LeFevour will challenge Arizona's no-name defense

August, 31, 2009
8/31/09
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


While Arizona's opener against Central Michigan isn't the marquee game of the week, it might be called the sneaky-interesting game of the week.

That's because it matches Chippewas star Dan LeFevour, one of the nation's top quarterbacks, against the Wildcats' no-name defense.
Dale Zanine
Dan LeFevour has already passed for over 9,400 yards in his career.

LeFevour, a senior leading a spread-option offense for a third consecutive season, piled up 3,376 yards of total offense last year and accounted for 27 touchdowns. He's a potent threat both running (592 yards) and passing (2,784 yards). Think Jake Locker but as a more refined passer.

"Dan's a great player," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He deserves all those accolades. He's one of the best we'll see all year at the position."

Speaking of accolades, at what point does Arizona's defense start to get some?

Arizona welcomes back seven starters from a unit that ranked third in the Pac-10 in both scoring (21.3 points per game) and total defense (313 yards per game), and when you talk to different coaches across the conference, there is widespread admiration for the soundness of the Wildcats' scheme.

"They have had a really disciplined scheme for years," USC coach Pete Carroll said before playing Arizona last year. "They are basically a zone team and they mix their pressures nicely. A lot of zone pressure, not too much man to man pressure, but they just have a real good sense of playing zones and they fill up the field and make it look like the field is too small. There's not a lot of spaces and they break up the ball well and they position and anticipate beautifully. They are going to keep you in front of them. They are not going to give you any big plays which is a good idea in this conference. They are real disciplined at it. So they show real consistency and when their playmakers start to grow up in their system like they have had in the past, they are able to make a lot of things happen."

Carroll can BS with the best of them, but that is clearly a thoughtful, respectful answer.

And guess what? Those playmakers are growing into their system, which means it might not be a no-name defense for long. Defensive end Brooks Reed, safety Cam Nelson, cornerback Devin Ross, strong safety Robert Golden, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka each could become all-conference-type players.

But coordinator Mark Stoops isn't eager to celebrate individuals.

"We're not overwhelming at any one position, but we have good players across the board. We're pretty solid," he said. "But if you don't play within the system, for each other, with your hair on fire, you're very average. I don't care if you're Miami, Oklahoma or USC."

Mark Stoops made the point that the only time the defense got blown up in 2008 was the first half against Oregon when the Ducks scored 45 points.

"It was embarrassing," he said. "That was the only time last year that was pure frustration."

Number of Arizona adjustments at halftime? Zero. It was merely a case of reminding players to take care of their technique and responsibilities within the scheme.

After the break, Oregon scored only 10 points, and the Wildcats nearly came back from a 28-point halftime deficit before falling 55-45.

Central Michigan, which is breaking in three new starting offensive lineman, won't likely be able to run the ball consistently. LeFevour has two good receivers in Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, so this likely will be a strength-on-strength matchup with the secondary, with LeFevour's scrambles also challenging the Wildcats.

The Chippewas are favored to win their third MAC title over the past four seasons, and LeFevour is looking to make a national statement.

This is far from a gimme for the Wildcats, who have blown nonconference games against inferior foes the past two seasons.

"They're not going to be awestruck by the environment," Mike Stoops said.

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