Stanford goes on the road to take on the Arizona Wildcats for the 29th meeting between the programs. Both have had their stuggles throughout the season which gives this game a sense of desperate scrappiness that could make for an interesting game.
While Stanford has had their problems on offense finding a rhythm, Arizona has had trouble keeping their offense healthy and on the field. Quarterbacks Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins have both spent time out because of injury, forcing some to question the offensive scheme that is run heavy with the quarterback. Rich Rodriguez has faced some criticism for the offensive game plan which puts the quarterback in some dicey spots, but has defended it saying “Quarterbacks get hit sometimes. I don’t look at the scheme.” Both quarterbacks are also slated to find time in the offense this weekend.
With all that in mind, what can we reasonably expect to see from this offense? Well since injuries have been the trend for the Wildcats, running back Nick Wilson is reported to miss the next several weeks because of a knee injury suffered in the USC game which took place before the teams bye last week. The has caused a Samajie Grant and Matt Morin, a receiver and tight end respectively, to take snaps in the backfield. Other than ball security, the biggest concern is scheme change and if this limits the playbook.
While this, combined with the quarterback situation, does put everything behind center in flux, the offense should still be stable for the most part. No matter who is in at quarterback and running back, this offense was designed to create and make plays in space. Lots of pitches, play action bootlegs, screens and read option plays are going to continue to be a staple of the offense. Even with the switch in the backfield, Samajie is still fast and can make plays with the ball in his hands. The scheme should help him be successful despite the change. Another factor in favor of the Wildcats is the two receivers, Shun Brown and Trey Griffey, who both average 17 yards a catch this season. With explosion on the outside this should help keep the Cardinal safeties out of the box, especially with Alijah Holder out at corner. This only helps keep pressure off the quarterback and running game.
The key for Arizona offensively is to take shots early to keep the running game open and play fast. Creativity will be big as well, especially in the red zone. Wildcat packages with Samajie taking direct snaps or jet sweeps to Griffey to help get the ball to the fast play makers right away and keep Stanford on their toes will be key for this team. If they can do that and keep their quarterbacks in the game they will be fine offensively.
Defensively, it is more tricky for the Wildcats as they let up an average of 33 points a game. However, the Wildcats have nine take aways on the year and average 2-0 when leading in the turnover battle. They also have 32 passes defended. If they can turn some passes defended into picks and give their offense a few more possessions over an already offensively challenged Stanford, that will prove the difference. Arizona’s top corners in Jace Whittaker and Dane Cruikshank both have interceptions this season and combine for 16 passes broken up. They need to both step up for this defensive unit.
On Stanford’s side of the ball, most of the attention this week will be on Keller Chryst getting the start at quarterback. But the game plan should remain the same for the Cardinal: Get McCaffrey going early and often. People tend to think of of football as a fairly complex sport of out scheming an opponent and at the pro level or in situations like a two minute drill it can be. But in college football more often than not, feeding your stud player is what gains success. FSU plays better when Dalvin Cook is pounding out yards, LSU rolls when riding the shoulders of Leonard Fournette, Clemson finds balance in Wayne Gallman’s consistency, Louisville is dominate in the hands of Lamar Jackson, Baylor stays perfect when both Shock Linwood and Terence Williams find their stride, the formula is there - get your play maker the ball in various ways and the rest will open up. The problem for Stanford has been failing to get McCaffrey going or falling to take advantage of anything else when he does get started.
On the defensive side, Stanford needs to play very technically sound football. The edge rushers need to contain the quarterback, the corners need to play the edge and bounce all the outside runs and screens inside to the linebackers and safeties. The linebackers need to play their gaps and not get fooled by motions and pre-snap distractions. They need to play fundamentally strong football.
This could really go either way for these teams that have both found struggles on offense throughout the entire season. Turnovers will be the difference in this game. If Stanford can attack the new ball carriers and rip at the football and if Arizona can send different coverage at Keller Chryst to force a pick, one team will pull ahead.
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