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Beat-up UA defense's latest test is Cardinal's simple, run-first style

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2012-10-06T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:31:21Z Beat-up UA defense's latest test is Cardinal's simple, run-first styleRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star   Arizona Daily Star
October 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

STANFORD, Calif. - Take Campus Drive to Galvez Street to Nelson Road on a Saturday during the fall, and you're transported to a different age.

Fans pack onto small grass fields onto Stanford's campus, barbecues lit and wine bottles open. Alumni clubs gather on folding chairs, reliving the past. The Cardinal's marching band dresses like volunteers for 1920s presidential candidates, all white hats, bow ties and twirling batons.

Stanford's football team fits the retro vibe perfectly.

In an age of no-huddle offenses, lead-option run plays and go-deep passing routes, the Cardinal play football the way your grandfather probably did: With a power running game, play-action passes and an offensive line that's downright scary.

The Arizona Wildcats defense will be stressed further, and stretched even thinner, when it faces 18th-ranked Stanford (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) today in college football's time capsule. There isn't a tougher matchup on the UA schedule.

"It's unique," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Running a true power set makes you a bit different and unique. I think coaches who do that like to be unique. I don't want to speak for them, but I like to be unique on offense and defense as well. Stanford is one of the few teams in our league that do that and it gives them a bit of an advantage."

Stanford is led by tailback Stepfan Taylor, who has run for 235 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games against the UA. The Cardinal's offensive line is big, and surprisingly quick; tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are arguably the nation's best at their positions.  

Rodriguez said stopping the tight ends will be "like eating an elephant," a task made tougher by an Arizona defense that's essentially toothless.

Safety Jared Tevis and defensive end Reggie Gilbert are questionable to play today because of ankle injuries, and defensive end Dominique Austin (foot) won't dress at all.

Linebacker Jake Fischer and "Spur" Tra'Mayne Bondurant continue to play well, but can only do so much. The Wildcats are surrendering 166.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12 and 73rd nationally. Stanford will try to emphasize the run early; there's no reason to think it can't be successful.

"In a big power set, (gaining) 3, 4 yards is pretty big because they're going to come back and (run) power again, 3 to 4 yards, then 3 to 4 yards again. It softens defenses up," UA linebacker Marquis Flowers said. "We have to go body-for-body.

"It's not any of that speed stuff. It's not any of that high-tempo stuff. It's basic football. Who's going to be tougher?"

The Wildcats (3-2, 0-2) will counter with a no-huddle offense that's as sleek as Stanford's is stodgy. Quarterback Matt Scott (1,608 passing yards, 10 touchdowns) and tailback Ka'Deem Carey (538 yards, seven scores) provide the best opportunity to skirt Stanford's pro-style - and NFL-sized - defense.

To win, Arizona must rediscover the offensive swagger that has slipped away in losses to Oregon State and Oregon. Defensively, the Wildcats must pressure the quarterback and make plays in the backfield. Kicker John Bonano must be perfect, if not close to it, and the once-dormant kickoff return game must improve from Rodriguez's grade of "awful."

It's the only way to go back in time and avoid the inevitable.

"We aren't going to try to muscle up," Carey said. "They're big, but we're fast."

TODAY

• What: Arizona at No. 18 Stanford

• When: Noon

• TV: Channel 11

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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