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Arizona Wildcats vs. Stanford Cardinal Preview and Prediction

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

Stanford cruises into this game on the crest of two victories in Pac-12, both by double digits on the road. Arizona received a reality check after three wins against two teams from Group of 5 conferences then an FCS foe. UCLA applied a 26-point spanking on the Wildcats in Tucson.

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These two programs first met on the gridiron in 1979, Arizona's second year in what was then the Pac-10. The all-time series is tied at 14 wins apiece.  Arizona leads the series in Palo Alto, 7-6. 

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Arizona at Stanford

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Stanford -14

Three Things to Watch

1. Cardinal battering ram bludgeons Wildcats' run defense?

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The Cardinal struggled to run the ball at Northwestern, managing only 85 yards. They have steadily increased their rushing yards per game by 45, 65 and 130 in successive games. The number of rushing TDs per game also increased over the course of September, from zero to one to three to four. The average number of yards per rushing attempt has risen from 3.1 to 3.2 to 4.0 to 6.8. The Cardinal juggernaut is gaining momentum to run over and grind opponents into the turf as they are engineered to do.

The Wildcats have allowed their three FBS opponents to gain 191.3 rushing yards on average. Additionally, they have allowed eight touchdowns on the ground in those games. Can Jeff Casteel find a way to transform his players into a reincarnation of "Desert Swarm" or, at least, not be trampled in a rout?

2.  Status of one Arizona's QBs and the potential of another one

Anu Solomon sustained a concussion against UCLA. His replacement, Jarrard Randall, actually has had more rushing attempts (22) than passes thrown (19) during the season. His number of touchdowns and interceptions are the same: one apiece. His total number of passing yards for this season equals 58 with a 31.6 completion percentage. 

While this might appear as a cause for dread for the Wildcats, it is not necessarily a guarantee of offensive struggles. Randall has averaged 15.3 yards per carry. He is the second-leading rusher for Arizona in terms of yards gained (337) and touchdowns scored (4). Replacing Solomon due to serious injury is not how Rich Rodriguez would have chosen to increase the involvement this running threat. However, his skill will preclude Stanford from inundating a green quarterback with a multitude of blitzes without fear of his burning the defense with long scrambles or planned quarterback keepers.

3.  Confidence vs. Desperation

Stanford leads the Pac-12North by one half of a game over that other university in the Bay Area.  Their offensive outputs have improved by more than 230 yards per game since the debacle in Evanston. Can the Cardinal stay on this upward track while not looking past Arizona and with UCLA on the horizon?

Arizona is tied with their in-state rivals for last place in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats cannot afford to start 0-2 in conference play if they have any hope of repeating as divisional champions. Has the loss of their starting quarterback while being steam rolled at home crushed their confidence?

Final Analysis

Stanford has steadily improved over the course of September. The Cardinal has been able to follow their blueprint of the way that they want to play: pound the ball to wear out opponents while mixing in some passes to keep the defenses off balance. The Cardinal defense will be able to hold down the Wildcats' one-dimensional offense enough with a comfortable cushion of points en route to victory.

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Prediction: Stanford 41, Arizona 27

— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.