A disappointing defeat last week to Colorado has the Stanford Cardinal searching for answers. With a matchup against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, the Cardinal hope a change in quarterback will spark their offense.
Vanilla has been the current trend for the Stanford Cardinal offense. Since a blowout loss to Washington, the wheels have come off for a Stanford team that entered the season with big expectations. Instead, a 4-3 record has seen the offense struggle, leaving the defense with the task of keeping Stanford in the game.
Last week, a dismal Cardinal offense couldn’t find a breakthrough against the Buffaloes, to the displeasure of Stanford supporters.
This week, coach David Shaw decided to make a change in hopes of sparking Stanford’s offense from being vanilla again. Keller Chryst will make his first start at quarterback against Arizona, replacing Ryan Burns. Chryst has seen limited action this season but has shown he can extend drives when given the opportunity.
Chryst is on target to play the whole game, and Coach Shawhas no intention of switching to Burns at any point.
Stanford is in dire need of some points. Scoring four touchdowns in the last five games while committing 12 turnovers just doesn’t make the cut for an offense ranked last in scoring offense and total offense. Burns may not be at fault for the offensive struggles, but his turnovers last week left the Cardinal defensive efforts in vein.
Burns has not been the sole reason for Stanford’s offensive struggles. The Cardinal offensive line has been unable to win battles at the line of scrimmage. Inability to block and create gaps from running backs Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love have rendered the ground game a non-threat for opponents. Known for “Smash mouth” football in the past years that wears down opponents, Stanford’s rushing attack this season has been nowhere near that level.
Injuries to the offensive line have kept the Cardinal offense from staying in-sync. This week could see more of a makeshift offensive line with David Bright and Johnny Caspers both questionable with injuries. Also, fullback Daniel Marx will miss the game due to injury and could be out longer.
Despite the offensive struggles, Stanford is favored to win against Arizona. Chryst is in a good position to re-ignite an offense against an Arizona defense ranked 114th out of 128 FBS teams.
Back in 2014, Rich Rodriguez looked to take Arizona into a new era as Pac-12 contenders. A signature victory at Oregon vaulted the Wildcats as favorites to win the conference championship. The hype did not last, as Oregon got the last laugh by defeating Arizona in the conference championship game. A trip to the inaugural College Football Playoff also resulted from the victory.
Signature victories have been the norm since Rodriguez took over at Arizona. However, these victories were short-lived as expectations fizzled quickly. Lack of consistency has been the issue for a program looking to make noise in the Pac-12. This season, chances of a big victory appear unlikely, as the Wildcats have not won a conference game and are 2-5 on the season.
The injury bug has hit Arizona offensively, leading to struggles of their own. Quarterbacks Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins have suffered injuries during the season. Both are expected to be healthy this week against Stanford but Rodriguez has yet to name a starter.
Whoever is named the starter, the Wildcats will be without running back Nick Wilson. A knee injury will sideline the starter from carving up the Cardinal defense. Zach Green will look to fill the Wilson’s shoes and get the ground game moving. Along with Green, receiver Samajie Grant has moved to running back.
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Due to the injuries on offense, production has been a struggle for the Wildcats. However, the team features plenty of talented receivers that make plays. Shun Brown has been the top performer, averaging about 17 yards per reception. Trey Griffey, the son of Ken Griffey Jr., has been a solid performer with 305 yards receiving on 17 catches. Grant may be handling rushing duties, but could line up as a receiver with three touchdowns this year.
Against Colorado, Stanford’s defense looked dominant at times, making critical stops to give the offense a chance to score. Solomon Thomas and Joey Alfieri combined for three sacks and disrupted the pocket. The two, along with Harrison Phillips, will need to bring consistent pressure to keep Arizona’s offense out of rhythm.
The Cardinal secondary will be shorthanded again as starting cornerback Alijah Holder is out for the season after reinjuring his right shoulder against Colorado. He originally suffered the injury against UCLA and missed a few games before returning last week. Quenton Meeks and Dallas Lloyd must answer the call to break up passing attempts.
With Chryst having little experience this season, Arizona’s defense will look to push around Stanford’s makeshift offensive line. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has improved each game and will look to continue the trend. Dane Cruikshank and Jarvis McCall Jr. look to make big plays defensively to force the Cardinal offense off the field.
Offensively, Stanford’s receivers need to step up for Chryst to gain confidence during the game. Trent Irwin and Michael Rector will be critical to any success. Should the running game and passing game prove effective, normalcy could return to an anemic Cardinal offense looking to strike each drive.
Right now, the objective is fixing a struggling offense. Chryst has been given the reigns and hopes to be the solution. Arizona currently rides a four-game losing streak and will bring the physicality in hopes to snap the skid. Pride is on the line for both teams with expectations no longer a possibility. Hopefully, for Stanford, the playbook will be something other than vanilla.