- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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An interesting note about Saturday's Stanford-Arizona matchup in Palo Alto: This is the only Pac-12 game this weekend featuring two teams that are both coming off losses.
So as you'd expect, the chatter from each camp this week has been about righting ships, regaining confidence and charging seniors and veterans with the responsibility of stepping up and assuming control of their teams.
Per usual, these are things easier said at news conferences.
Both of these teams find themselves at very critical junctures in their seasons. For Stanford (3-1, 1-1) -- which flat lined offensively last week against Washington and dropped out of the top 10 -- it's a chance to restore some offensive pop before going on the road in back-to-back weeks to play No. 9 Notre Dame and then at Cal for the Big Game.
Arizona (3-2, 0-2) is in the midst of a brutal stretch that could very well define the rest of the Wildcats' season. After the 3-0 start and a top 25 ranking, Arizona fell to both ranked Oregon schools and have four-straight against teams currently in the top 25. Though they do catch a breather being on bye next week.
"We knew going into the season we were going to have a pretty good stretch of ranked teams and that our nonconference and our in-conference schedule was going to be pretty tough for us," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez ."The thing for us now is that this is our sixth-straight game. The first five were all at night and late games. We're a little bit beat up and we've had to adjust our practice schedules."
The No. 18 Cardinal return home after their only road game so far this season. Head coach David Shaw said he hopes lessons were learned in their nationally-televised defeat.
"I think we all learned a valuable lesson which is if we don't play our best football for 60 minutes, we can get beaten," Shaw said. "And Washington played well, but at the same time we didn't play our best football. It's not just about keeping it close and trying to win at the end. We've got to play better for 60 minutes. We've shown before that we can play really well for stretches, but we've got to play a complete game."
If recent history has anything to say about it, the Cardinal will bounce back. They've won four of the last five against the Wildcats and eight of the past 11. Then again, the last time Stanford lost back-to-back games was in 2009. And it was Arizona that got them the second time.
No doubt, getting running back Stepfan Taylor going will be key for the Cardinal. He was limited to just 75 yards on the ground last week and the Stanford offense was kept out of the end zone. But Taylor likes playing the Wildcats. He had four touchdowns against Arizona in 2010 and ran for 153 yards last year.
And when you consider that Arizona ranks 11th in the conference in rush defense, allowing 166.8 yards per game on the ground, you would expect a big game from Taylor. He's the sort of player Shaw is looking to help the team rebound.
"I told the guys at the end of the game that I'm counting on our veteran leadership, I'm counting on our seniors and I'm counting on our captains to set the tempo for us and show our guys that we don't wallow around here," Shaw said. "We don't hold on to last week's game whether it was a win or a loss. We move on to the next game. And we need to play our best."
A victory for Arizona ends the two-game slide and could get them back in the top 25 discussion. But the Wildcats haven't exactly been road warriors. They've dropped eight of their last nine on the road and the defense is allowing more than 40 points per game during that stretch away from home.
So which team does Rodriguez have? The 3-0 team that was ranked? Or the 0-2 team that got blown out by the Ducks and faltered at the end against Oregon State? The truth, he suspects, lies somewhere in the middle.
"If anybody was listening to me, I was telling them from the start we were happy to be 3-0, but I didn't think it covered up our deficiencies and we knew we were going to have some battles," he said. "Frankly, we were fortunate to win one or two of our games. But also this past weekend we had a little misfortune and could have won that one. We could be sitting here a little happier had we made a play last week at 4-1. We know we're going to be in a lot of battles. We're not at a point where we can play poorly at any stretch of a game and hope to win. But our guys are battling and hanging in there."