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Cardinal Cram Session: Arizona

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Opening Number: 10, as in the number of consecutive wins for Stanford. Auburn's loss to Clemson today means the Cardinal owns the nation's longest winning streak. 

Key Players to Watch:

  • Chris Owusu, Stanford WR: Owusu helped take the wind out of Arizona's sails with a 45-yard touchdown catch to start the scoring in last year's 42-17 win on the Farm, and finished with 9 catches for 165 yards. The senior receiver eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Arizona in 2009, but that performance also included a pivotal dropped pass on fourth down. Owusu, The TriumviratE (Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo), and Luck could be primed for big games against a secondary that has allowed its first two opponents to complete 78 percent of their passes
  • Stepfan Taylor, Stanford RB: Is this the game that Taylor and the offensive line recapture last year's dominant form? If Arizona can't stop the Stanford passing game, it may not matter, but the Wildcats lost three defensive ends to the NFL and aren't nearly as good defensively as they were last season.
  • Nick Foles, Arizona QB: Foles is arguably the best quarterback not named Luck in the Pac-12 (sorry, Matt Barkley, but not really). The senior leads the nation in passing yards and completions per game and could air it out 50-60 times tonight, as Arizona doesn't have much of a rushing attack and the Cardinal has been especially stingy against the run. Foles outdueled Luck in 2009. Can he do it again?
  • Mohammed Usman, Arizona DE: Usman, a first-year starter who once sacked Cam Newton as a standout at Navarro Community College, is probably the Wildcats' best pass rusher. If Arizona is going to pull the upset, it needs to get pressure on Luck, who was knocked around more than he's used to last week against Duke. 

Key Terms:

  • Gametime Decision: We won't know until shortly before kickoff whether Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner, who underwent an appendectomy last week and whose status has been considered questionable all week, will play tonight. Criner led the Wildcats with 82 catches and 11 touchdowns last year.
  • National Exposure: It's a 10:45 p.m. start on the East Coast, but it's still a nationally televised game, and there will be plenty of interested viewers and voters. Stanford dispatched San Jose State and Duke with relative ease. A similarly dominating performance against a solid Pac-12 foe on the road could help earn the Cardinal even more national respect. (The rest of the conference hasn't exactly pulled its weight thus far.)  
  • Payback: The revenge factor is probably overrated, and Stanford already exacted some with last year's win, but the 2009 loss in Tucson was one of the most painful in recent Stanford football history. There are a number of players on the team who were a part of that, including Luck, who don't want to leave the desert with that same bitter taste in their mouths. 
  • Homefield Advantage: The ZonaZoo could be a factor if Arizona gets off to a fast start. Then-No. 9 Iowa found that out last year, falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter of a 34-27 loss.
  • Pac-12 Opener: Let's hope Stanford fares better in its first Pac-12 game than it did in its Pac-8 and Pac-10 openers. The Cardinal lost to Washington State, 29-23, in 1964 and UCLA, 27-26, in 1978. 

Additional Reading:

The Cardinal's new-look offensive line faces its biggest test of the season thus far. | SF Chronicle

Stanford's defense will be tested by Arizona's aerial attack. | Mercury News

Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmel discuss tonight's game and both predict a 35-24 Stanford victory. | Pac-12 Blog

You don't want to miss tonight's showdown between two of the best QBs in the country. | Palo Alto Daily News

Expect some offensive fireworks tonight. | The Daily Axe

Closing Number: 40.91, Stanford's conversion percentage on third down through two games (9-for-22), which ranks 62nd in the country. The Cardinal led all FBS teams with 57.56 conversion percentage last season. 

Prediction: Stanford 45, Arizona 17. The Wildcats will be no match for the Stanford offense, which will put together its first complete game of the season. Arizona's defensive line, the strength of last year's team, is as inexperienced as the Cardinal's offensive line. Stanford's secondary is better than Arizona's and I expect the Cardinal defense to set the tone early.