When looking at Arizona’s defense, Sanford sees a unit that has come a long due in large part to its experience.
“I think it is the experience factor,” Sanford said. “They have a lot of guys that have been in big moments.
“This is a defense that when I coached against them two or three years ago, it was a young defense that was figuring the scheme out. Now they know the scheme, they are communicating, they are playing confidently.
“When you have a chance to win some of those close games, it’s like us this year where when we get in those opportunities now, we believe we are going to win. That is a turning point in a program because to win championships, you have to be able to win close games.”
In addition to being experienced, Sanford believes that the Wildcats take advantage of mistakes and turnovers.
“They are a highly opportunistic defense and a whole team for that matter,” he said. “If you turn the ball over, it is seven points.
“Either they are going to get it by returning it, or their offense is going to go out there and score within two snaps. That’s just how they are and we understand the nature of taking care of the football.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a discussion about Arizona’s defense without a mention of Scooby Wright III.
“His ability to get run/pass keys like that is uncanny, but he’s not the only one,” Sanford said. “There are other guys on this defense that have that same mentality. They have played a lot together.
“I coached against these guys a couple years ago and Tra’Mayne Bondurant was a great nickel and now he is playing Will linebacker, he has put on some weight. You have guys on this defense that have played together for a long time.
“Scooby certainly anchors that, but the thing about him is that he anchors it with the way that he approaches the game.”
Sanford has a good idea of how Arizona will use Wright and also credits the defensive line for what he has been able to do this season.
“I know where he is going to be, he is going to be somewhere right over our center and he’s going to play over the top, he is going to play left to right, and he is going to fill,” he said. “Then he is going to come and try to bust through your A gap and your D gap.
“They eat up double teams. They are two gapping a 3-3-5 stack defense that really frees up Scooby and the other backers to play over the top and get the tackles. The scheme works well and if you talk about an odd stack defense, Jeff Casteel is one of the best in the country at running that defense.”
Boise State has seen plenty of unique defenses and solid players on that side of the ball, but Wright has certain qualities that make him unique.
“We have played a couple in our conference that I think are similar to that, but the thing about him is that you see a lot of guys that have great effort, but maybe they are extremely stiff or not athletic, or you see that they get exposed because they are overzealous with the way they play,” Sanford said.
“For him, he might miss a tackle because he is going 100 miles per hour to get to the ball carrier, but he always ends up back in the action. He retraces, he finds the ball.”
Not only does Sanford respect the way Wright plays, but he acknowledges that Wright’s attitude has worn off on his teammates.
“The biggest thing about Scooby is my respect for him and the way he plays the game,” Sanford said. “I think that he has paid huge dividends for that entire defense, because I think they are all beginning to say that he is getting recognition by being a blue collar tough guy, not out there in the media or being a showman, but playing the game the way it is supposed to be played.”