Arizona opens Pac-12 play this weekend when the Wildcats host the Stanford Cardinal at Arizona Stadium this Saturday. UA will look to avenge a blowout loss to the Cardinal in Palo Alto a season ago, but it is going to be a very difficult task to accomplish.
The Wildcats are coming off another huge loss to an offensive juggernaut and it isn't going to be any easier this weekend when they face Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck. The Stanford signal-caller passed on a chance to be the top pick in the 2012 draft and returned for another season where he hopes to lead the Cardinal to a national title.
Luck had a monster season in 2010 where he threw for 3332 yards and 32 touchdowns. He is on roughly the same pace to start this season. After two contests, Luck is 37-for-54 for 461 yards and six touchdowns. The quarterback is also dangerous with his feet. He totaled 453 yards on the ground in 2010 and while he only has 11 rushing yards through two games, he is still a threat to beat a defense with his legs at any given moment.
Luck's top two targets from a year ago are gone (Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen) but it hasn't seemed to matter all that much. Back is wide receiver Chris Owusu, who has assumed the number one receiver role. The wideout has 14 catches through two contests and has compiled 182 yards and one touchdown.
Tight end Coby Fleener has looked strong early. He only has five receptions but those five catches have gone for a whopping 116 yards and three touchdowns.
Zach Ertz is another tight end that has been involved early. Ertz has caught five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns over the first two contests. Luck has shown the willingness to use the tight ends often in the passing game and it has paid off so far.
There are several other receivers, including Griff Whalen and Jamal-Rashad Patterson, that could find themselves involved as Luck has the ability to spread the ball around with consistency.
On the ground, Stanford still has deadly running back Stepfan Taylor. The junior is coming off a season where he ran for 1137 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. He was also a factor through the air where he caught 28 passes for 266 yards and a score.
Taylor is off to a solid start in 2011, totaling 136 yards on 32 carries in the first two games. Anthony Wilkerson has the second most carries on the squad with 10, but has only gained 20 yards on the ground in those opportunities.
Stanford might let someone like Geoff Meinken or Jeremy Stewart take some of the reps against Arizona. The pair has combined for just 8 carries, but has also compiled 111 yards in limited action. Also look out for Tyler Gaffney, who is tied with Taylor for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with two.
The offensive line for Stanford has experienced some attrition, losing three starters from a season ago. One of the returning players from the first unit is a very good one however. Guard David DeCastro is an excellent all around blocker who could find himself playing on Sundays very soon.
The other lineman who is back is left tackle Jonathan Martin, who was one of the main reasons why Luck was only sacked six times last season. Martin's pass blocking off the edge is fantastic and will be a big challenge for UA's inexperienced ends.
The rest of the line is a bit of a mystery as they really haven't played against Pac-12 caliber squads up to this point. Arizona is going to need to test the youth on the line early to put pressure on Luck and to prevent Taylor from running all over the field.
Keys to the game –
1. Keep Luck in the pocket- Luck is dangerous enough throwing the ball in the pocket, but he gets even more dangerous when teams lose containment on him.
2. Limit Taylor – If the Cardinal running back gets going, it will open the passing game up for Luck, which could be very bad for UA's defense.
3. Attack the youth on the offensive line – Stanford has three new starters along the line and will be facing its toughest test yet. Arizona's defensive line has been shaky, but it's still better than what Stanford has faced in San Jose State and Duke.
4. Third down stops – The Wildcats allowed Oklahoma State to complete 50% of its third down conversions. That percentage must decrease against Stanford if they want any shot at a victory.
5. Make Stanford work for its yards – Arizona's defense was entirely too generous against OSU last week and the Wildcats are going to have to be a bit more greedy against a quarterback who could end up being the top overall pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Stanford offensive preview
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