Coach Nansen has turned the Arizona defense into one of the best units in the country. After a 2022 season of being ranked 125th out of 133 schools, the Wildcats boast the 36th-ranked total defense in the nation. Arizona has made great strides on the defensive side of the ball posting the 16th best rushing defense (101.9 ypg), 27th scoring defense (19.8 papg), 9th red zone defense (71.4%), and 6th nationally in 4th down conversion defense (25.0%). Arizona held then No. 19 Washington State, a team that averages 29.3 points per game to just six points in a road victory. Arizona held then No. 19 UCLA, a team that averages 28.6 points per game to just 10 points leading to a third straight victory over a ranked opponent. The defense has played at an elite level against top competition helping the Wildcats to No. 23 in the AP Top-25 and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
In 2022, Arizona won four more games than 2021. It tied for the second-largest win improvement in program history jumping from 1-11 in 2021 to 5-7 in 2022. Arizona landed former five-star linebacker Justin Flowe (Oregon) during the early signing period for the 2023 recruiting class. Nansen helped Arizona secure its second consecutive top-40 ranked recruiting class in 2022 and 2023, for the first time in program history.
Motivated by Nansen’s coaching style and relationship building recruiting, top transfers joined Arizona on the defensive side of the ball including former five-star linebacker Justin Flowe. He was the No. 6 player overall in the 247Sports composite ranking, and the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 2 player in California out of high school. Flowe was ranked the No. 8 overall player and No. 10 prospect in the ESPN300. Also, Flowe was honored as the Butkus Award High School winner and 2019-20 All-USA High School Football Defensive Player of the Year by USA Today.
Four-star linebacker Daniel Heimuli transferred to Arizona from Washington. Heimuli was Bay Area News Group Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Peninsula League, Bay Division, Defensive Player of the Year in High School in 2018. He was named defensive MVP of the 2019 Polynesian Bowl, where he notched three-and-a-half tackles for loss. Four-star and national champion Bill Norton joined the Wildcats from Georgia prior to the 2023 season. Norton was the 247Sports four-star prospect, #8 strongside defensive end prospect nationally and the #3 player in the state of Tennessee in High School.
Defensive Lineman Tyler Manoa transferred to Arizona from UCLA. Manoa was a four-star out of high school and in high school, rated a four-star recruit according to 247Sports and the No. 9 defensive tackle recruit in the nation, the No. 108 overall prospect in the country and the No. 14 recruit in the state of California. ESPN.com four-star recruit and the No. 34 defensive tackle prospect in the country and No. 46 recruit in California.