TUCSON, Ariz. (CBS/AP) – Stanford rolled over its first two opponents behind touchdown-flinging quarterback Andrew Luck.
The next opponent couldn’t stop the pass last week, so the sixth-ranked Cardinal should be looking to cruise to another easy win, right?
After what happened the last time Stanford played Arizona in the desert, the sixth-ranked Cardinal are leery of a letdown and looking for a little redemption against quarterback Nick Foles and the high-flying Wildcats on what’s expected to be another hot Saturday night.
“We owe those guys in terms of playing there back in the (Zona) Zoo,” Stanford receiver Chris Owusu said. “It hurt losing there two years ago. We’re playing for a lot this game.”
Stanford started off the 2009 season in good shape, only to have it fizzle away with consecutive losses, the second a wild 43-38 setback in Tucson. The Cardinal were in control for most of the half, only to lose after Arizona scored with three minutes left and swatted the Cardinal’s final attempt away in the end zone.
Stanford (2-0) heads into this game a much bigger favorite.
The Cardinal have one of the best players in the country in Luck, the Heisman Trophy front-runner and potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. He has plenty of options, too, from big-play-threat Owusu—on kick returns as well—and tight end Coby Fleener, who might have the best touchdowns-to-receptions ratio in the country, with six scores in his last nine catches over the past two seasons.
Stanford also has a surprisingly-strong running game, led by Stepfan Taylor, and, after a vanilla start against overmatched opponents, the Cardinal figure to open up the playbook a bit more.
Bouncing back from the 2009 loss, Stanford made it look easy against the Wildcats last season, rolling to a 42-17 win in the Bay Area as Luck threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
In other words, Arizona (1-1) figures to have not just its hands, but its arms full as well.
“They move around so much, it definitely makes it easy to kind of forget your assignment,” Arizona linebacker Paul Vassallo said.
“It’s hard to prepare for all of it. … They do a lot of different things to get your eyes off your key.”
Arizona’s chances likely will hinge on the right arm of Foles.
The 6-foot-5 senior might not be as polished as Luck, but he’s as prolific as anyone in the country and a potential first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. Foles already has thrown for 810 yards in two games this season, completing 76 percent of his passes – in 93 attempts – for six touchdowns and no interceptions.
A good friend of Luck’s, he’d love to show he belongs among the elite quarterbacks and is the kind of player who could give Stanford, which has had some trouble stopping the pass, a few problems on Saturday.
“I said the other day I think he’s extremely underrated,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You look at his efficiency and the numbers he’s put up in the last few years, his name never gets brought up when they take about some of the best quarterbacks in the nation. But when you talk about the numbers, he’s up there. He’s a dangerous guy that reads coverages well.”
What Arizona needs is some way to take the pressure off Foles.
Even with teams knowing he’s going to throw, Foles has been able to put up big numbers, but the running game needs to find a way to contribute for the Wildcats to have a chance against Stanford.
Through the first two games, Arizona averaged just 58 yards per game rushing, 115th in the nation. Playing behind an entirely-new offensive line, small-but-hard-running senior Keola Antolin has shown flashes of brilliance while pinballing off defenders, but has just 63 yards on 19 carries — 20 of that on one play.
Highly-touted freshman Ka’Deem Carey didn’t play in the first half against Northern Arizona and Oklahoma State, but leads the Wildcats with 78 yards while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. With Arizona struggling on the ground, coach Mike Stoops has hinted the multi-threat back may see a few more touches this week against Stanford, even if he still is figuring out the nuances of blocking and pass protection.
With playmaking receiver Juron Criner still questionable after missing last week’s game due to an appendectomy, the Wildcats might have even more of a need to get something going with the running game.
“Our inability to run the football offensively just leads to kind of a seven-on-seven game, and until we move the ball more effectively, we can’t be a complete football team,” Stoops said.
In other words, be like Stanford.
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