Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Stanford Cardinal needs to either get better performances from Josh Nunes and their offense, or rely once again on their defense to hold down a very productive Arizona offensive attack.
The Stanford Cardinal have a bottom-tier offense in the Pac-12 and a top-tier defense. That might be good enough to win them plenty of football games, but how many is the question? Offense after offense is coming up for Stanford to try and hold and contain, with multiple styles threatening to test their ability to hold the line.
Stanford gets their first real test of a full-fledged offensive powerhouse when they battle Arizona on Saturday.
USC may have offensive playmakers, but anyone can see the Trojans can be stopped on occasion barring Matt Barkley pitching perfect. Washington's offense isn't much better than Stanford's, and San Jose State has proven they can be held down. With Arizona, the Cardinal meet a team that is fully committed to offense and can move the football down the field with impunity.
The Wildcats have proven they can move the football down the field (although they do have occasional struggles trying to punch it all the way in, as they showed against Toledo and particularly against Oregon). So that should at least guarantee some field goal opportunities against a stiff Cardinal defensive front, and maybe a touchdown or two barring another huge offensive mulligan.
Looking at the other side of the football, Arizona should feel pretty comfortable with their defense. The 3-3-5 seems exactly like the type of scheme that would fluster Josh Nunes, as he will be forced to fit footballs into coverage if the run game gets plugged up. You have to figure that without efficient distribution to Zach Ertz or Levine Toilolo (the mismatches that destroyed Arizona's defensive efforts last year), it'll be tough for Stanford to move down the field with any regularity. And Nunes willl need to rediscover his connection with Ty Mongomery; one or two deep throws might have made all the difference in last week's upset.
The Stanford offense still can't really be counted on to be the dominant unit that'll come out and control clock, field position, and they might never be that type of unit this season given all the upheaval they've had to deal with up front. No, this might be a game where the Stanford defense has to rise and help out their beleaguered quarterback. It's clear that at this point Nunes isn't close to being the type of player who can really make Pac-12 defenses respect him, which puts enormous pressure on the run game to unleash. Stepfan Taylor seems to have struggled to gain consistent yardage with the lack of respect coming Nunes's way. So they'll either need more from Nunes or hope another unit steps up.
That's why the Stanford defense will probably have to show why everyone liked them to do so well this season. Arizona's offense will be right there as the first of many obstacles, and the Cardinal will need to prove that they have the capability to stop them.