Stanford’s defense isn’t as good as it has been in the past few years, but there is certainly enough talent to be very effective.
The strength of the defense is on the line with 6-foot-3, 273-pound end Solomon Thomas. He leads the Cardinal with 37 tackles to go along with 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Whether Arizona starts Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins, you can expect Thomas to spend a good portion of Saturday’s game in the backfield.
In addition to Thomas, Arizona will need to account for 6-foot-4, 285-pound junior Harrison Phillips
Phillips is second on Stanford with 4.5 sacks and gets considerable push from the inside, which will make Nathan Eldridge’s job very difficult.
The third lineman that starts is 6-foot-6, 261-pound Dylan Jackson. His numbers aren’t impressive at all, but David Shaw recently went out of his way to praise Jackson for eating up blocks and allowing Thomas and Phillips to succeed.
"You can't say enough about those two guys," said Shaw. "Dylan Jackson as well. Dylan hasn't gotten as many stats, but the combination of those three guys right now is really exciting.”
The biggest issue with Stanford’s defense is beyond the defensive line. In the past few years, the Cardinal has had very strong linebackers and this season that unit has struggled a bit.
Outside linebacker Joey Alfieri is fourth on the team with 30 tackles and the Cardinal will often use him to pressure the quarterback, thus his 3.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries.
On the inside, senior Kevin Palma has been decent. He doesn’t have any real stats beyond tackles and is used more in coverage.
The third linebacker of the bunch is 6-foot-3, 233-pound Bobby Okereke. He has 18 tackles and blitzes somewhat, but is another case of a linebacker that does not put up a lot of stats.
Peter Kalambayi gets the other outside linebacker spot and he is the second linebacker that will likely be seen in the backfield Saturday.
He has three sacks and Stanford will often send him in run blitzes, making him a dangerous cover for the Arizona offensive line.
Stanford’s secondary has battled injury and the loss of Alijah Holder has significantly hurt the Cardinal.
He came back for the Colorado game, but left early and it was announced that he will miss the remainder of the season.
"So unfortunate," Shaw said. ”He and Quenton Meeks were a great tandem together.”
Junior Alameen Murphy will likely get the start in place of Holder and he has been picked on this season, so Arizona will likely try to take advantage of him.
Meeks gets the other corner spot and he is one of the better ones in the Pac-12. He currently has two interceptions and is a playmaker for the defense.
Justin Reid gets the start at one of the safety spots and has 23 tackles this season. He is solid in coverage, but not as dangerous as Meeks at producing turnovers or creating big plays.
Lloyd has Both are second on the team with 32 tackles and Lloyd leads the team with three interceptions.
Players to Watch
#90, DE Solomon Thomas: This probably goes without saying, but Thomas is good enough to disrupt Stanford’s entire offense. If Arizona can’t contain him, the offense won’t be effective.
#4, CB Frank Buncom: He will likely be behind Murphy, but it will be interesting to see if he plays more if Murphy struggles like he has. At 6’2, Buncom is a big corner and he has potential, though he has not put it together yet.
Keys to the Game
1. Attack Murphy: He’s not nearly as good as Meeks and if Arizona is going to win, it is going to have to take advantage of the few position advantages it has.
2. Don’t be one-dimensional: We can’t see Arizona winning without some kind of running game. Establishing Samajie Grant early would go a long way.
3. Third down: The Wildcats have struggled on third down. Arizona needs to either get off the field by scoring or put together strong drives.