Ask The Expert: Stanford Cardinal

In order to give readers a better idea about what kind of team Arizona is facing in the Stanford Cardinal, caught up with Rick Jones of, who answered a series of questions about the UA's sixth opponent.
1. Tell us about your quarterback.
Tavita Pritchard in one word - inconsistent. Pritchard lacks the arm strength to be a difference maker at the QB position but he is mobile. He has shown a great deal of maturity the past month with the increasing speculation about his job.
There are times when Pritchard sees the field, makes his reads and displays excellent decision making skills. Other times he throws first half interceptions (i.e. at Notre Dame). It's that inconsistency that has frustrated Stanford fans but to this point coach Jim Harbaugh has continually said that Pritchard gives the team the best chance of winning.
But the bottom line is with better QB play in the games at TCU and at Notre Dame Stanford would have come out with victories.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses to this year's Cardinal football team?
Strength is without a doubt the running game. Harbaugh has stressed being tough and physical and the Cardinal are. With Toby Gerhart, Anthony Kimble, Jeremy Stewart and Delano Howell, they have a great stable of running backs and a powerful blocking fullback in Owen Marecic.
The offensive line is experienced and plays with an attitude. The combined group has over 90 career starts. They have had success in running the ball in every game this season and are ranked 46th in the nation with a 167 yard per game average.
The weakness is pass defense. The Cardinal secondary is thin due to injuries and not playing well. Safety Austin Yancy has been out since the opener and reserve Corey Gatewood has been slowed by an ankle injury. All conference candidate Wopamo Osaisai has struggled this season, as the Pac-10 100 meter champ was burned on several occasions against the Irish and does not have an interception this year.
The team has struggled at times with a slightly different scheme but has made adjustments at the half that have locked up victories. The matchup with the Arizona passing game will be the key to the game.
3. Who is the best player on the Cardinal that we haven't heard of yet?
On defense I would go with DE Tom Keiser. He had a break out game versus San Jose State, recording two sacks in the 4th quarter and his playing time has been increasing since then. He is part of a deep front four for the Cardinal and they get rotated regularly. On offense it would be fullback Owen Marecic. He is a prototypical lead blocking fullback and relishes his job. The running game begins with him.
4. What does Stanford have to do to beat Arizona this week?
Limit turnovers, keep the game out of Pritchard's hand as much as possible and pound, pound, pound the ball. Stanford needs to 'shorten' the game and keep the Arizona offense off the field as much as possible. Coach Harbaugh got away from the running game against Notre Dame and Pritchard had key turnovers.
Toby Gerhart got over 100 yards on only 13 carries and he needs twice that number of touches against Arizona. The Stanford special teams have been excellent all year and have played key roles in the three wins, and they will need to come up big again.
5. Where do you see Stanford in the Pac-10 at the conclusion of the year?
Actually this game will go a long way in determining if the Cardinal go bowling. The next three games (at home versus Arizona, at UCLA and back home versus Washington State) are all winnable games for the 3-3 Cardinal.
The next three - Oregon, USC and Cal - are games the Cardinal figure to be heavy underdogs in. A win against the Wildcats this Saturday and Stanford is setting itself up nicely for a bowl bid run; a loss means the hill gets steeper. In short, the Arizona game means 6-6 or 5-7 for Stanford.
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