The Arizona Wildcats and New England Patriots have something in common, and it's not just a shared love for Rob Gronkowski.
"Somebody told me that Bill Belichick's defense is 32nd in the NFL. Is there any truth to that?" UA coach Mike Stoops wondered this week. "Is there anybody that coaches defense as well as he does?"
Sadly, Stoops can sympathize.
Through five games, Arizona is allowing an eye-popping 503.6 yards per game - numbers that rank 115th out of the nation's 120 college teams. Only New Mexico, Memphis, Alabama-Birmingham, Kansas and Rice have been worse.
The Wildcats rank last or second-to-last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, passing defense, total defense, scoring defense and sacks. Arizona is on pace to surrender more than 6,000 yards this season, which would be the worst mark in program history; the 2003 squad allowed 5,520 yards, and coach John Mackovic was fired.
Arizona's opponents have already gained 1.43 miles on offense.
Things should improve this week, when the UA (1-4, 0-3 Pac-12) travels to Corvallis, Ore., to take on winless Oregon State, and once the Wildcats get a handful of injured starters back. But it won't fix things completely: Arizona must tackle better, compete harder and force more turnovers if it hopes to salvage a season that's slipping away.
"We're probably not as bad as we've played, but we've been exposed in games where offenses have prevailed," Stoops said. "We have to play better, regardless of who we're playing."
The Star polled three of Arizona's top defenders and asked them what they must do to improve. Here's what they said:
Cornerback Trevin Wade: Recognize better at the line of scrimmage.
"We need to know what's coming at us before it happens. We need to know what (opponents) like to do, what side of the field you're on, your alignment and their alignment. We have to be prepared instead of it being a guessing game out there. At least get the basics by watching film. That'll put you ahead, automatically, in the game. … Until we do something about it, we're going to keep taking losses like this."
Linebacker Paul Vassallo: Swarm to the ball. "Hustle and execution. We need to make a conscious effort to run every play to the ball - draw, pass, run, whatever it may be. Good things will happen when we do that. When you don't, you're out of position - you're reaching and grabbing for people, stuff like that. If you put a lot of effort into fixing that, things tend to work themselves out. … I don't think it's the other teams (we've played). Everybody has been good, who we've been playing, but when you put the film on, we need to put a better effort on the tape."
Safety Marquis Flowers: Relax, and play fast. "We're trying too hard to get that big play. I know that on Saturday, I just wanted to make a play, and I stepped into someone else's zone - and then they go throw it in my zone. We have to play fast, be patient, play football. If we're in the right spot at the right time, plays will come. I think that's basically what it was on Saturday: Coach Ryan (Walters) pulled me to the side and just told me to do my own job. We just need to play fast - everybody needs to do their own job, play fast and trust one another."
• What: Arizona at Oregon State
• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Fox College Sports Pacific (check your cable guide for availability)
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM