Former Arizona Daily Star reporter Jon Wilner, who has covered college sports for the Bay Area News Group since 2000, offered his unique analysis this morning of struggling Stanford, Arizona’s opponent Saturday.
The Cardinal enter the homecoming game for Arizona 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12 coming off a lackluster 10-5 defeat against Colorado on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. In two of Stanford’s losses, coach David Shaw’s team has scored five points (against the Buffaloes) and six points (a 44-6 loss at Washington on Sept. 30, a week after the Huskies survived with a 35-28 overtime win in Tucson).
“Here’s the thing of it: 10-5 looks worse than 10-3,” Wilner writes of the score against Colorado. “Stanford would have been better off without the safety. A 10-3 final score gets glossed over, because 3 isn’t an unusual number — losing teams sometimes end up with just 3 points.
“But 5? Nobody scores 5 points. It sticks out, draws attention and screams: STANFORD ONLY SCORED FIVE POINTS! Add that to the 6 points scored against Washington, and I smell a straight. It’s going to be really tough to get 4, though. It’ll have to be 5-6-7-8-9.”
If Arizona’s defense, ranked No. 114 out of 128 FBS teams allowing 474.6 yards a game, keeps Stanford to under 10 points Saturday, the Wildcats win. I’m calling that (I know, not going out on a limb there). I realize the Cardinal is dead last — yes, dead last — in the FBS in total offense at 299.1 yards per game, but Arizona’s defense is far from finding itself under new coordinator Marcel Yates.
Wilner writes: “The last five opponents (including Arizona) are so bad defensively that even the Cardinal will score touchdowns … and they will be meaningful touchdowns. That’s the amazing part of Stanford’s five-week stay in the gutter: The offense has been even worse than it looks.
“Don’t get me wrong. The final scores look bad on their own (22, 6, 16, 17 and 5). But if you’ve followed the situation closely, you know it’s actually far worse because of the points scored on defense and in garbage time.”
Wilner lists the points scored by Stanford’s offense with the outcome in doubt:
Washington State: 3
Notre Dame: 7
“Five games, 26 meaningful offensive points,” Wilner writes. “Result: Lost to Colorado 10-5.
Shaw, whose offense gained only 263 yards against Colorado, is quoted in Wilner’s story as saying, “We looked bad. We’re not confused. We had penalties. We had multiple big plays called back, two off the top of my head called back because of penalties. That’s not confused, that’s poor execution, that’s poor hand placement, that’s inefficiency, and it’s what’s been plaguing us the entire year.”
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has used as many as five quarterbacks this season, mostly because of injury. Shaw has alternated between Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst, unable to find what he’s looking for in each.
Burns has completed 95 of 152 pass attempts (62.5 percent) for 1,058 yards but he has only five touchdown passes in seven games to go with seven interceptions. Chryst, more of a running threat, has attempted only 18 passes, completing seven, in backup duty.
Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins was cleared to practice last week after suffering a concussion at Utah three weeks ago. Anu Solomon, out with a knee injury since the first week of the season, also reportedly has returned to practice.
The running games of each team is also questionable despite the fact that Stanford has one-time Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey. Arizona’s Nick Wilson has been injured most of the season with ankle problems and the No. 2 and 3 backs, Orlando Bradford and J.J. Taylor, are lost for the season. Bradford was dismissed from the team for off-the-field issues and Taylor suffered a broken ankle against Washington last month.
Wilner was critical of Stanford’s use of McCaffrey against Colorado last week. He gained 92 yards on 21 carries but his longest gain was 11 yards.
“I was confused by Stanford’s inability to use Christian McCaffrey and (backup) Bryce Love in space,” Wilner writes. “Rarely did it seem like Stanford even tried to get them the ball in space.
“And I was confused by the repeated attempts to run McCaffrey between the tackles on first down. The more resistance Stanford faced, it seemed, the more determined it became — but Colorado knew it was coming and didn’t budge.”
As for the matchup with Arizona, Wilner notes that Stanford is “not as favorable as it once looked” against the Wildcats. The Cardinal, which has won four consecutive games against Arizona dating to 2010, is favored by six.
“At this point, we cannot assume Stanford will score on anybody, even a defense as frail as Arizona’s (33 points per game, 101st in the nation),” he writes. “The Wildcats will be waiting for McCaffrey, and Arizona Stadium is one of the most inhospitable in the conference — it gets loud and can feel cramped to the visitor. …
“Dawkins is a first-class runner, and if you’ve been paying any attention, you’ve probably seen opponents running freely through the middle of Stanford’s defense. … Don’t forget: With Dawkins healthy, Arizona took Washington to overtime. Expect this one to be in doubt in the fourth quarter, and that’s a bad spot for the Cardinal, especially on the road.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.