By Kyle McLorg
After a defensive slugfest in Seattle last Thursday, No. 18 Stanford faces a different kind of conference opponent this weekend at The Farm. The Arizona Wildcats run a fast-paced offense that averages 35.2 points per game, but they also allow 45.2. It all adds up to an opportunity for the Cardinal offense and quarterback Josh Nunes to get over their lackluster showing against the Washington Huskies.
The Wildcats (3-2, 0-2) opened their season with wins over Toledo, Oklahoma State and South Carolina State, but have since dropped two straight. The first was particularly ugly – a 49-0 shutout at the hands of the Oregon Ducks. Last week, Arizona was the latest team to fall victim to the impressive Oregon State Beavers, losing 38-35 in Tucson.
When Arizona has the ball
Stanford (3-1, 1-1) is the third consecutive nationally-ranked Pac-12 opponent Arizona will face. The Cardinal haven’t allowed more than 17 points in a game, and their rush defense is ranked third in the country (65 yards allowed per game, 2.34 ypc allowed). Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, who has racked up 538 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, could be in for a long day.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has thrown 10 touchdowns and ranks fifth in the nation with 1,608 yards passing. Add 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and the Wildcats seem to have a true dual-threat under center. Stanford’s defense has been a little more generous through the air, allowing 251.5 passing yards per game. Scott has averaged 44 passing attempts per game so far, look for him to throw at least that many times on Saturday.
The Cardinal better not get too comfortable if they jump out to an early lead. Arizona showed some serious comeback ability when they rebounded from an early 14-point deficit to beat Oklahoma State by a score of 59-38 back on Sept. 8.
When Stanford has the ball
Josh Nunes and Stepfan Taylor both came up empty last week in Washington, but if they’re looking for a team to bounce back against, Arizona might be perfect. 284.4 passing yards allowed per game puts Arizona at 10th in the conference, ahead of only Colorado and Mike Leach’s defense-disinterested Washington State Cougars. The Wildcats are the second-worst team in the Pac-12 in terms of defending the run, allowing 166.8 yards per game
Only 68 yards rushing last week against Washington was a direct result of Stanford’s passing woes. The Huskies were able to stack eight and nine in the box comfortably and shut down Taylor because Nunes couldn’t get anything going through the air. Passing to set up the run could be a focal point for Stanford this weekend.
Still, Nunes can’t depend completely on Taylor and the defense to win the game. The Wildcats will get their pops offensively, and the quarterback must be ready to go blow-for-blow with them if this game turns into a shootout.
— BYOOT (Bring Your Own Oxygen Tanks) – the Wildcats’ no-huddle offense has them averaging 88 offensive plays per game, second in the NCAA to Marshall.
— Arizona will be awfully thin in their front line, with one defensive lineman out (Dom Austin) and another questionable (Reggie Gilbert). Taylor should have an easy time regaining his stride against a team that struggles to stop the run, even with all their starters.
— Taylor rushed 22 times for 153 yards against the Wildcats last year.
— The tight end tandem of Ertz and Toilolo will also look to build on last year’s dominance: the two combined for 8 catches, 160 yards and a touchdown in Stanford’s 37-10 victory.
— Arizona leads the all-time series 14-13, but Stanford is looking to make it three straight victories over the Wildcats on Saturday.