The outcome of this weekend’s Duel in the Desert, Tussle in Tucson, Assault in Arizona, or whatever clever name you wish to give it, will weigh extremely heavy on the unfortunate team that comes out the loser.
This matchup has quickly become a “must win” game for both Stanford and Arizona.
Each team suffered an early loss in conference play, and another loss this weekend would be greatly detrimental to any conference title hopes these teams may think they have.
With the Pac-10 Conference powerhouses still slated ahead for both squads, it could be wins in these types of games that go a long way in solidifying their true goal...a bowl bid.
Stanford’s loss in Corvallis appeared to be devastating. It took a shot at their conference record, their psyche, and the lofty expectations that fans had carelessly placed on this developmental team.
But for the fans and critics inching closer to the ledge, take a deep breath, pop a Valium, and give it a little bit more time.
After a first glance at the 2009 schedule, Oregon State was one of the road games that many people thought the Cardinal would lose. However, five weeks of dazzling football by Stanford accompanied by exactly the opposite from the Beavers persuaded many to change their minds.
Unfortunately, here we are, right back at the point in the Cardinal’s schedule where we thought they would have their first conference loss.
But don’t worry—the sky isn’t falling...not just yet.
Stanford desperately needs to rebound and to do it fast. They can’t afford to sink down the hole any further.
The Wildcats play their first home game in over a month, and the fans in the desert should be ready to rock.
Arizona is coming off two weeks of solid football, even though they only have one conference win to show for it. Their offense appears to have found a groove, and the bulk of their production is unexpectedly coming from their quarterback.
Sophomore Nick Foles threw his first 300-yard game last week and is becoming more comfortable in the pocket with each start. With this surprisingly rapid development of the passing game and the potentially productive Nic Grigsby still in the backfield, Arizona’s offense all of a sudden has a formidable one-two punch.
The Cardinal have an undeniably tall task ahead, but this game is well within their reach. The desert has been one of the few road venues where Stanford has found success this decade, posting a juicy 3-0 record.
There are five MUSTS that Stanford absolutely needs to achieve this weekend if they have any hope of winning this game and holding onto their fleeting Pac-10 Champion dreams.
No. 1: Toby Gerhart MUST rush for over 105 yards
In Toby Gerhart’s four seasons as a Cardinal, Stanford is 9-1 when he rushes for over 105 yards. Getting Gerhart enough touches is never really the problem, but like last weekend, he will be facing a pretty stingy rush defense.
Arizona’s defense has only allowed one player to rush for over 100 yards this season and is currently ranked fourth in the Pac-10 with 98.8 rushing yards against. But if Gerhart can find ways to break off a handful of big runs, the Cardinal are almost guaranteed a victory.
No. 2: Andrew Luck MUST pass for over 300 yards
The buzz around Andrew Luck’s talent and potential is slowly dying down. Fans are more than ready to see some fireworks from this kid, and now would be a great time for Luck to provide them with a show.
A 300-plus-yard game for Luck could ignite a fire within this offense and take their production to an entirely different level.
Andrew’s arm has shown that it's capable of making the long throw, and it is absolutely necessary he learns how to use this weapon as quickly as possible, because next season there won’t be a bull in the backfield to lean on.
No. 3: Both sides of the ball MUST own the red zone
The red zone hasn’t been a pleasant area for the Cardinal on both offense and defense.
Their defense is allowing teams to score at a 90.9 percent clip, and their 13 touchdowns allowed are third worst in the Pac-10.
Things don’t get any better on offense. Stanford currently ranks second to last in red zone offense accuracy, scoring only 77.3 percent of the time, and dead last with five turnovers.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, Arizona’s red zone defense is the worst in the Pac-10. They have yet to stop a team from scoring and have only held teams to a field goal twice.
An improvement in these numbers by Stanford is definitely possible and could drastically change the makeup of this game.
No. 4: The defensive line MUST get in Foles' face
Nick Foles is getting comfortable...maybe a little too comfortable. Stanford’s defense needs to turn up the heat on the underclassman and disrupt the HELL out of his timing.
Getting to the quarterback won’t be that easy.
Arizona’s offensive line is tied for first in sacks allowed (with Stanford), and outside of the Iowa game, they have hardly let Foles' jersey touch the grass. However, like Iowa’s defense, Stanford’s defense can be very disruptive, accumulating 13 sacks and four quarterback hits this season.
If Stanford has any chance of slowing down this passing game, its D-line needs to continue to create havoc and knock this young quarterback down as often as possible.
No. 5: Chris Owusu MUST create noise whenever possible
It’s been a couple games since we have seen Chris Owusu take a kickoff return to the house, but we couldn’t really have expected to get that on a consistent basis.
Owusu needs to find more ways to show off his power and speed. The wide receiver screen seems to be his bread and butter, but teams are quickly catching on.
I’d like him to catch more balls over the middle—and anywhere possible, really. Get the ball in the hands of your playmakers, and good things will happen.
Owusu has all of the fixings to be an amazing playmaker. Let's give him more chances to see what he can cook up.