DT Terrence Stephens
Next week, Stanford will square off with a Notre Dame team that
shares many similarities with them. In this Saturday's Homecoming
game, though, the Cardinal take on an opponent of a decidedly
contrasting style. The Rich Rodriguez-led Arizona Wildcats are
everything that Stanford is not.
Exploit The Size Advantage
This will be a showdown of ants versus elephants. Arizona is tiny compared to Stanford, especially on defense. The Cardinal attack
may be the biggest in the nation. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has implemented his
3-3-5 defensive scheme to
highlight his team's athleticism.
The system features the standard cornerback and free safety slots in
addition to two rover positions coined "Spur" and "Bandit."
Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis man these two secondary
positions but operate all over the football field. Bondurant, in
fact, leads the Wildcats with 7.5 TFL, while Tevis' 42 tackles are
good for second on the team.
These numbers verify that Arizona attacks the offense from
unconventional angles to make up for its lack of size up front. This
disadvantage is significant. Dominique Austin (285 pounds) is the
squad's heaviest defensive lineman, a good 65 pounds lighter than
the 340-pound Hawaiian behemoth Stanford had to deal with in Seattle
last week. On average, Arizona's linebackers are just slightly
heavier than Cardinal receiver Ty Montgomery.
"We have to play bigger than we are if we want a chance to win,"
It'll be Josh Nunes' job to make sure that his offense doesn't allow
that. The Stanford quarterback failed to put his team in
position to exploit Washington's size disadvantage on the road last week, but he
gets another shot at home this time around. The
Wildcats are certainly vulnerable against the run (166.8
yards/game), and a well-balanced, physical Oregon State offense
exposed their pass defense last week, too. The Beavers' Sean Mannion
threw for 433 yards, complementing Storm Woods' 169 yards on 29
carries (5.6 average) in the 38-35 victory.
Oregon State passed 45 times, rushed 43 times, and racked up 613
total yards against Arizona in a perfectly executed offensive
effort. If Stanford can manage to establish similar balance
Saturday, the Wildcats won't have the horses to keep up. It'll be up
to Nunes to set the table for the running game's dinner. A crisp
completion percentage closer to 60 percent this time around should
do just that.
Embrace The Speed Challenge
Though there are key differences, Rich Rodriguez's spread offensive attack has a lot in common with Chip Kelly's jet-engine Oregon system. Saturday, it will be up to the Stanford defense to stop the kind of speed-oriented offense that has
long tormented it. The Cardinal are bigger and stronger on the
defensive side of the football than they have ever been, so this
should be an intriguing benchmark for the unit.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, who played through a hip injury
earlier this year, looks to be back in his dangerous dual threat
form. He has run for 291 yards to complement his throwing production
to an insanely balanced receiving corps. Eight Arizona pass
catchers are tied for the team lead with five grabs, while five more
have at least three. There's truly no single threat to key on, so
discipline will be paramount for the Cardinal, especially
considering the fact that the Wildcats have also had success running
with back Ka'Deem Carey.
Arizona's attack is predicated on the lateral and over-the-top
assault in a more substantial way than Oregon's, which focuses on
baiting safeties away from run defense by attacking the seams with
the pass. This means that Stanford cornerbacks must be especially
sure that they keep action in front of them. Linebackers will have
to demonstrate the speed to suffocate the sidelines, a sometimes
unpleasant challenge. Shayne Skov said that he'd rather face a
straightforward smash-mouth football team instead of Arizona's
"As a linebacker in general, it gets a little annoying chasing guys
sideline to sideline," he laughed. "It's like basketball on grass.
I'd rather be hitting people than chasing them."
Of course, continued pressure from the defensive line will be
paramount. Excessive blitzing against a team with such a balanced
receiving corps is tantamount to suicide. Nose tackle Terrence Stephens says it'll be the ultimate endurance test, simply because
the Wildcats run 88 plays per game. That’s good for second in the nation.
"Playing a spread team is hard for me because I'm not the best at
pass rushing," he said. "We're going to have groups of people going
in and going out, making sure we're staying fresh. We don't lack the
athletes. We don't lack the size. It's going to be all mental."
Force Field Goals: Win the Red Zone Battle
The Wildcats will inevitably move the ball, at least a bit. They
did even at Oregon, but an unfathomably bad 0-for-6 red zone
performance led to laying the goose egg at Autzen Stadium. Arizona
kicker John Bonano is only 4-for-9 this season, and he's missed many
shorter field goals. Rodriguez's squad is competent between
the 20s, but their spread attack loses its effectiveness when it
runs out of room in the end zone. Field goal struggles have
compounded this shortcoming, so this is where Stanford can cash in on its
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal
football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be
heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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