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OPPONENT PREVIEW: Stanford Cardinal

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (22-21)

Record: 5-1 (2-1)

Jim Harbaugh has brought this Stanford program from the bottom of the Pac-10 to Rose Bowl contender in his fourth year as head coach.  He has recruited very well and has done his best to implement a "smash-mouth" style on both sides of the ball.  With the Pac-10 perceived nationally as a finesse league, Stanford has stuck out in the minds of fans as the "toughest" team in the conference.  Does this mean they are more likely to inflict harm on the opposing team, or is that "toughness" more of a product of being physically superior, especially in the trenches?  Either way, Stanford football is not the pushover it was five years ago and could potentially be building towards perennial contention.

OFFENSE: 43.3 PPG, 6.8 YPP, #6 S&P

In 2009, the Stanford offense relied heavily on Toby Gerhart and rode him to the 10th best offensive S&P in the country, led by the 8th ranked rushing attack.  With Gerhart gone in 2010 and a year of experience from Andrew Luck, Stanford now possesses the second best passing S&P and are tops in the nation on passing downs.

Doug Baldwin is the team's leading receiver, having hauled in 23 catches on the season.  The ever-dangerous Chris Owusu is also one of Luck's favorite targets and sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor is a threat out of the backfield, having caught 17 passes for 202 yards so far this year.

Even with the passing success, the Cardinal still are a run-first team.  Overall, they are averaging 5.35 yards per carry and put up over 200 yards rushing per game.  Stepfan Taylor leads the way, having carried the ball 99 times for 482 yards.  Andrew Luck has displayed some wheels of his own, as he is second on the team with 242 yards rushing on 7.81 yards per carry.

Of course, the key to all this success is that Stanford offensive line.  They have only given up three sacks all year and the stats show they are clearly effective in run-blocking.  If there has been one trademark of the Jim Harbaugh era at Stanford, it's got to be excellent line play.

DEFENSE: 23.7 PPG 5.3 YPP #20 S&P

Stanford's physical mentality shine through in their defensive statistics.  They are ranked #18 in run defense S&P.  Their yards per carry allowed average does not seem all that impressive at 4.33, but it is important to remember they have played some very good running teams in USC, Oregon, and UCLA.

While the Cardinal have done well in controlling the run game, it seems they have not been able to capitalize on the obvious passing situation they have left their opponents with.  S&P ranks them 88th in the country in performance on passing downs.  Third and long really has been no problem for the opposing team.

Linebacker Chase Thomas is one of the leaders on the defense.  He has posted 28 tackles, four o them for loss and has an interception this year.  Senior lineman Sione Fua is tops with 4.5 tackles for loss. 

I can't go through this preview without mentioning that linebacker/running Back Owen Marecic posted the sequence of the year (or possibly the decade) when he rushed for a touchdown and intercepted a pass for a touchdown in a 13-second span against Notre Dame earlier in the season. 

The Cardinal are in trouble if...they get burned often on passing downs and are unable to get off the field on third and long situations, keeping their own explosive offense on the sideline.