Top running backs meet in No. 18 Stanford-Arizona game
STANFORD, Calif. — Barry J. Sanders doesn’t mind playing behind Stanford sophomore Christian McCaffrey. He’s all about making the No. 18 Cardinal one of the best rushing teams in the Pac-12.
Stanford (3-1, 2-0) is second in the conference in rushing, right behind Arizona (3-1, 0-1), the Cardinal’s opponent Saturday night.
The Wildcats, who dropped out of the Top 25 after a 56-30 home loss to UCLA last week, feature two of the conference’s top running backs in Pac-12 leader Nick Wilson (142.5 per game) and fourth-ranked Jerrard Randall (112.3).
McCaffrey (111.2) ranks just below Randall. Sanders is way down the list, averaging 39.2 yards a game, though he ran for a career-best 97 yards in Stanford’s 42-24 win at Oregon State.
“Coach utilizes us the best he can,” Sanders said. “My goal is to try and make a play every time I’m on the field. I think we knew we could special as a collective unit.”
Arizona leads the conference in scoring, total offense and rushing offense. Stanford ranks second in rushing defense and total defense. Something will have to give this week.
“I don’t think they should be a different challenge than what we had last week,” Wildcats offensive lineman Zach Hemmila said. “UCLA was big and strong too. We just have to work on our technique and then we will do whatever we need to do for whoever is playing quarterback.”
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon left the UCLA game with a concussion and is listed as questionable.
“His status for the game is certainly in question right now and we will see how he responds every day, they will do tests every day,” Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. “If he can’t go, it will be up to Gerrard Randall and Brandon Dawkins to run the offense.”
Stanford coach David Shaw doesn’t think the loss of Solomon would necessarily slow Arizona down.
“You’re talking about a very versatile offense,” Shaw said. “Whoever plays is going to be an athletic quarterback that you have to account for, which puts you in so many run-pass conflicts. If Anu doesn’t play, I’m sure they’ll cater the offense to whoever does start at quarterback. We’ve got to tackle the quarterback better than we did a week ago, no matter who it is.”
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan is available, though he’s still feeling the affects of a sprained left ankle sustained in the win over Southern California two weeks ago. He was limited in practice during the week.
Some of the things to know when the Cardinal and Wildcats meet at Stanford Stadium:
DOWN A DEFENDER: Both teams will be without an important defensive player. Cardinal outside linebacker Kevin Anderson, one of two returning starters, will miss his second straight game. Arizona will be without linebacker Scooby Wright, the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, due to an ankle injury. He’s already missed three games with a knee injury. “Our linebacker situation has been a little sketchy anyway, but having Scooby out several weeks is something that we will have to deal with,” Rodriguez said.
HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE: The home team has yet to win a game between Pac-12 schools and Arizona, winless against the Cardinal since 2009, is 5-1 in true road games dating to last season. Stanford is 25-3 in home games under Shaw. “It’s the wild west,” Shaw said.
SCORING FRENZY: The Wildcats are averaging nearly 50 points a game this season, and have scored in 22 consecutive quarters. They are averaging 555.5 yards of offense. Stanford has scored at least 37 points in each of its last four games against Arizona and has won nine of the past 12 meetings.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: McCaffrey, who rushed for 206 yards against Oregon State, has yet to score a rushing touchdown in his career. The 206 yards rank fifth on Stanford’s single-game list and it’s just the 11th time a Stanford runner has gained at least 200 yards in a game.
GOING FOR A MILESTONE: Rodriguez needs one win to reach 150 for his career and 30 at Arizona.