The Arizona Wildcats will try to block Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver on Saturday, which is as difficult a task for the program's interior offensive linemen in at least three decades.
I'll probably always think that Washington's Steve Emtman was the best defensive tackle Arizona has faced since I started covering the team (that would be 1991). Never mind the Heisman voting, Emtman was, without a doubt, the best player in college football that year. He became the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft.
In the Huskies' thorough domination of Arizona in Seattle in 1991, Emtman busted through the line on the first play of the game, throwing quarterback George Malauulu for loss. Emtman sacked Malauulu on the second play. Unblockable. Arizona called timeout, shrugged its collective shoulders. The Cats lost 54-0 in a game that wasn't even that close.
But Oliver might be really, really close to 1991 Emtman.
Oliver, a junior, is projected by many draft analysts to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and he, indeed, ranks No. 1 on the Big Board of NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang.
Arizona knows. Oliver had 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a forced fumble in a 19-16 victory in Tucson last season.
Check out the first highlight in the video below. He gets blocked by one Arizona lineman, chipped by another, and then as Brandon Dawkins runs by him, Oliver disengages and chases down the quarterback from behind, wrapping him up and knocking the ball out. Elite athleticism and awareness.
In the second highlight, Oliver's initial quickness gets him into the backfield, but he keeps his eyes on the ball-carrier, turning and making the tackle. Similar story on the other highlights: Quickness, strength and motor. Reminds me of Arizona Hall of Fame Rob Waldrop.
Oliver last season won the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's top interior linemen, becoming the first sophomore to win in the 72-year history of the award.
If he's not the best defensive tackle Arizona has seen in the past three decades, it's close.
Here is my Top 10:
2. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
Suh had only three tackles, including one for loss, in the 2009 Holiday Bowl, but the AP Player of the Year spearheaded a defensive effort so dominating (109 yards allowed) that anyone watching knew the game was over after about two minutes. The Huskers won 33-0.
4. Warren Sapp, Miami
The Hurricanes' defensive front was one of the best in the country, but Chuck Levy and the Wildcats ran over Miami 29-0 in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.
I asked former Arizona offensive lineman Eric Johnson on Wednesday night what it was like to block Sapp.
"Yeah, he was in my 3-technique the entire game," said Johnson, who played left guard.
"He was extremely quick off the ball, probably the quickest guy we played all year. He was really good. But he was a sophomore, so he wasn't 'Warren Sapp' yet. He took plays off and we got him pretty good a couple of times. He got me, too. He got a sack, which was the only sack I gave up my senior year."
The game's highlight was Levy's 68-yard touchdown run late in the first half.
"We buried him on that play," Johnson said of Sapp.
True enough. Checking out video of the game on YouTube, Johnson gets the outside shoulder and turns Sapp inside on the play, giving Levy a lane to run off Johnson's left heel. As Levy out-runs the speedy Miami secondary, Johnson has driven Sapp into the turf.
And Sapp wasn't even the most famous Miami lineman to play in that game. His backup was Dwayne Johnson. Everyone knows the movie star as The Rock.
"Finally, Sapp goes off the field and then The Rock came walking out and I'm like, 'Holy cow, where do they grow these guys?" Johnson said. "He wasn't very good. He was just strong."
5. Haloti Ngata, Oregon
He just started his 13th season in the NFL, with the Philadelphia Eagles
6. Glenn Dorsey, LSU
Dorsey and LSU crushed Arizona in Baton Rouge 45-3 in 2006, and Dorsey earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for his four tackles, 1.5 for loss and half sack. A year later, Dorsey helped the Tigers win the national title as he swept all the major national defensive awards.
7. Darrell Russell, USC
Had 19 tackles for loss in 1996 season.
8. Leonard Williams, USC
Still feeling shockwaves from his hit on Arizona RB Terris Jones-Grigsby in 2014.
9. Luther Elliss, Utah
The All-American helped the Utes to a 16-13 upset of Arizona in the 1994 Freedom Bowl and went on to start 119 games in the NFL
10. D'Marco Farr, Washington
Arizona's Johnson, when talking about the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, said Miami's Sapp wasn't as good at that time as Washington's D'Marco Farr. "That guy was a beast," Johnson said.
High honorable mention: Sedrick Ellis (USC), Rien Long (Washington State), Tyson Alualu (Cal ... played end and tackle), Star Lotulelei (Utah), Will Sutton (Arizona State), Stephen Paea, Oregon State and Vita Vea (Washington).