Arizona football must size up to Stanford
After four straight matchups with speedy teams running a spread offense, the Wildcats have started a transition into facing opponents with power.
Including No. 14 Oregon State, Arizona (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) is in the middle of a four-game slate of powerful, physical teams, continuing with No. 18 Stanford (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Cardinal is a unique team in that they are one of the few remaining in college football that actively use a Power-I formation as their base offensive package.
Stanford’s tendency to overpower opponents in the run game, in addition to the size they have on both the offensive and defensive lines, does not bode well for an Arizona team that is dealing with injuries from Saturday night’s loss to Oregon State and is particularly thin on the defensive line.
“They come downhill at you quite a bit,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “They’re very unique. We’re way too small defensively, which is a cause for concern. We have to play bigger than what we are on Saturday.”
It’s not just Stanford’s run game that poses a threat to the Wildcats.
In last week’s weekly Monday press conference, linebacker Sir Thomas Jackson mentioned that Oregon State uses “three really huge tight ends.” The same can be said for Stanford.
The Cardinal’s starting tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo both stand above 6-foot-6-inches and weigh more than 250 pounds.
The UA linebacker corps does not have one starter weighing more than 225 pounds, or one player listed as more than 6-foot-4 inches. Jake Fischer, the starting middle linebacker, is only 5-foot-11.
“When you look at the size of their tight ends, and their backs and the O-line, they might be the biggest team in college football,” Rodriguez said. “Those guys aren’t just big, they’re athletic. They can run too.”
Dugandzic gets special teams award
Following his performance Saturday night, Rodriguez and the Arizona coaching staff named senior UA punter Kyle Dugandzic the Special Teams Player of the Week.
Monday, the Pac-12 followed suit and announced that Dugandzic received the conference’s award. In Saturday’s 38-35 loss against No. 14 Oregon State, Dugandzic punted five times for 234 yards, an average of 46.8 yards per kick.
“I’m kind of happy, but I take it with a grain of salt because it came with a loss,” Dugandzic said.
Four of Dugandzic’s punts landed inside the 20-yard line, including two that rolled to a stop inside the 10-yard line. He also was the holder on kicker John Bonano’s five PAT attempts and two field goals.
Late in the third quarter, Dugandzic launched a punt 70 yards and pinned the Beavers on their own five-yard line. According to the punter, this wasn’t the first time he punted the ball 70 yards at the UA.
“I had one in my first spring game here,” Dugandzic said. “It was good to get another one.”
Dugandzic currently ranks third in the Pac-12 and 18th in the nation, averaging 44.89 yards per punt.
Rare early start a positive for Rodriguez
On Saturday at Stanford, the Wildcats will play at noon. It’s the first game with a start time earlier than 7 p.m.
As of now, this is the only day game the Wildcats will have, as start times for the remainder of the schedule have yet to be determined — with the exception of ASU, which will be played at 8:00 p.m.
“That’s going to be a little different,” Rodriguez said of the early start time. “[The players] may like the night games. I like waking up, eating a little breakfast, playing, and getting home at a reasonable hour. I’d be extremely disappointed if they weren’t wide-eyed and ready to go on Saturday.”
Tuesday’s practice, which typically begins at 3:30 p.m. and lasts until about 5:30 p.m., starts at 6 a.m. and will go until about 7:30 a.m., likely to prepare for Saturday’s routine.
Wildcats to reevaluate kickoff returns
Through five games, Arizona has only returned 11 kickoffs for 175 yards, which on average does not even get the offense to the 20-yard line.
The Wildcats are currently 113th in the nation in kickoff return yardage, which Rodriguez has noticed, despite acknowledging that he does not often pay attention to statistics.
“The one that’s been disappointing has been the kick return,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been awful. We have to give our returners a chance to hit the seam and we have to be smart with the ball when it’s kicked to us.
“Our starting field position wasn’t good a lot of times, and that’s some of what our own doing and some of what they’re doing.”