How Arizona DT Kyon Barrs makes his presence felt despite having no sacks

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Arizona’s sack leader from last season has no sack this season. But that doesn’t mean Kyon Barrs doesn’t have an impact.

The veteran Wildcats defensive tackle, who was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2021, ranks second on the team with 2.5 tackles for a loss. He ranks third with eight defensive saves, which Pro Football Focus defines as tackles that constitute a miss in attack.

Barrs was instrumental in Arizona (2-1) shutting down North Dakota State in the dying moments of Saturday’s 31-28 win. Barrs was officially credited with just one tackle, for a loss of 2 yards, among the last five defensive snaps. But on two other plays, his presence in the middle of the defense helped his teammates make critical saves.

Barrs’ game has improved every week as he returns from foot surgery this offseason. Barrs missed all spring training and was restricted to training camp.

“Each week we hope to see it become more visible,” said UA coach Jedd Fisch, whose team opens the Pac-12 game at Cal on Saturday. “He’s pretty healthy at this point. He missed a lot of training camp time. We were very limited in his rehearsals because he was coming back from surgery.

“He feels more and more comfortable. His weight is where he wants it to be. He is full on the field in training. Now it’s our responsibility to watch his reps in training to make sure we’re able to give him the best opportunity on Saturday.

Barrs played 149 of 195 defensive snaps, per PFF, or 76.4%. That’s a higher percentage than last season (56.2%), although Barrs has missed two games in 2021 through injury.

Arizona didn’t rotate down the defensive line as much as coordinator Johnny Nansen had hoped, in part because of an injury to defensive tackle Tiaoalii Savea. Savea missed most of the Mississippi State game in Week 2. He adapted for NDSU, but the coaches chose to hold him.

“I don’t think that’s the case this week,” Fisch said.

Assuming Savea is back, the Wildcats can use him and Dion Wilson Jr. to give starters Barrs and Paris Shand a break. Shand played 146 snaps, Wilson 76, Savea 25.

Barrs leads all interior linemen with 12 tackles. He had 33 tackles and a team-high five sacks in 10 games last season. Barrs was also PFF’s highest-ranked UA defender in 2021, ranking second on the team in QB pressures (21) and defensive saves (23).

Jedd on Herm

Fisch was not happy to learn that Arizona State had parted ways with coach Herm Edwards.

The move was not announced as a layoff. “Coach Edwards and I have mutually agreed that he will step down as head coach,” said ASU Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson. But Fisch knows what this code is for.

“Coaches never like to hear the ‘F-word’, do they? It’s no fun for anyone to have guys lose their jobs,” Fisch said. “There are families involved. There are other staff involved. There’s a lot involved when it comes to this stuff. So it’s never really a good day in the coaching profession when that happens.

Fisch was UCLA’s offensive coordinator in 2017 when Jim Mora was fired with one game to play in the regular season. Fisch took over as interim coach and guided the Bruins to a 1-1 record.

Arizona is scheduled to face ASU in the regular season finale on Nov. 25. The Sun Devils won last year’s encounter 38-15 in what will likely be the only coaching clash between Fisch and Edwards.

Audible timely

One of the most important offensive plays in Arizona’s comeback win over NDSU featured an audible from quarterback Jayden de Laura.

It happened on the fourth-and-first from Bison’s 27-yard line in the fourth quarter. Arizona had three receivers lined up on the left side. De Laura changed the play to a version of a bubble screen and connected with Jacob Cowing for a 5-yard gain.

“Jayden has the ability, when he sees certain looks, to access certain plays from certain formations,” Fisch said. “There are criteria involved based on the fact that games are married to formations in many ways.

“He made it audible and made a great throw. And Jacob made a good catch.

On the next play, de Laura hit Cowing for the touchdown.

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