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Arizona-Stanford: Five things to watch

Stanford's Andrew Luck will be surveying Arizona's shaky secondary this Saturday. Photo by Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona and sixth-ranked Stanford will kick off at 7:45 from Arizona Stadium to wrap up the day of college football.

The Wildcats will be trying to end a six-game losing streak to teams from college football’s top division (that excludes the win over NAU to begin the season).

“I feel like we’re just going to go out there and play hard,” said Arizona free safety Robert Golden.

“I’m not making no statements saying we’re going to go out there and dominate those guys. I know we’re going to go out there and challenge them and we’re going to play hard.”

Expanding on something I filed this morning for CBSSports.com’s Rapid Reports — check out the Arizona page — here are five things to watch:

No. 5 — A fast start

Arizona coach Mike Stoops and Stanford coach David Shaw have each lamented their team’s slow starts this season. Arizona trailed Oklahoma State 21-0 in the first half last week.

“It took us a while to engage in the game, and that was probably the most disappointing part,” Stoops said.

Stanford had only 10 first-half points at Duke last week, before scoring a touchdown in the final minute behind halftime.

More slow start problems for the Cats:

–They trailed Stanford 14-0 last season before losing 42-17.
–They trailed USC 14-0 in the first quarter last season before losing 24-21.
–They failed to score in the first half against ASU last season before losing 30-29 in double OT.
–They trailed Oklahoma State 23-7 at halftime of the Alamo Bowl.

Bottom line: If Arizona wins the coin toss, it needs to receive and try to score first, letting the crowd get into the game and be a factor.

No. 4 — Stopping Owusu

Arizona cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Trevin Wade are part of a pass defense that has allowed two opponents to complete 78.5 percent of their passes. The challenge tonight is Stanford WR Chris Owusu, who has 100-yard receiving games against UA in each of the past two years.

They’re not playing as well as I would like them to play right now,” secondary coach Ryan Walters said of his cornerbacks.

Meanwhile, the linebackers and safeties will have their hands full with Stanford’s superb tight ends, notably Coby Fleener, who had a 60-yard touchdown reception last week against Duke. He has five receptions for 116 yards and three TDs this season. Tight end Zach Ertz has five catches for 69 yards and two scores.

No. 3 — Criner’s status

Wide receiver Juron Criner is trying to return from a Sept. 5 appendectomy, and his status might not be publicly known until pregame. In Criner’s absence, a pair of other outside receivers — Dan Buckner and Austin Hill — each had 100 yards in receptions last week vs. Oklahoma State.

“It was good to see Dan get comfortable in our system,” Stoops said. “He played well. Dan is a very lethal guy out there. He can run and stretch the field vertically.”

True, but he doesn’t do nearly as well as Criner, whose big-play ability is critical to a potential upset.

No. 2 — The running game

Stoops says he’ll play true freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey earlier in the game, and running Daniel Jenkins should be back from an ankle injury. Each might help spark Arizona’s stagnant run game, which has produced only 116 yards in two games.

Stanford is tough to run against, and the Cardinal doesn’t mind devoting extra personnel to stopping the ground attack. Linebacker Shayne Skov is an explosive player who has 18 tackles, including four for loss, in two games.

The Cardinal is second nationally against the run, yielding only 28.5 yards per game.

On the other side of the ball, Stanford has a physical running attack and an excellent tailback in Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal rushed 45 times for 217 yards in last year’s meeting, and it could simply push around Arizona’s inexperienced defensive line.

No. 1 — The quarterbacks

Arizona’s Nick Foles and Stanford’s Andrew Luck combined for 842 passing yards in a wild 43-38 UA win in Tucson two years ago. Stanford won last year’s meeting, 42-17, as Luck threw for an efficient 299 yards.

Stoops on Luck: “He’s one of the best pocket guys I’ve seen in a long time.”

Foles isn’t shabby, and confidence would be high in his ability if the Wildcats are within striking distance late in the game. The hard part will be getting there.

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