed by Idaho (94), UCLA (95) and New Mexico (109).

Injuries and poor play have plagued Pac-10 quarterbacks. Only ASU's Rudy Carpenter, Oregon State's Lyle Moevao and USC's Mark Sanchez remain as big-time passing threats to UA.

Stanford's Tavita Pritchard is not a 300-yard per game quarterback, California has its starting job up for grabs, Washington State's offense is abysmal and Oregon is down to its fifth-string quarterback.

"I think as long as our guys stay hungry, and stay disciplined and play with a chip on their shoulders, then we have a chance every time we step on the field,'' UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said.

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