The last time the Cardinal took a trip to the desert, things ended badly. First-year quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Nick Foles put on a show that belied their inexperience, combining for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
The game, however, came down a coach's decision. Clinging to a 38-36 lead and facing a fourth and one on the Arizona eight-yard line with 5:37 to play, the Cardinal seemed headed for victory. Rather than take the sure field goal and a five-point lead, however, coach Jim Harbaugh kept the offense on the field, minus a gimpy Toby Gerhart.
Luck hit an open Chris Owusu in the flat for what should've led to a first down, but Owusu dropped the ball. The Wildcats took possession and marched eighty-three yards for the game-winning touchdown.
It seems like something like that always happens when Stanford travels to Arizona, and there are fears that even as this team is beginning to build momentum towards a potential championship season, all of that could come crashing down in Tucson.
The Wildcats opened their season with a predictable win over Northern Arizona, but reality hit them square in the face last Thursday night when they were crushed by #9 Oklahoma State, 37-14. Stanford will be the next of three consecutive ranked teams on Arizona's schedule (they play #12 Oregon on September 24th), and this Saturday's game could go a long way towards determining whether the Wildcats forge ahead or curl up in a ball and dream about 2012. They don't necessarily have to beat the Cardinal, but they at least need a representative showing. Another big loss could devastate the players and cause those voices calling for the head of coach Mike Stoops to rise from a whisper to a scream.
Kevin Zimmerman from Arizona Desert Swarm helped out a while back with a general season preview of the Wildcats, and now he's back to get a bit more specific. Take a look...
Arizona's schedule is kind of the opposite of Stanford's as they've got their toughest games in the beginning. After finishing 2010 by losing their final five games and losing big to Oklahoma State last week, how concerned are Wildcat fans? How concerned should Coach Mike Stoops be about losing his job if things don't get better?
Things are pretty pessimistic around Tucson right now. Lots of the blame is going toward the coaching staff for seemingly poor game-planning, but much of it also has to do with poor recruiting. Although Stoops did rebuild the program from a burned-down slab left by the John Mackovic era, patience has appeared to run out. Then again, the "fire Stoops" calls have been on and off for the past few seasons, so it won't be clear how serious it is until we're well into this year's schedule. If the Wildcats can find momentum in the second half of the schedule, which is much easier, then his job should be safe. I'd say it's safe even if he goes 6-6 or 5-7, but that's just me.
Here's a bad combination for you. Arizona's rushing attack is ranked 115th in the nation, and Stanford's run defense ranks second. On the other side of that coin, the Wildcats have averaged 405 yards passing per game, good for 5th in the country, while Stanford's pass defense has struggled and is ranked number eighty-six. Quarterback Nick Foles threw 51 times last week. Might we see at least sixty this week?
I don't think it'll go that high, but for sure it'll be in the 40s or 50s once again. The Wildcats have been open about how important their run game will be, because passing for 400-plus yards clearly wasn't enough to score more than 14 points against Oklahoma State last Thursday. Freshman running back Ka'Deem Carey is likely going to get more carries behind starter Keola Antolin. Unlike Antolin, Carey can take a few hits and that will help if UA's young O-line struggles. He has breakaway speed and could be a factor, although he might make mistakes in blocking schemes. Also, sophomore Daniel Jenkins might return from injury, so the options are now wide open for the Wildcats as they attempt to find some semblance of a dynamic offense. And of course, the passing attack will do its thing.
Speaking of Foles, he's definitely the forgotten man in the Conference of Quarterbacks, trailing Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, and Darron Thomas in name recognition. His numbers, though, put him in -- or even above -- that group. How good has Foles been in the early going, and how good might he be as we go forward?
The biggest thing he's done this offseason is improve his leadership qualities, not that they were poor before. But through the first few games, he's done everything asked and not made mistakes. Granted, he's struggled at times with holding the ball too long and not having the best pocket presence, but it's more to do with the lack of run game and the offensive line than it is his decision-making. So in that, there's no doubt he can only get better as the other two facets develop. Even if they don't he's a threat to move the football. Again, whether that results in points or dead drives in the red zone remains to be seen.
Here's the million dollar question: will Juron Criner play this Saturday? Also, tell us a bit about the Texas transfer, Dan Buckner. He had a huge game against Oklahoma State, but I've read that he hasn't been quite as impressive as the coaching staff might have hoped. Is there any truth to that?
I wish I had a million dollar answer. As far as we know, Criner will go when he feels like he's ready to go, so it's day-to-day at this point. I don't think there's really a risk as far as getting hit (from what I've understood from what the coaching staff has said), but it's just a matter of how he feels.
The Stanford offensive line has had some troubles early on both in pass protection and run blocking. How might the Wildcats take advantage of this? How good is the Arizona front seven, and what can we expect to see on Saturday, both as far as scheme and standout players?
Well, I'm not Mike Stoops, so I don't really know what to expect, but you'd think Arizona will blitz and blitz often. The Wildcats haven't been getting push with their front four after they lost three defensive ends that were NFL-talent, so that's a problem. The name to watch is sophomore defensive tackle Justin Washington, who had a stellar freshman season. He'll have to take the onus on producing pressure with the young guys around him. The linebacking crew is fairly solid but I think they lack the speed to cover the middle of the field. And that's why I think the Wildcats will bring the house often; then again, Andrew Luck reading all those blitzes could end poorly, but I think it's worth the risk.
Finally, what's your prediction? How do you expect this game to play out, and what do you see as a final score?
Though Arizona has been fairly disappointing, I think they'll keep it close for a while in their home stadium. However, I can't see the game coming down to the wire. The Wildcats remain a touchdown or two down for the entire game, but the Cardinal blow it open in the fourth for a 42-21 score.