Arizona-Southern Utah: The glass-half-empty edition

Outside linebacker/defensive end Kylan Wilborn tackles Southern Utah running back James Felila in the first quarter.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY SPORTS

Wildcats ranks 111th nationally in total defense

So, about that Arizona Wildcats defense...

Southern Utah managed 30 first downs, 463 yards and 31 points, holding time of possession for 37 minutes and eight seconds on Saturday night.

A portion of the time of possession disparity can be mitigated by the fact the Wildcats scored so quickly on offense -- that's a good problem to have -- but there's not much else to sugarcoat.

"Our discussion in the locker room," coach Kevin Sumlin said after the 62-31 win at Arizona Stadium, "was, hey, let's enjoy this but we gotta come back tomorrow and Monday and be honest with ourselves, just like we were last week. What are our deficiencies. Where can we can better? What do we need to do.

"The things that jump out to me is still third downs. ... The big deal is we've got to get off the field on third down on defense."

Let's take a look at that (if you can stomach the results):

In the first half of Saturday night's game (before there was garbage time in the fourth quarter), the Thunderbirds converted:

* 3rd-and-9

* 4th-and-11 on a roughing-the-kicker penalty

* 3rd-and-8

* 4th-and-1

* 4th-and-1 again

* 3rd-and-10

(They also gained 31 yards on a run on 1st-and-35)

In the second half, SUU conversions included:

* 3rd-and-10

* 3rd-and-8

* 4th-and-4

* 4th-and-1

* 3rd-and-13

* 4th-and-1

For the game, Southern Utah converted 10 of 22 third-down chances and -- this is kind of crazy -- 5 of 6 opportunities on fourth down. Think about that. Of the 22 times the Thunderbirds faced third down, they ended up achieving a first down on 15 of them.

Backup linebacker Anthony Pandy came up with the first sack of the season for Arizona in the first quarter.

"Coming into this game, our coach said we needed to get a sack because we didn't have any sack, any turnovers, none of that. Worked a lot on that this week, put some new plays in," Pandy said.

He added: "We need to be more physical. Everybody on the D-line, the linebackers, the secondary. Everyone needs to be more physical."

The defensive line is an issue. Starting end Justin Belknap is likely out for the season because of a practice injury suffered last week. Starting defensive tackle P.J. Johnson missed his second consecutive game because of a foot injury, although the Pac-12 Network announcers on Saturday night suggested he would return for this week's game against Oregon State.

Walk-on Abraham Maiava started at nose guard.

The secondary has been in shuffle mode.

Cornerback Jace Whittaker, who missed the first two games because of injury, was back in the starting lineup, but he came running off the field late in Arizona's first defensive position and didn't return (at least that I saw). Safety Scottie Young (suspension, injury) also made his 2018 debut but ended up back on the bench.

True freshman spur safety Davyen Coleman made his first career start but left the game because of injury. Another safety, Isaiah Hayes, left the game and was seen on the sideline favoring his right arm.

This defense, in its third season under coordinator Marcel Yates, isn't good enough or deep enough to keep taking sustained health hits.

Heading into conference play, Arizona is 111th out of 129 teams nationally in total defense (468.7 yards allowed per play); tied for 55th in scoring defense (34.3 points per game); tied for last in takeaways (one); tied for 119th in sacks (two) and is 96th in yards allowed per play (5.65).

Those numbers look familiar to those of the Rich Rodriguez era.

And now Pac-12 play is set to begin. How the Arizona defense will get itself off the field without the other team scoring is a question without any easy answers.

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