Two injury-plagued teams will look to move a step closer to getting their seasons back on track Saturday, as Stanford (4-3, 2-3 Pac-12) travels to Tucson to face Arizona (2-5, 0-4).
The game, which may appear somewhat irrelevant on paper, is anything but, as two proud football teams try to salvage their seasons and perhaps a bowl bid, sporting slightly different looks from recent weeks in their respective offenses.
For Stanford, that new look comes in the form of junior quarterback Keller Chryst, who was announced as the starter earlier this week.
“We’re looking for a spark, we’re looking for a change,” offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “We’re looking for somebody to continue to do the things we demand from our quarterback position. We all know the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Now may be an opportune time for Chryst to prove himself as the spark that could ignite the Cardinal offense as Stanford embarks on a five-game stretch against some of the worst defenses in the nation, including Arizona’s, which ranks 114th in the nation in yards allowed per game.
As for the Wildcats, the return of two quarterbacks this week will likely open up the playbook more for head coach Rich Rodriguez. Sophomore Brandon Dawkins, Arizona’s leading passer and rusher for the season, will be back after sustaining a concussion in a loss to Utah, while two-year starter and junior Anu Solomon will be back after an injury suffered during a practice after Week 1 of the season.
“With Anu potentially coming back, the combination of both those two guys, whether one at a time or both on the field at the same time, presents you, as a defense, with some personnel challenges,” head coach David Shaw said. “You have to make sure that if both of them are on the field, you know where they are. We have to be cautious of containing both of them.”
The likely return of the pair comes as a huge relief to Arizona after a horrific quarterback situation last week in which reserve senior tight end Matt Morin entered the game in relief of true freshman quarterback Khalil Tate after Tate went 7-of-18 with just 58 yards and an interception in an ugly 48-14 loss to USC.
Stanford has won the last four meetings between the two teams, including a 55-17 Stanford win last year that showcased Stanford’s efficient and explosive offense.
Although an offense of that caliber might not be on display Saturday, Stanford certainly hopes for a significant increase in point production from its current 17 points per game — which ranks 126th of 128 teams nationally — while maintaining its effective play on defense that bent but did not break against an explosive Colorado offense last week.
“The defense is playing as well as it can play. We should be able to score points with the personnel we have on the offensive side — that’s the bottom line there,” said Shaw.
But with a new week comes new obstacles, and those obstacles have manifested in injuries in yet another week for the Cardinal.
Junior cornerback Alijah Holder has been ruled out for the rest of the season, and both senior offensive linemen David Bright and Johnny Caspers are listed as questionable for the week, adding more uncertainty to an already inconsistent O-line.
Arizona’s injury issues also haven’t been solved with the return of its two signal-callers, as its offense will still be missing a key piece in junior running back Nick Wilson, who will be out for some time with a knee injury — and Wilson is only one of many banged-up Wildcats.
“It’s hard to separate the two teams right now because we’re both pretty much in the same spot where if both teams were healthy and both were playing at their best, they’d probably be two of the better teams in our conference,” Shaw said.
“You have two teams that play with a lot of emotion. You have two teams that have talent and ability, and even in the games [Arizona] loses, they make some big plays in all three phases. I think this game has a chance to be exciting. I think there are some really good players in it. I think you have two prideful teams, and they’re going to get after it Saturday night in the desert.”
Kickoff is at 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
Contact Samuel Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu.