Arizona’s season has been derailed by a plethora of injuries, but head coach Rich Rodriguez finally received good news this week following the team’s much-needed bye. Both quarterbacks – Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins – are finally healthy and are expected to see playing time on Saturday.
Solomon started the season-opener against BYU but then suffered a knee injury in practice. Dawkins started the next five games before sustaining a concussion against Utah on October 8, forcing true freshman Khalil Tate into action against USC.
“They’ve been able to practice fully this week,” Rodriguez said of both Solomon and Dawkins. The injuries weren’t isolated to the quarterback position as the Wildcats lost star running back Nick Wilson to a season-ending knee injury. The coaching staff has moved receiver Samajie Grant to running back and is currently listed as a co-starter with Zach Green.
“He’s one of our most explosive players,” Rodriguez said of Grant. Grant has been working as a full-time running back for the past two weeks and will be prepared for Saturday’s Pac-12 Conference game against the Cardinal.
As a high school senior, Grant rushed for 1,495 yards and 24 touchdowns on 112 carries so he’ll be comfortable in his new role for the Wildcats. Arizona has the third-best rushing attack in the Pac-12 Conference, averaging 223.1 yards per game.
Overall, the Wildcats’ offense is 0.7 yards per play better than average (6.2 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 5.5 yards per play), which is impressive in light of the endless number of injuries sustained on that side of the ball.
Arizona’s weakness has been its defense, rating 0.2 yards per play worse than average. However, Stanford’s offense has been equally as inept, rating 0.2 yards per play worse than average.
The advantage Stanford possesses is with its ground attack against a suspect Arizona front seven that is allowing 207 rushing yards per game at 5.5 yards per play this season. Stanford head coach Brian Shaw has decided to start quarterback Keller Chryst, a sophomore with only nine collegiate pass attempts under his belt.
Stanford’s offense is averaging just 15.0 points and 286 total yards per game at 4.7 yards per play and 19.1 yards per point on the road this season, and garnering a woeful 17.0 points and 299 total yards per game at 5.0 yards per play overall in 2016.
Technically speaking, Arizona is 13-5 ATS as a home underdog versus Pac-12 Conference opponents and 10-2 ATS following extended rest (i.e. 2 weeks). My concern, however, is the inherent coaching mismatch in this game as Shaw is vastly superior to Rodriguez, and the Cardinal are 7-0 ATS following an upset loss over the last three seasons.
Stanford plays well on the conference road and hasn’t lost to the Wildcats since 2009 (4-0 SU L/4). Arizona is 4-13 ATS in its last 17 games overall, including 1-8 ATS in its last nine affairs. Scared yet? Stanford also possesses an advantage in special teams.
But, the fact that Stanford is averaging just 16 first downs per game – only Boston College and Illinois have fewer among Power-5 teams – makes me willing to grab the points with a rested and motivated conference home underdog in search of its third win of the season.
Finally, the math does not justify making the Cardinal road favorites in this game. Grab the points in this Pac-12 Conference affair and invest with confidence.