2004 Statistics vs. 2005 Statistics
2004—255 yards per game
2005—225 yards per game
2004—18 touchdown passes given up
2005—13 touchdown passes given up
2004—8 passes intercepted
2005—12 passes intercepted
2004—Ranked 83rd nationally in pass efficiency defense
2005—Ranked 68th nationally in pass efficiency defense
When your head coach is Mike Stoops and your defensive coordinator is Mark Stoops, as a fan, you should expect there to be improvement in the defensive secondary from year one to year two. There was pretty marked improvement in the Wildcats' secondary as they gave up fewer yards per game, touchdowns and picked off more passes. In addition to the improved actual statistics, the overall secondary improved the efficiency of opposing offenses through the air.
Looking ahead to 2006 the Wildcats should again improve in the secondary. The Cats return three of their four starters in the secondary as well as their go-to nickel-back Marcus Hollingsworth. Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason will both be juniors and have both started every game the past two seasons. They also return Michael Johnson at strong safety but must find a suitable replacement for the unit's leader in both tackles and inspiration, Darrell Brooks. Sophomore Brandon Tatum is a sure fire candidate to do just that but the coaches are not risking a drop off and are going hard after two JUCO safeties in Ashlee Palmer and Nate Ness. If the staff can land even one of the JUCO kids to go with Tatum, Brooks' physical numbers should be replaced.
2004—123 yards per game
2005—183 yards per game
2004—3.29 yards per carry
2005—4.59 yards per carry
2004—17 touchdowns given up
2005—18 touchdowns given up
2004—19 fumbles recovered (led the Nation)
2005—7 fumbles recovered
The problems in the run defense started early in 2005 for the Cats. JUCO All-American transfer Byron Smith flamed out mentally. Smith had a solid spring and then simply disappeared, which hurt the already thin interior. Then the injury bug really hit the Wildcats hard early in the season. Senior end Copeland Bryan was injured on the first series of the season and lost for the next four games. Senior end Marcus Smith broke his ankle in the second game and was lost for the season. Junior tackle Paul Phillip never fully recovered from off season surgery on both of his shoulders and played sparingly throughout the year. To add to the front line injuries and problems, the linebacking corps that was supposed to be a strength was never on the field at the same time all season. Ronnie Palmer, Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstad all missed multiple games due to injury.
You would hate to use injuries as an excuse for anything because they just happen in sports, especially football, but the Cats front seven on defense were riddled with injuries all year long. When the injury bug hits like it did with the Cats it takes quality depth to survive, and Arizona simply did not have the depth yet to survive. The apparent starting front seven for the Wildcat defense NEVER, I said NEVER, were on the field at the same time in 2005. The most on the field at any one time this past season was five, and that only happened in three games.
Looking ahead to 2006 the Cats will most likely improve on a disastrous 2005. But the rather large IF has to come in to play. ‘The Cats run defense will improve IF they can stay healthy.' Marcus Smith will return to his end spot and the Cats will only lose Copeland Bryan at the other end. Bryan is the only one gone that played any significant role in the Wildcat front seven this year but he is a potentially big loss. The coaches have some good young ends but they are looking at adding the nation's number one JUCO end to replace Bryan in Louis Holmes.
Inside the Cats are still thin but return everyone from 2005. Byron Smith will not likely be back but he was not a contributor. Lionel Dotson, Yaniv Barnett, Rickey Parker and Paul Phillip all return while Lawrence Ball is likely transferring to Fresno State. The coaching staff should be looking to add three recruits to this area of need with one coming from the JUCO ranks. The top targets are Gabe Long, Derrick Hill, Conan Amituanai and Adrian Taylor.
If they can stay healthy the linebacking corps could challenge for being the best unit in the Pac-10. SLB Dane Krogstad, MLB Ronnie Palmer and WLB Spencer Larsen are a formidable trio, all of whom will also return for 2007. The Cats also have Adrian McCovy, John McKinney and Akin Akinniyi coming back, all having played key minutes this year and Xavier Kelley will be coming off his red shirt year. With the obvious depth at the position the coaching staff will likely add no linebacker recruits or maybe just one if a top target wanted to commit. The two top targets are Allen Bradford and Wendell Davis.
In the end the Wildcat defense took two steps forward and two steps back. The total defense numbers were slightly worse than 2004 but not much so. The Cats gave up 25 points per game in 2004 and it rose to 26.3 points per game in 2005. They gave up about 40 more yards per game but gave up the exact number of touchdowns (36) as it did in 2004. The 2005 version of the Stoops defense fought the injury bug and basically broke even in year two. If they can stay healthy, which again is a big IF, the Wildcat defense could be a real force in 2006.