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October 4, 2012

Stopping Arizona

In a way, Stanford was preparing for the arrival of Rich Rodriguez even before he was hired at Arizona prior to this season.

The coaching staff identified a long time ago that it needed more depth on defense as up-tempo teams such as Oregon had a tendency to wear the Cardinal out. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason said they needed the ability to rotate players - especially at linebacker - to keep up with the faster paced teams.

"Through recruiting and everything we've tried to do here over the last two years, we feel like we're at a point where we can play some of these (up-tempo) teams," Mason said. "We'll be tested and we'll know. The results weren't what we wanted a year ago against Oregon, but now we get a chance to play a team that's Oregon-esque."

Arizona (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) averages 88 plays a game on offense, a number that ranks second nationally behind Marshall.

"This system is based on getting plays and testing your rules play after play after play after play," Mason said of Arizona. "When you become undisciplined, that's when it all breaks down. Between the pace and guys playing outside the system and guys getting fatigued, it's how they grind on you."

If this game were to have been played even last year, Mason would have been more worried, but is confident he now has enough players to rotate in and out without much drop off.

"It's different all the way around," he said. "You can say linebackers, you can stay secondary. It doesn't mean guys are where they want to be, but we're almost three deep at the linebacker corps."

It starts with Shayne Skov in the middle and Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy on the outside, but Jarek Lancaster, A.J. Tarpley, James Vaughters, Alex Debniak and even freshman Kevin Anderson give the Cardinal perhaps the deepest and most talented group in the conference.

Stanford (3-1) has allowed just 15.2 points per game and just seven touchdowns, the best mark in the conference. The defense has been more susceptible to the pass, which could pose trouble against the Wildcats, who average the second most passing yards a game (343.8) in the Pac-12 behind Oregon State.

Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has picked up Rodriguez's offense quickly and has impressed Mason with both his arm (1,608 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT) and feet (228 yards, 4.4 ypc).

"More than anything else you like what he's done with his arm, but he's dangerous with his feet," Mason said. "He can go zero to 60 real fast so it's important for us to contain him."

Running back Ka'Deem Carey is off to a good start too. The sophomore ranks third the conference in rushing yards per game (107.6), just better than Cardinal workhorse Stepfan Taylor (103.2).

Mason said Carey is a three-dimensional back that is especially dangerous in the screen game, where he's averaging close to 16 yards per reception.

Those who point to the goose egg the Wildcats laid against Oregon fail to realize how effective the Wildcats were on offense between the 20s. Once they got to the red zone, things fell apart.

"The score is very misleading. They can move the ball just like Oregon," Mason said. "They were like mirror images of each other, but the difference was Oregon scored and (Arizona) didn't."

The Cardinal wouldn't mind a similar result for homecoming on Saturday.

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