J.B. Brown lined up across from Cal tight end Ian Bunting. Brown, a sophomore defensive end for the Arizona Wildcats, expected what he has come to expect on almost every play at his newish position: a violent collision.
Except Bunting didn’t engage Brown. Bunting took a step to the inside, tripped over the left foot of tackle Patrick Mekari and stumbled into a double team of UA nose guard Abraham Maiava. Brown suddenly was presented with a dream scenario: an unabated path to the quarterback.
“So I had to hit him with all my might,” Brown said Tuesday.
Brown smashed into Cal quarterback Brandon McIlwain, tackling him just before he could release the ball. It fell to the turf, where Brown’s teammate, Dereck Boles, cradled it. The Wildcats had their second takeaway of the fourth quarter.
Brown had his first career sack.
“Words can’t describe it,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
Arizona would take the ball away four times in all during Saturday’s 24-17 victory over Cal. The Wildcats will be seeking a similarly spirited defensive effort Friday night at Utah, where they are double-digit underdogs.
Brown is an underdog of sorts. He isn’t the most famous football-playing sibling in his family; that would be older brother, Jayon, who played at UCLA and has made 10 tackles each of the past two weeks for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
J.B. Brown, whose given name is Joshua, came to Arizona as a middle linebacker. Classmate Colin Schooler’s emergence didn’t leave much in the way of playing time for others at the “Mike.” With the defense in dire need of pass rushers, the coaching staff moved Brown to defensive end early last season.
“Middle linebacker, you kind of see what’s unfolding in front of your face,” Brown said. “Defensive end, they’re right there in your face. So you’ve gotta be ready.”
The product of Southern California powerhouse Long Beach Poly High School likes the view from the edge. Brown has become a rotation regular, alternating with PJ Johnson on a defensive front that has become increasingly disruptive.
Brown finished with four tackles against Cal, matching his total against Southern Utah. He had a career-high six stops against Oregon State.
Brown and Johnson have taken over the defensive end spot previously manned by Justin Belknap. Belknap suffered a broken foot in practice last month and could miss the rest of the season.
Belknap has been exempt from UA coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy that restricts in-game sideline access to healthy players. Crutches and all, Belknap has been around to counsel Brown the past two weeks.
“That’s my boy,” Brown said. “When he got hurt, he pulled me to the side. ‘You gotta step up. There shouldn’t be (any) drop-off.’
“He’s very vocal. He helps me out throughout the game. I’m pretty sure that’s why he’s there.”
Brown also carries with him the wisdom of his older brother. Jayon plays linebacker, but he has experienced everything J.B. is going through as a Pac-12 student-athlete. They text each other regularly and talk when they can find the time.
Jayon’s main message for his youngest brother?
“It’s just football,” J.B. Brown said. “You’ve been doing this your whole life. You don’t have to be scared or nervous or nothing.
“At the end of the day, they put their stuff on just like you put it on. So just go out there and have fun.”