Looking at Arizona going into last Saturday’s game against Stanford, many Cal fans found themselves asking, “Just how good are these guys?’
Statistically, these Wildcats were impressive. Prior to their game against Stanford, they had led the conference in Offensive Pts/Game at 43.6, were 3rd in Total Offense (428.6 yards per game) and rushing (170.4 yards per game).
Defensively, the Wildcats appeared to be even more impressive. Arizona had been 2nd in the nation in total defense, allowing only 226.2 yards per game, and were second in the conference in scoring defense (15.2 PPG). The secondary, led the conference in passing yards allowed (118.8 yards per game) and were third in rushing defense, only giving up 107.4 yards per game.
All of the statistics contributed to a 4-1 record and the best start for Arizona during the Mike Stoops era. Going into last weekend, the Wildcats stood atop the Pac-10 conference, tied with Cal with a 2-0 conference record.
As impressive as the stats were, a closer look revealed just how incredibly misleading they were. It was a classic case of Arizona-State-2007-itis. Also better known as “soft schedule leads to inflated record” syndrome. Arizona’s wins had come over a Idaho (1-6), Toledo (2-4), UCLA (2-4), and Washington (0-5); opponents with a combined 5-19 record.
Any Arizona fan would be quick to argue, “Well that’s what good teams do: beat teams they’re supposed to beat…except for New Mexico.” Understandable. Even the best teams falter every once and a while. And the Wildcats did beat those team, and in decisive fashion.
But then Saturday happened.
Cal fans were left to speculate as to what exactly took place during Arizona’s untelevised 24-23 defeat to Stanford. Upon a closer look at the box score, and some further analysis, a few things became clear:
Arizona may not be so good against the run.
Stanford decided to run the ball down Arizona’s throat, and the Wildcats had nothing to say about it. Stanford rushed for 286 yards against Zona. 286 yards? Wait, two hundred and what? Wasn’t this the 3rd best run defense in the conference? I plugged on with my research. Okay, 64 yards to the Vandals…74 yards to Toledo…wait, 221 yards to New Mexico? What the heck is going on here? My mind was swirling like Tom Hanks in the Da Vinci Code.
It became obvious that Arizona’s previously impressive statistics against the run had been greatly deflated by the lack of a running game they had seen in those wins including facing the two worst rushing attacks in the conference (besides WSU) in UCLA and Washington sans leading rusher Jake Locker.
In a way, Stanford’s running success against Arizona is looking more and more like a revelation than an aberration.
Arizona may not be so good with the run
Arizona went into their game against a mostly mediocre Stanford run defense that had previously been 5th in the conference against the run, allowing 120.5 yards on the ground. On Saturday though, Arizona only managed 77 yards. Way out of character for a running offense that had averaged over 170 a game prior to that. Or was it? Again, have to take a look at the New Mexico game…yep, just as I thought, Arizona only managed 67 yards on the ground there.
Looking at the previous conference run defenses they had faced, we see that UCLA and Washington were both on the bottom of the conference totem pole in rushing yards allowed with the Bruins and Huskies giving up on average, 171.3 and 233.4 yards on the ground.
Huh…so all this time I had just assumed that Arizona, one of the worst rushing teams in the conference last year, had suddenly just gotten really really good. While Arizona may have improved, I’m thinking it’s more that the teams they’ve faced have just been really really bad at defending the run.
So in the End…
…I don’t know THAT much more about Arizona. On one hand, I’m feeling a bit more confident going into our Saturday game, knowing that most of Zona’s success is probably a lot of smoke and mirrors created by their subpar competition.
On the other hand, there’s still something about going to Tuscon that scares me. Perhaps it's the lingering fear that Arizona may be a genuine conference threat this year with their improved spread offense, and defensive prowess. Or maybe it’s the flashes of Desean Jackson’s large toe, goal deficiencies, the Hawk’s ability to stand upright for just one more yard, or Nate Longshore pick six…needless to say I’m scurred.
However, the most perplexing part of this whole discussion may be the appearance of a new and more annoying question: “Just how good is Stanford?”
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 7:00 AM