With Stanford football entering a pivotal game against the Arizona Wildcats in Tuscon, senior football analyst Vihan Lakshman sat down with Daily Wildcat sports writer Justin Spears to talk about an injured Wildcats offense and how the Cardinal can exploit Arizona’s weak run defense.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): After taking Washington to overtime in their conference opener, the Wildcats subsequently dropped each of their next three Pac-12 games by double-digit margins. What has been the general team and fan reaction to Arizona’s 0-4 start to conference play, and how much do you think last week’s bye will help Rich Rodriguez’s squad get back on track?
Justin Spears (JS): Arizona, like many other teams in college football, can’t stay healthy, and being plagued by injuries has been the tale of the Wildcats for the past two seasons. Last season, it was the middle linebacker position, and now it’s the running backs as well as the quarterbacks. It’s gotten to the point where head coach Rich Rodriguez had to move two wide receivers into the backfield and a third-string tight end taking reps at quarterback. The fan reaction is evident with attendance decreasing every week, but Rodriguez said in Monday’s press conference that nobody is panicking. It’s a down season for the Wildcats, but a bye week with five games left has the potential to get the key players back on the field and give a chance for Arizona to keep the bowl streak with Rodriguez alive.
TSD: What’s your take on the quarterback situation? What do Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins bring to the table, respectively, and who do you think starts against Stanford Saturday night?
JS: The quarterback situation is at the level of the Cleveland Browns: Just a constant cycle without any production because of injuries and using quarterbacks that aren’t ready for the big stage. Anu Solomon hasn’t seen action since the week one loss against BYU, but he brings veteran leadership because he’s been there and done that. However, he hasn’t been the same since he suffered a pair of concussions last season. Brandon Dawkins is 6-foot-3 and runs like a wide receiver. His arm has been questionable at times, but his ability to extend plays and use his feet adds another dimension to the offense.
TSD: How much will running back Nick Wilson’s absence affect the Wildcats in this matchup? Which offensive playmakers on this team will need to step up?
JS: Imagine Donald Trump saying “huge.” That’s how much his absence will be missed. Nick Wilson is an absolute workhorse, and his inability to stay healthy is a concern because you almost feel like since there are other injuries on the team that he feels like he has to return. Wilson rushed his injuries, and now he’s paying the price potentially for the rest of the season. With other players injured, the best option on offense for Arizona is Shun Brown. He’s only 5-foot-8 but is Arizona’s leading receiver with 361 yards and three touchdowns on the season. They’ll need to use his speed in the open field to have a chance Saturday.
TSD: What is your assessment of the Arizona defense? On one hand, the Wildcats are the only team to date to hold Washington to under 40 points, but Arizona most recently surrendered 48 to USC. How do you think the U of A defense will fare against a Stanford offense that looks completely broken right now?
JS: First-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates came over from Boise State to help establish a new defense. This year’s defense is the guinea pigs for the future, but they’ve shown flashes of brilliance with stunts such as pre-snap movement from the defensive line as well as blitzes from the linebackers. Much like Adoree Jackson from USC, Christian McCaffrey is a weapon on offense and special teams, so the only chance the Wildcats have of stopping him is disallowing him running the ball in open field. That means kicker Josh Pollack has to kick to the other side of the field or kick it high enough to give the gunners extra time to make plays.
TSD: What are your keys to the game for the Wildcats?
JS: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. If Arizona’s defense creates more than two turnovers, whether it’s interceptions or a pair of fumbles, then the Wildcats will win. Arizona has yet to force a turnover in the previous three games and had one against Washington. Just imagine if the Wildcats had another one against the Huskies. You get the idea.
TSD: Do you have any predictions for the final score? How do you expect this game to go?
JS: Stanford always plays Arizona tough because the defense has such a difficult time matching up with the size up front as well as the tight ends. The Cardinal will put up points, which is something they haven’t done in a while, but I think with Arizona coming off a bye week, they return healthier and more prepared. Brandon Dawkins will most likely be the man under center Saturday and if the Cardinal can’t stop his feet, then it’ll be a long evening in the Old Pueblo. With that being said, I have Arizona winning a nail-biter 27-24.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu and Justin Spears at justinspears ‘at’ email.arizona.edu.