Turnover sword symbolic of Arizona Wildcats’ defensive opportunism

Sep 16, 2022, 11:31 AM

Wide receiver Caleb Ducking #4 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs trips up cornerback Treydan Stukes...

Wide receiver Caleb Ducking #4 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs trips up cornerback Treydan Stukes #20 of the Arizona Wildcats during the NCAA football game at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

Arizona Wildcats coaches are impressed by the football team’s early-season opportunistic defense.

Last season, they forced just six turnovers. This year, the Wildcats have forced five through two weeks.

That’s tied for 15th in FBS, and their three recovered fumbles are tied for seventh.

“Our players have done a great job embracing the mentality that (defensive coordinator Johnny) Nansen and the defensive staff have put in,” head coach Jedd Fisch said in a Monday press conference. “A huge point of emphasis was made — as you guys know — has been taking the ball away.”

Even when they don’t force the ball out, their hunt for the football is noticed by Wildcats coaches.

“They’ve done a great job of attacking the ball at every moment,” Fisch said. “There’s times that we look to get the ball out that we haven’t, but you could see great strip attempts.”

Nansen also noted the team’s pursuit of the football — even if they don’t make the play.

“The kids play with great effort. They play hard,” Nansen said. “… They were pursuing the ball; swarming the ball, so I was proud.”

The defense this year got involved in the sideline props game, as well, with their cactus-shaped “turnover sword.” After forcing a turnover, they run to the sideline, stab a flat football with the sword, then show it to the fans.

Nansen calls the sword part of their identity. It’s an idea that stemmed from a chair in their meeting room that the player of the day sits in after practice.

“We have a difficult time taking [the chair] on the road, so I came up with the idea of the sword,” Nansen said in a Tuesday press conference. “We give it to [the players] on Friday night and then they take it over to the game.”

Fisch thinks highly of the adoption of the turnover sword.

“It’s a fun gimmick that seems as if a lot of teams have started to incorporate,” Fisch said. “I appreciate that our guys find something to get excited about and it’s a way for them to celebrate with the fans and celebrate with themselves.”

The Wildcats’ next game is on Saturday at 8 p.m. MST at North Dakota State. Their FCS opponent is third in the Missouri Valley Conference at 2-0 and as a program have lost just four games since 2018.

The Bison offense this season is run-heavy and dynamic. There’s a 68-30 edge in rushing attempts versus passing attempts, and eight players have rushed six or more times.

Look for the Wildcats to continue their pursuit of forced fumbles. It will be difficult, as the Bison have yet to turn it over this season.

If they find success, they could be on their way to a 2-1 start.

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