It's a few days from knowing the truth: Will the Arizona Wildcats show up against the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal or will they once again wilt to a more talented team? I'm sure you're all very
optimistic nervous to finding out. In the meantime, we caught up with Scott Allen of Rule of Tree (they asked us some questions over on their site as well) to find out what's new with Stanford following the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh. Unfortunately for the Wildcat fans, that Andrew Luck dude is still on the Cardinal, so, ya know, things could get ugly. How ugly?
AZDS: Obviously, you all lost Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers after a great season in 2010. How well is David Shaw replacing Harbaugh in the recruiting and game-time decisions thus far, and how big is the drop-off as far as expectations from the fans considering losing a head coach will probably have a transitional period?
RoT: Recruiting-wise, Stanford hasn't really skipped a beat since Harbaugh left. Initially, that was a serious concern, especially after a couple of players backed out of verbal commitments. The recent success of the program, coupled with the continuity that Shaw and his staff provide, continue to make Stanford an attractive option for academically inclined recruits.
As for game-time decisions, the jury is still out. Shaw hasn't had to make any tough calls and Stanford has kept its offense fairly vanilla in back-to-back blowouts. The Cardinal rebounded well from a sloppy first half against Duke, which was a good sign.
Expectations haven't changed much, at least for this year. A lot of fans, myself included, think a return trip to the BCS is a legitimate possibility with Andrew Luck back. If Stanford falls short, it won't be because of the new coaching staff. There are a lot of players who are adjusting to increased roles this season.
AZDS: I understand Stanford plays with a 3-4 defensive scheme. How do you think they'll use that to their advantage in stopping Arizona's aerial attack and any semblance of a run game?
RoT: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio introduced the 3-4 last year and it was a huge success, as Stanford recorded three shutouts. Part of its effectiveness is due to the fact that many teams aren't used to seeing it, but Stanford's front seven includes some playmakers. The scheme depends heavily on the nose tackle and Stanford has a new starter at the position in Terrence Stephens. He's done a nice job so far, taking on blockers, stopping the run, and freeing up the Cardinal's two outside linebackers, led by Chase Thomas, to get to the QB. Thomas and Shayne Skov are two of the best linebackers in the conference and have been all over the field in the first two games. I expect Arizona to come out throwing, so I think it's important for Stanford to put some pressure on Foles.
AZDS: If there's one glaring weakness for the Cardinal, what is it and do you think the Wildcats have the talent opposite of that to take advantage of it?
RoT: I wouldn't call it a glaring weakness because Stanford's starting defense hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in its first two games, but I expect the Cardinal secondary to be tested early and often on Saturday. Nick Foles is by far the best quarterback the unit has faced this season -- and one of the best it will see all year -- and Stanford's corners didn't play all that well last week against Duke. I think this could be a tough matchup defensively for the secondary, especially if Juron Criner is able to play.
AZDS: Andrew Luck has been pretty darn good since his freshman season. Is there any one thing that's different about him this season compared to the last two?
RoT: Shaw says he's more vocal on the sidelines this year than in the past and we saw some of that in the first half of the game against Duke. He was pretty fired up after his pick-six pulled Duke to within three points. Other than that, I think we've gotten a chance to see how he responds to a pass rush. Luck was virtually untouched in his first two seasons as the starter, operating behind one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. With three new starters along the O-line this year, he's taking more hits.
AZDS: Finally, what's your prediction as to how the game goes and the final score?
RoT: Stanford has a chance to make a statement on national TV -- albeit a 10:45 p.m. EST start -- and I think the Cardinal will. Stanford finds its rhythm late in the first quarter by throwing to set up the run and Stepfan Taylor cracks 100 yards for the first time this season. Luck throw for 4 TDs to take firm command to boost his Heisman stock hours after Landry Jones and the Sooners fall to the 'Noles in Tallahassee.
Final score: Stanford 45, Arizona 17.