Wildcats looking for upset

Wildcats looking for upset

One week after a disappointing loss to Oklahoma State, Arizona will return home Saturday to face Stanford. Read on to see which players to look out for, the keys to the game, and more.

It's not always easy taking over a team after its star head coach leaves for another job; but for David Shaw, replacing now 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh probably couldn't be any easier.

After serving under Harbaugh for four years as the team's offensive coordinator, Shaw became Stanford's head coach following the 2010 season in which the team set new records for wins and conferences wins with the highest scoring offense in school history.

The transition to head coach was also made much easier by Andrew Luck's decision to forego the NFL and return to Stanford. The reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Luck is widely considered the best quarterback in the country and may be the top overall player in the nation as well.

Stanford opened the season as the number six team in the country behind the strong right arm of Luck and the strength of the offensive line, which has allowed just 13 sacks in two seasons and returns two All-Pac-10 selections in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. The media selected the Cardinal to finish as runner-up to Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division this season, but Stanford will surely be in the running for the title and a BCS berth all season long.

When these two teams met a season ago, Arizona was at a crossroads. Ranked as the nation's 15th team at the time, UA had a chance on ESPN to show that its 7-1 start was for real and not just a product of a favorable schedule to start the season. The Cardinal 42-17 romp of the Wildcats sent Mike Stoops' team into a tailspin from which it is still trying to recover.

These two teams meet under very different circumstances this time around. UA has now lost six out of its past seven games, and has three games approaching against three of the Pac-12's best teams. At 1-1 following an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State, Arizona can ill afford another defeat and is at risk of letting the entire season spiral out of control.

Stanford players to watch:

#33- RB, Stepfan Taylor: While the 5-foot-11, 208 pound junior rushed for only 82 yards on 19 carries against UA in 2010, Taylor also ran for four scores. He put up over 1100 yards a season ago and is crucial in setting up the Stanford passing game. He'll get close to 20 carries and while he may not have a huge game, he brings a certain toughness to the position and picks up the tough yards Stanford needs in crunch time.

#81- WR, Chris Owusu: In his last two outings against Arizona, the senior wide out has posted 14 catches for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns; including setting career highs in the 2010 contest with 9 catches for 165 yards and a score. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver is fully healthy this season, and will be looked to early, often, and deep down field all game long.

#55- LT, Jonathan Martin: Perhaps the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, Martin is considered one of the top offensive tackles in college football and anchors an offensive line for Stanford that has allowed just 13 sacks over the past two seasons. Protecting Luck's backside may be one of the highest pressured jobs there is, the 6-foot-6, 304-pound junior uses his size and strength to swallow opposing pass rushers and keep his quarterback upright.

#99- NT, Terrence Stephens: Stanford's 3-4 defense is entirely dependent on having a strong presence up front to occupy opponent's offensive linemen and prevent them from blocking the team's talented group of linebackers. How well Stephens can eat up space and keep Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas free to make tackles will play a huge role in how well the Cardinal can stop Arizona on the ground.

#93-MLB, Trent Murphy: At 6-foot-6, 246 pounds, the Phoenix native is exactly the type of linebacker that excels in the 3-4 scheme; as he has the size to rush the passer and stop the run but also possesses the athleticism to drop into coverage. Largely due to injuries, Murphy is the least experienced of Stanford's four starting linebackers, and as a result may be tested early in the run game to prove he's capable of producing at the Pac-12 level. If he holds his own, it may be a long night for the Wildcats on the ground.

#26- SS, Delano Howell: A second team All-Pac-10 selection as a junior, the 5-foot-11, 198-pound senior has emerged as the Cardinal leader in the secondary. After spending his freshman year as a running back, Howell recorded five interceptions in 2010 and has seven total for his career. With 138 tackles in two season, it's quite obvious Howell has a nose for the football and is someone Nick Foles will need to account for in the secondary on each and every play.

Keys to the game:

1. Take some risks: The game plan to start the Oklahoma State game was just too conservative on both sides of the ball. Arizona will need to mix up its play calling on offense and try to catch Luck off guard with some blitzes and disguised coverages on defense. It may be a little bit out of UA's comfort zone, but it needs to try to find a winning formula from the first snap.

2. Improved secondary play: The defensive backs for Arizona got absolutely torched by Brandon Weeden and OSU in last week's game and will need to make some quick adjustments in order to avoid being picked apart. In his past two outings against Arizona, Luck has completed 66 percent of his passes for 716 yards and five touchdowns. That trend must be reversed if the Wildcats want to stay in Saturday's game.

3. Neutralize Owusu: The senior wide receiver is the lone big play threat for Luck down the field, and he's done very well against Arizona in the past. If UA can slow down Stanford's number one target, it will force Luck into shorter throws and longer drives in order to put points on the boards.

4. Play 3-on-3 up front: The offensive line for Arizona can ill afford to double team in the trenches and leave Skov and Thomas unblocked. Whichever lineman draws a Cardinal defensive lineman on a given play, he'll need to win the battle one-on-one and allow the other offensive linemen to advance to the second level and put a hat on the Stanford linebackers.

5. Forget last week: The last thing Arizona can afford to do is come out without full confidence and belief in itself that it has what it takes to beat Stanford. It can ill afford to come out less than 100 percent ready and mentally prepared for the very tall order of beating a top 10 team.

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