It's taken 3 1/2 weeks for the Arizona Wildcats' retooled defense to get game-ready.
The timing couldn't be better.
The UA will open its season Friday night at Toledo with a unit that's made huge strides in the last 10 days.
The Wildcats have been tackling better, recognizing assignments and swarming to the ball since being embarrassed in an Aug. 21 scrimmage on campus.
The Wildcats must replace seven starters from a team that went 8-5 a year ago; after some early hiccups, coach Mike Stoops believes the group is capable of doing just that.
"I think our defense is starting to come together," Stoops said. "We're playing better. We're more cohesive, together. We're starting to understand the discipline and responsibility within our system, and that takes time."
Players and coaches began to notice a change in the days following the "Meet the Team" scrimmage at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats were dreadful that night, allowing 160 yards in 25 plays before the scrimmage was called because of lightning.
"We were terrible in a lot of our fundamentals and adjustments," Stoops said.
Stoops let the players know about it. Over a three-day stretch, the Wildcats defenders watched film of the scrimmage, adjusted, and began to improve. They put together three solid practices last week and appeared sharp Monday night.
"The momentum and the motivation to get better has turned on," cornerback Robert Golden said. "Everybody is learning from their mistakes now. The defense is stepping up now; they know they have big shoes to fill."
Backup quarterback Matt Scott should play a few drives in Friday's opener, Stoops said, though the coach is making no promises.
"I told Nick that a year ago, and it didn't happen," Stoops said.
Quarterback Nick Foles, remember, started the 2009 season as Scott's backup. Coaches told Foles that he'd play in the season opener against Central Michigan, but he never got in the game. Foles became the Wildcats starter midway through the team's Week 3 game at Iowa.
Stoops said both Foles and Scott know their roles - which might not have been the case a year ago.
"Circumstance will either let it happen or prevent it," Stoops said. "We're not going to yank Nick. They know what the situation is. We just hope the situation presents itself, and we get a chance to play Matt a good deal."
Tutogi still out
The Wildcats will be nearly 100 percent healthy heading into Friday's opener - with one exception.
Fullback Taimi Tutogi, who missed most of training camp because of a high-ankle sprain, is listed as questionable. Tutogi injured his leg in a practice the first weekend of camp and has yet to return.
"He's getting closer to 100percent," Stoops said. "We'll see how he progresses through the week."
• Senior Nicolas Grigsby is expected to start at tailback, though that could change if backups Keola Antolin or Greg Nwoko practice well, Stoops said.
"The guys that are hot, do the right things, they're probably going to get the majority of the carries," he said. "I'm not even sure who's going to start. We're going to have to see."
• Stoops said three true freshmen - safety Marquis Flowers and cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight - will likely make their college debuts against Toledo. Just one true freshman, longsnapper Chase Gorham, is expected to start.
Rockets pick QB
Toledo coach Tim Beckman said Monday that, as expected, sophomore Austin Dantin will start at quarterback against the Wildcats.
"Austin's had a great preseason, great summer workouts," he said. "He was penciled in; now we're going to write it in pen."
Fellow sophomore David Pasquale "will see some snaps because I think he can do some things different than Austin can do," the coach said.
Pasquale appears in the Rockets' wildcat formation.
Senior Alex Pettee will back up Dantin.
Dantin started three games and appeared in seven last year, completing 79 of 119 passes for 962 yards and four scores.
"He's not green by any stretch," UA co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown said. "This guy has been behind the controls, driven the machine and pulled the trigger for them. He's a good player."