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Depleted Arizona Defensive Line Faces Challenge in Stepfan Taylor

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Awaiting Arizona this weekend on The Farm is one of the best running backs in the conference, Stanford senior Stepfan Taylor. And awaiting Taylor is a Wildcat defensive front feeling the burden of lacking depth.

Arizona Daily Star beat writer Ryan Finley tweeted that Dom Austin is out, which could translate to more Taimi Tutogi working off the line.

Tutogi's willingness to contribute in whatever fashion he can is impressive, but what initially began as a Plan B is looking like a Plan Only.

The good news for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's unit is Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes has not been terribly impressive as heir to Andrew Luck. He was unable to engineer a touchdown drive in Stanford's loss last week at Washington.

The good news for Stanford is if the supremely talented Taylor can get going, Nunes doesn't need to be impressive. Against a USC defense with its own defensive line issues, Taylor rushed for 153 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving.

Taylor has been out of the spotlight playing with Luck and 2009 Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart, but developed into a truly elite player in that time. He now plays behind one of the most NFL-like offensive lines in the conference.

"I was looking at their size and I didn't want to look at them a great deal because I didn't want to get too discouraged," UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said in his weekly press conference. "Looking at the size of their tight ends and their backs and their offensive line, this might be the biggest team in college football."

Of everything in which Jim Harbaugh did during his miraculously quick turnaround of the Cardinal, perhaps the most noteworthy is finding bumper crops of 300-plus-pound, athletic, Ivy League-level students. Even losing two NFL first rounders, the Cardinal simply reloaded.

Such a match-up is where the wild card of Casteel's 3-3-5 stack comes into play. UA must disrupt Nunes as much as possible when the Cardinal is in passing situations. The bevy of tight ends David Shaw has in his offense provides Nunes hard-to-miss targets when he has time to throw.

Washington excelled both pressuring Nunes, but perhaps more importantly limiting Taylor. He averaged less than four yards per carry against the Husky defense.

"We haven't had much success with getting sacks and blitzes," Rodriguez pointed out. "You want to bring pressure and not give the quarterback all day to throw, but at the same time you want your corners playing well. It's a balance."

Conversely, few offenses have been as balanced in recent years as Stanford's. Tipping the scale a little more to the pass side benefits the Wildcats.