When Arizona travels to Palo Alto to take on Stanford this Saturday the stakes will be high as each team is out to prove that they belong in the upper echelon of the Pac-10.
Both have been bottom dwellers in the conference over the past few years and this season are both poised to make some noise and potentially make a bowl appearance, which is something sorely needed by each program.
The Wildcats pose a significant offensive threat and the Cardinal defense will need to prepare well in order to stop it as they rank 112th nationally in passing defense at 273.8 yards per game.
The team is better against the run though and comes in ranked 44th in the country in that category, forfeiting 120.5 yards per game.
That all starts up front with the defensive line that is solid inside featuring 6-foot-2, 310-pound senior Ekom Udofia and 6-foot-2, 305-pound sophomore Sione Fua. The big-bodied duo has combined for 21 tackles this season with three for a loss of yards.
Applying pressure off the edges for the Cardinal are 6-foot-6, 275-pound senior Pannel Egboh and 6-foot-4, 270-pound Erik Lorig. Lorig is the leading tackler on the defensive line with 22 tackles in addition to two fumble recoveries and .5 sacks while Egboh has chipped in with 16 tackles and a sack.
The linebacking unit for Stanford is one to take serious note of if for no other reason than it contains leading tackler and sacker Pat Maynor. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior has 51 stops and four sacks on the year and is the primary threat on the defense against the run from his position on the weak side.
Maynor's counterpart on the strong side will be 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior Clinton Snyder, who comes into Saturday's game with 31 tackles, a sack and an impressive three forced fumbles.
Lining up inside those two at the middle backer position is 6-foot-3, 239-pound sophomore Nick Macaluso who has 14 tackles.
The Cardinal secondary contains three of the top five tacklers on the team and that in itself says a little something about the defense as a whole in that lots of ball carriers make it past the front seven.
Junior Kris Evans and senior Wopamo Osaisai are the top two tacklers in the defensive backfield, ranking number two and four on the team in tackles respectively.
Evans has recorded 39 stops in 2008 and leads the team in interceptions with two. He also has a sack and two passes defended. Osaisai is just barely behind with 38 tackles and leads the team in passes broken up with five.
Junior safety Bo McNally is tied with Evans for second in total tackles with 39 and also has a sack and interception on the year. More than likely, starting alongside McNally will be redshirt freshman Sean Wiser at the free safety spot.
Performing well in place of the injured Austin Yancy, Wiser has 24 tackles and a pass break up this season.
Arizona's 5 Keys to
Stanford boasts a fairly stout run defense and the Wildcats have shown at times to be inconsistent at running the football for a full game. Nicolas Grigsby and company will need to step it up in order to help provide a balanced attack.
2. Test the secondary:
The Cardinal secondary has shown that it can be burned deep and has been suspect in coverage all year. With Arizona's weapons at wide receiver it should open up the playbook right off the bat and see just how ready the 112th ranked pass defense is to play.
3. Dominate the ball:
The longer the UA offense can stay on the field, the better. A couple of nice, long, sustained drives would be nice so that Toby Gerhart and company spend most of the game on the sideline where they can do little damage.
4. Stay mentally in the game:
Penalties and turnovers will kill any chance the Wildcats have of winning this game and as such they need to be kept to a minimum. That starts with the offensive line not only on the penalty front, but in protecting Willie Tuitama so that he has time to make good decisions and isn't put in a position where he can turn the ball over.
5. Hit Gronk: With suspect pass D and a freshman free safety, Rob Gronkowski presents even more of a matchup nightmare than he normally does, which is pretty significant to begin with. Obviously he will be a big part of what the offense does toward the red zone but a couple of seam routes would be nice to see as he will win any matchup between him and a Cardinal safety or linebacker.