OPPONENT PREVIEW: Stanford Cardinal


Record: 5-7 (2008)

Head Coach:  Jim Harbaugh (3rd season, 9-15)

Offense: 26.3 PPG, 5.4 YPP (2008)

Stanford's offense was a pretty average unit altogether last season.  The running game was the clear focus as the Cardinal racked up 490 rushing attempts against just 287 passing attempts.  This year looks to be more of the same as Stanford will be armed with a freshman quarterback and a stud running back.

The biggest news out of Stanford this summer was Harbaugh's decision to start redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck over  incumbent Tavita Pritchard.  Luck was rated the #4 quarterback in the country coming out of high school one year ago, so it is clear that the head coach is taking the chance Luck's talent will overcome his inexperience and he will be more effective overall than Pritchard.  Most who have watched Tavita Pritchard play over the last two seasons would agree that is a good bet.  Luck will have Stanford's two returning receivers to throw to, Ryan Whalen (a former walk-on) and Doug Baldwin.

While the quarterback situation is very interesting, Stanford looks to make its biggest gains on the ground.  The offensive line returns four players with starting experience as they look to open up big holes for star running back Toby Gerhart.  Gerhart surpassed the the Stanford single season rushing record last year and has set a lofty goal of 2,000 yards in 2009.

Defense: 27.4 PPGA, 5.6 YPPA (2008)

Not to be outdone by the averageness of the offense, the Stanford defense was also able to be middle of the pack last year.  Stanford has an opportunity to be good on this side of the ball because their strength starts from the inside out.

The Cardinal defensive line may be the team's best overall unit.  Senior defensive end Erik Lorig, a converted tight end, is regarded as the best of the bunch.  The Cardinal staff seem to regard Erik as undersized, but at 6'4", 275, he appears to be just right for a Pac 10 defensive end.  Lorig teams with 2008 freshman all-american Thomas Keiser to form a formidable defensive end combo.

The linebackers are led by senior Clinton Snyder.  He is on a slew of preseason watch lists and is moving to the middle this year.  In the defensive backfield, Lott Trophy candidate Bo McNally returns.  He led the team in tackles and interceptions last year.

By far the most important player on either side of the ball is SAM linebacker Will Powers.  Aside from the fact that he has the best possible surname in the entire world, he also started two games last season.  What two games were they you ask?  Cal and USC.  It is clear that Harbaugh saves Powers for only the most important of situations.  Will Powers is also among the smartest of the smarties down at Stanford, as he was named to the Pac 10 all academic team in 2008.

Special Teams: 

Stanford was able to control field position as the punting unit led the Pac 10 with a 37.7 net punting average last season.  David Green returns as Stanford's punter.  It should also be known that SAM linebacker Will Powers plays on special teams, which is what undoubtedly led to the teams ability to cover punts so well a season ago.

Notre Dame transfer kicker Nate Whitaker is first on the depth chart after beating out Travis Golia and his younger brother, Eric Whitaker.  Nate Whitaker missed his only field goal attempt while at Notre Dame and was 1 out 2 on extra point conversions.  By using this very small sample size and projecting it out over the entire season, it can be determined that A) Stanford will not make a single field goal in 2009 and B) they will get just six points out of half their touchdowns.  Head coach Harbaugh should be strongly advised to "go for it" as much as possible. (Except of course in situations where his fantastic punt team can do their work.)

Stanford in in trouble if:

The run game is limited.  Harbaugh loves to pound that football.  In the CougCenter podcast with Jon Wilner, who covers Stanford for the San Jose Mercury News, Wilner was quoted as saying Harbaugh wants to play "Michigan 1982 football."  With the freshman quarterback Andrew Luck out there, it would seem that most teams are going to elect to put 8 or 9 guys in the box to stop Toby Gerhart.  Stanford will be putting a lot of their potential bowl hopes this season on that run game, and if teams are able to stop it, they could be in trouble.  The good news for them is that will be a very difficult thing to do.

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