Stanford has three prospects who figure to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in April, according to NFLDraftScout.com. The players are linebackers Chase Thomas (the No. 5 outside linebacker in the Class of 2013) and Shayne Skov (No. 2 inside linebacker) and running back Stepfan Taylor No. 5 running back). In last season’s 37-10 win over Arizona in Tucson, Stanford’s running game opened up the passing game for Andrew Luck. Taylor rushed for a career-high 153 yards on 22 carries in the game. The Cardinal gained 242 yards on the ground compared to only 51 by the Wildcats. Expect Stanford coach David Shaw to execute the same game plan today.
Arizona has more of a running game this season with sophomore Ka’Deem Carey, who is on pace to rush for more than 1,200 yards. As Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com suggests in his blog, Carey’s numbers are not padded because Oregon State, Oregon and Oklahoma State have rushing defenses that are ranked in the top 40 of rushing defenses among FBS schools. Carey ranks No. 17 among sophomore running back prospects, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Thomas is a fifth-year-senior captain of a defense that is the reason why Stanford is ranked No. 18 with a 3-1 record. Stanford is one of only six teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision to hold each of its opponents to fewer than 20 points in games (San Jose State – 17, Duke – 13, USC – 14, Washington – 17). The Cardinal’s scoring defense (15.25) ranks 21st in the nation. Arizona averages 34 points a game, which ranks 40th, and that includes the shutout loss at Oregon. The pressure Thomas (five tackles for lost yardage including two sacks) puts on senior quarterback Matt Scott will be an interesting sidebar to the game. If Scott gets rattled by Thomas and Co. it will be a long afternoon for the Wildcats. Scott must show his maturity by not holding on to the ball too long and by throwing the ball away if necessary. A punt is better than an interception every time.
Thomas, Skov and Trent Murphy — all senior linebackers viewed as NFL prospects — turned down the chance to jump to the NFL after last season. Thank a Stanford education for those decisions. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez wishes they were playing Sunday, not tomorrow. “Most of them came here to get their Stanford degree and they want to finish,” Shaw said in a recent Pac-12 teleconference. “One of these former baseball players did a cross-analysis for all sports. He just weighed the average starting salary of a regular student leaving Stanford with the earnings of NFL and Major League Baseball, maybe not top-five picks, but for most people. And the salaries are very comparable. And depending on what field you go into, it’s even better if you use your degree.”
Skov, a 6-3, 251-pound inside linebacker, is rated one of the top five prospects at his position by NFL.com. Draft analyst Chad Reuter writes of Skov: “Skov is coming back from injury, but would have been considered top 50 if he came out this year (after the 2011 season) due to his size and heady play.” Skov remembers the Arizona game last year quite well. After recording a tackle for lost yardage, he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Wildcats. Skov has recorded 18 tackles, including 1.5 for lost yardage, this season.
Arizona senior punter Kyle Dugandzic will undoubtedly get a look by NFL teams judging from his performance to this point. The Pac-12 Special-Teams Player of the Week is No. 18 in the nation with an average of 44.8 yards per punt. The Wildcats have six punters who were drafted in the NFL between 1975 (Mitch Hoopes) and 2006 (Danny Baugher), about one every five years. The law of averages indicates the Wildcats are due for another. Dugandzic is more apt to be acquired as a free agent but if he improves upon his 44.8 yards per punt, he will have better numbers than UCLA prospect Jeff Locke (currently at 42.7 yards per punt). The other UA punters drafted include Frank Garcia (1981), Ruben Rodriguez (1987), John Nies (1990) and Josh Miller (1994),
LINKS OF NOTE FOR ARIZONA-STANFORD GAME:
– Greg Hansen of The Arizona Daily Star offers his weekly Mr. Football column, which includes one note about Stanford’s extensive use of the tight end. Tom Brady would love that kind of offense. Come to think of it, he already has that framework with the Patriots passing to the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (before Hernandez became injured).
– Gimino has his weekly things to watch in the game, including how Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense matches up against Stanford’s power running game. With only three down line men, the defense is not the strongest against the run like a 4-3 defense, for example.
TOP FIVE FORMER STANFORD PLAYERS IN THE NFL
1. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis
TOP FIVE FORMER ARIZONA PLAYERS IN THE NFL
1. Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner