Stanford Offensive Preview

Stanford's offense is one of the more unique ones in the conference. Read on to see what Arizona will face on Saturday, the key players, and more.

After two weeks of facing strong offensive attacks, the Arizona Wildcats travel to Stanford to face an offense that has looked inconsistent throughout the early part of the 2012 campaign.

That really shouldn't surprise anyone considering the Cardinal lost both head coach Jim Harbaugh in the 2011 offseason and then star quarterback Andrew Luck the following year to the NFL.

New quarterback Josh Nunes has found life as a Pac-12 signal-caller to be difficult thus far. Currently, Nunes is ranked dead last in the conference in passer rating and completion percentage and ranks ninth in passing yards per game.

Nunes has tossed six touchdowns and four interceptions as well, but his struggles with accuracy and lack of point-production aren't making Stanford fans forget Luck any time soon.

What Nunes needs in order to experience any sort of success is production from the running game and, specifically, Stepfan Taylor. The senior running back ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game with 103.3 and also fourth in total rushing yards with 413.

Taylor also makes an impact in the passing game as well, ranking third on the squad in receptions with 14. He is the team's biggest weapon on offense and, given how poorly Arizona has defended the run, the Wildcats should expect a healthy dose of Taylor on Saturday.

Despite a very mundane passing attack, Stanford does possess a couple of tight ends who can do damage on the gridiron.

Zach Ertz has 252 yards receiving and a touchdown to lead the Cardinal. Ertz is also tied for the team-lead in receptions with 15 and has compiled an average of 16.8 yards per catch.

The other tight end who could make a big impact is Levine Toilolo. The senior has only caught eight passes in four games, but has picked up 137 yards receiving and a touchdown. Considering how much UA has had trouble stopping the pass, Toilolo has the potential to be a thorn in the Wildcats' side.

Wide receiver Ty Montgomery has been the most consistent wide receiver on Stanford's roster through four games.

He's tied with Ertz in receptions with 15, but hasn't picked up a touchdown yet, and his 139 yards receiving place him second on the team behind Ertz. Along with Ertz, Toilolo and fellow receiver Drew Terrell, Montgomery provides another weapon for Nunes to utilize in the passing game.

Stanford's offensive line, which was supposed to be very strong this season, has been merely average, giving up five sacks in four games and paving the way for a rushing average of just 3.9 yards per carry – which ties them for 84th nationally.

The Wildcats' defensive line has struggled all season, however, so Stanford may get a bit of a break on Saturday.

Players to Watch

#6 – QB, Josh Nunes: The senior has looked very shaky through four games and hasn't provided the type of leadership head coach David Shaw needs from his quarterback for his offense to click throughout the season. With that being said, Nunes does have plenty of weapons at his disposal and could have a big game against a very questionable UA defense.

#33 – RB, Stepfan Taylor: I would expect to see Taylor fed the ball consistently throughout the game. Arizona struggled to stop Storm Woods of Oregon State this past weekend and Taylor is a more proven back. He is a threat to run as well as a receiver out of the backfield, so the Wildcats must pay extra attention to him.

#86 – TE, Zach Ertz: Stanford continues to successfully involve tight ends in its passing attack and Ertz could be Nunes' most reliable receiving target on offense. If Arizona doesn't keep an eye on the middle of the field, Ertz could produce a big day.

#88 – WR, Ty Montgomery: Wide receiver production has been scarce this year for Stanford, but Mongomery has been consistent when called upon. If Nunes can deliver him the ball more consistently on Saturday, he could spell big trouble for Arizona's secondary.

Five keys to victory

1. Get pressure on Nunes: Nunes struggles with accuracy and will make mistakes under pressure. If Arizona can some how resurrect its pass rush, Nunes will put forth another inconsistent performance.

2. Figure out how to stop Taylor: UA's inability to stop Woods last week ultimately cost the Wildcats the game. Fortunately for Arizona, Nunes doesn't have the same talent as Mannion as a passer and needs Taylor to produce for the offense to function properly. If they can limit Taylor's output on the field, the Cardinal will struggle overall on offense.

3. Protect the middle of the field: Nearly half of Stanford's receiving yards come from the tight end position. Arizona must guard the middle of the field better than it has over the first five games or Ertz and Toilolo are going to be able to run freely.

4. Confuse the offensive line: The Stanford line is strong, but hasn't performed up to expectations quite yet. On the flipside, UA can't seem to get pressure in the opposing backfield and it has paid the price in recent games. The Wildcats must find away to frustrate the Cardinal line and get into the backfield.

5. Take away the deep passing game: The last thing Arizona needs to give to a struggling offense is big-yardage plays. The Wildcats' defense needs to keep the Stanford offense in front of them and doing so will keep the Cardinal unit from getting into any sort of flow.

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