The importance of the Arizona game for Stanford and Josh Nunes

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

After falling on its face last week against Washington, this weekend's matchup against Arizona is critically important for Stanford, and, of course, for Josh Nunes.

The PGA Tour keeps a lot of ridiculous statistics. Consecutive sand saves. Current streak without a three-putt. Birdie or better percentage from the left rough.

One of the stats the Tour keeps track of is called "bounce back" - how often a golfer makes a birdie after making a bogey.

The stat doesn't really reveal anything at all - the players who finish in the top 10 in bounce back change every year - but the fact that the Tour keeps the statistic at all shows that, yes, bouncing back from a bad hole is important.

In football, a team's ability to bounce back is much more important - much more so than in golf. And after a deflating loss to Washington last Thursday, that's obviously what Stanford is hoping to do this Saturday against Arizona.

After four games, the Cardinal is where most expected it to be: 3-1. However, most expected that lone loss to come at the hands of USC.

But right after the victory over USC catapulted the expectations for this year's Stanford team, the Cardinal offense stunk up the joint in Seattle and suddenly raised a lot of doubts about how successful the 2012 Cardinal can be the rest of the season.

Now, the Arizona Wildcats come to town - and Stanford is looking to settle just which split personality will show up this week.

Can Stanford rebound against Arizona and look more like the team that could go 10-2? Or will it struggle again and look like the team that could go 7-5? Or will it be somewhere in the middle?

Obviously, the character that will be most scrutinized in this drama is Josh Nunes, who looked every bit the "first-year starter playing in his first road game" last Thursday night and took a lot of heat for his performance.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to put all the blame on Nunes for last week - the Stanford coaches, receivers, punter and the Washington defense all played their parts in the loss - but this week will be extremely important for Nunes if he wants to keep the dogs at bay who are howling for Brett Nottingham or Kevin Hogan to replace him. This week will not only be a fight for a bounce-back win, but a bounce-back performance that could help assure him some extra job security for the next few weeks.

(Personally, it looked to me like he was trying too hard to be pinpoint in the Washington game. If I were giving advice to Nunes, I'd borrow a phrase from Crash Davis: "Don't hold the ball so hard, okay? It's an egg. Hold it like an egg.")

Simply put, Nunes has to show (or at least begin to show) that he can overcome the jitters and keep the Cardinal offense on the field for more than three plays at a time - because there's a long, tough road ahead, and a lot of opponents that look very capable of beating Stanford.

While Arizona was abused by Oregon two weeks ago and toppled by Oregon State last week, Rich Rodriguez's squad already looks more competent and dangerous than the Wildcat teams of the past several years.

Notre Dame has risen into the top 10 because of Heisman dark horse Manti Te'o and the third-best defense in the country.

Oregon State, thanks to the Beaver defense and the ridiculous play of Sean Mannion, looks like the second-best team in the Pac-12.

As usual, Oregon has been on a tear, and even UCLA and the Johnathan Franklin express look formidable.

Altogether, the Cardinal offense must prove this week if it is good enough to overcome a schedule that has looked tougher and tougher as the season has passed. Not only will Nunes be asked to outduel an offense this week that averages 34.8 points per game, but he will also have to prove (or at least begin to prove) to a legion of critics that he can handle the road ahead - because it certainly isn't getting any easier.

So now it's time for Stanford to see where it fits on the bounce-back stat sheet. Is the Cardinal as good as the team that beat USC? Maybe not. Is the Cardinal as bad as the team that lost to Washington? Maybe not.

But we'll find out this week.

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