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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Cats, Cardinal connect for conference clash”

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Finally, the Arizona football team has a home game.

The last time the Wildcats (3-2, 1-1 Pacific 10 Conference) suited up in front of fans at Arizona Stadium was Sept. 12 against NAU. Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. against Stanford (4-2, 3-1 Pac-10), the Wildcats will face a completely different type of team in a much more important game.

NAU ran a spread offense while the Cardinals boast a stellar running attack led by the nation’s fourth-leading rusher in senior Toby Gerhart.

“”It’s their system that presents a challenge, but the guy running (the football) is just another part of it and their schemes. They block extremely well and do a great job of getting (Gerhart) started,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”That’s the thing you really notice is that they get him going downhill and that’s when he’s the most challenging, when he gets a little burst going. They do an excellent job of creating running seams to get him going.””

While Gerhart garners most of the attention, the most important factor in this game could be each team’s desire to bounce back, as each school dropped a conference game on the road last weekend.

And the Wildcats are looking to bounce back in general. Arizona has dropped two straight and only have one win against a gritty Cardinal program since 2002.

“”They’re just kind of a blue-collar team. They just kind of have the mentality of their head coach, and I think they take a lot of pride in being a blue-collar team and playing that way. And they do a good job of doing that,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”They play hard, they play confident and they don’t make mistakes, and they’re well coached. They’re one of those teams that take care of everything.””

Though a perceived weakness during preseason, Stanford’s quarterback play has been surprisingly good. Freshman signal caller Andrew Luck has guided his team to a 3-1 Pac-10 record and uses the threat of Gerhart to make big plays off of play action. With a somewhat hobbled UA defense — defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and defensive line Brooks Reed are both coming off of injuries — the combination of Gerhart and Luck could pose problems for the Wildcats.

“”Every time he steps on the field you can see he gets more comfortable throwing the football, they get more comfortable with him in their offense,”” Stoops said. “”He’s more than capable of making every throw. He’s a very strong, accurate passer and they do a good job of spreading the football around.””

The Wildcats might match up best with the Stanford defense, but that doesn’t mean that Arizona will march right down the field each time it gets the ball. While there’s no big name on the Cardinal defense, the group works well as a unit and can give opposing offense fits — see the 34-14 beat down they handed then-No. 24 Washington on Sept. 26.

“”They play real hard every play, they’re high-motor guys who are going to come out there and play every down,”” said UA center Colin Baxter. “”They’re not going to take plays off, and they’re going to be relentless, so we’ve got to exceed that and beat them at their own game.””

 

UA players to watch

Nick Foles, sophomore quarterback — How will Arizona’s quarterback play coming off of the loss to the Huskies? With running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin still not at 100 percent, Foles’ arm could be relied on more against Stanford. If Foles can shake off last week’s bad ending and play consistently this weekend, Arizona should be in good shape.

Delashaun Dean, junior wide reciever — The Wildcats still haven’t found a replacement for tight end Rob Gronkowski’s red zone production. Dean was nursing a hamstring injury early in the season but seems to be close to fully healthy now. Expect the 6-foot-4 wide out to get chances to make big plays when the UA gets close to the endzone.

Cam Nelson, senior free safety — Nelson is one of the leaders for a stingy UA defense that ranks 17th in total defense. If Nelson doesn’t have to help out very often to stop Toby Gerhart and can focus on making plays in the secondary, it could be a long day for the Cardinals.

UA’s keys to the game

Cut down the big tree — Borrowing a line from former SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick; you can’t stop Toby Gerhart, you can only hope to contain him. And if the Wildcats can contain Gerhart — mainly by tackling him low and gang tackling — they’ll give themselves the best shot at a win.

Limit big plays — Arizona’s been killed by big plays in its two losses: a big run by Iowa on third-and-long hurt badly and Washington lived off of big plays last week. If Stanford doesn’t break any big runs or catch the Wildcats on a long play-action pass, it will be hard for Stanford to dink and dunk its way to a win.

Zona Zoo —The Wildcats did well to split a pair of Pac-10 road games to start conference play, and they’re itching to play in front of the home fans again. Arizona will have the home crowd behind it for the first time in over a month, and that extra energy boost could make the difference in this game.

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