Though Stanford has a solid chance to make its first postseason appearance since participating in the now-defunct Seattle Bowl in 2001, wins will unlikely come easy over the course of the team's final five games and the Cardinal aren't far from desperation mode if the losses continue to pile up.
Several storylines hover around this matchup – including a Gerhart family affair and a homecoming of sorts for ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan – and overall there is no shortage of importance for a win both for the Sun Devils and the Cardinal.
Projected Offensive Starting Lineup
QB 12 Andrew Luck 6-4 235 RS-Fr. Houston, Texas
RB 7 Toby Gerhart 6-1 235 Sr. Norco, Calif.
FB 48 Owen Marecic 6-1 244 Jr. Tigard, Ore.
WR 8 Ryan Whalen 6-2 205 Jr. Alamo, Calif.
WR 81 Chris Owusu 6-2 201 So. Westlake Village, Calif.
TE 83 Jim Dray 6-5 255 Sr. Paramus, N.J.
LT 67 Allen Smith 6-4 300 Sr. Tempe, Ariz.
LG 71 Andrew Phillips 6-5 299 Jr. Darnestown, Md.
C 72 Chase Beeler 6-3 285 Jr. Jenks, Okla.
RG 52 David DeCastro 6-5 310 RS-Fr. Bellevue, Wash.
RT 63 Chris Marinelli 6-7 300 Sr. Braintree, Mass.
The clear offensive stalwart of the Cardinal is senior running back Toby Gerhart, a 235-pound bowling ball that ranks fifth in the nation and atop the Pac-10 Conference averaging 124.1 rushing yards-per-game with 869 total yards on the ground in addition to 12 rushing touchdowns, also among the nation's best.
The older brother of Sun Devil guard/center Garth Gerhart, Toby is a throwback type of back with every ability to trample over several would-be tacklers. To the slight Sun Devil advantage is the fact that Gerhart suffered a mild ankle injury last week against Arizona; however that is not expected to be a debilitating issue against ASU. True freshman running back Stepfan Taylor has made the most of his carries thus far, with 124 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries (5.2 avg.).
One of Stanford's true fan favorites is fullback Owen Marecic, a hard-nosed, old school style of blocking back; fans on both sides eagerly anticipate Marecic and destructive Sun Devil middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict butting helmets a time or two in this week's matchup.
Few of Gerhart's Cardinal teammates have benefitted from his rushing prowess more than redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, who ranks second in the league in passer efficiency (151.3). A former five-star prospect and perhaps the most highly-touted signee of the Harbaugh era on The Farm, Luck has completed 97-of-168 passes (57.7 pct.) for 1,589 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Also Stanford's second leading rusher with 190 net yards on 36 carries, Luck benefits from the effective use of play-action passing when defenses hone in on stopping Gerhart, while a steady stable of receivers and two-way tight ends enable Luck to perform at a level far beyond his novice years.
Ryan Whalen has quietly become one of the top receivers in the Pac-10, leading the league with 554 receiving yards, catching 32 passes (17.3 avg.) with three scores, while sophomore Chris Owusu, who has been possibly the most devastating kick return specialist in college football, also has fashioned himself to be a dynamic receiving target, catching 24 passes for 446 yards with a team-high four touchdowns. Beside those two, no wide receiver on the team has caught more than four passes on the year.
Stanford's group of tight ends has been highly productive both in the team's running and passing attack, as starter Jim Dray, junior Coby Fleener (6-6, 241) and junior Konrad Reuland (6-6, 257) have combined for 18 receptions for 263 yards and two touchdowns on the year, a drastic difference from their counterparts on Saturday, as ASU has seen very little productivity from its tight ends unit.
Given Stanford's offensive success – especially on the ground – it comes as no surprise that the Cardinal boast an excellent offensive line, which couples both experience and talent with four juniors and seniors and a highly talented redshirt freshman.
Sixth-year senior and Tempe native Allen Smith starts at left tackle, with junior Andrew Phillips, a second-year starter, beside him at left guard and junior Chase Beeler -- who began his collegiate career at Oklahoma -- at center. David DeCastro, a redshirt freshman with immense talent and upside, starts at right guard with senior Chris Marinelli, an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recipient a year ago, at first-string right tackle.
Sun Devil and Cardinal fans alike are sure to be in for a treat when the ASU defense takes on Stanford's offense, as the vicious maroon and gold front seven is undoubtedly eager to mash masks with one of the top rushing teams in college football.
The true test in this matchup figures to be ASU's intention to limit Gerhart's impact and force Stanford's talented but young quarterback to make the majority of the offensive plays for the Cardinal. Above all, the Sun Devils must not hinder their chances at success as they have with untimely penalties and turnovers the past two games – despite gaining wins in both contests.
Projected Defensive Starting Lineup
DE 94 Thomas Keiser 6-5 257 So. Wexford, Pa.
DT 92 Sione Fua 6-2 305 Jr. Encino, Calif.
NT 54 Ekom Udofia 6-2 315 Sr. Scottsdale, Ariz.
DE 93 Chase Thomas 6-4 243 RS-Fr. Marietta, Ga.
SLB 42 Will Powers 6-4 240 Sr. Foster City, Calif.
MLB 20 Clinton Snyder 6-4 240 Sr. San Diego, Calif.
WLB 43 Chike Amajoyi 6-0 235 Jr. San Bernardino, Calif.
FS 22 Bo McNally 6-0 210 Sr. Salt Lake City, Utah
SS 26 Delano Howell 5-11 198 So. Newhall, Calif.
LCB 9 Richard Sherman 6-3 190 Sr. Compton, Calif.
RCB 2 Corey Gatewood 5-11 188 Jr. Randolph, Mass.
Though Stanford boasts a truly efficient and dynamic offense, the same cannot be said for its defense, as the Cardinal rank eighth in total defense (377.1 ypg.) in the Pac-10 and are dead last in turnover margin, with seven takeaways and 11 offensive turnovers.
Despite unspectacular overall statistics, the Cardinal defense includes a variety of experienced upperclassmen, spearheaded by leading tackler Clinton Snyder, with 56 total stops in seven games, who has started 41 of 43 career games played at Stanford.
Snyder figures to be flanked at linebacker by junior Chike Amajoyi (39 tackles) on the weak side and senior Will Powers (30 tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks) on the strong side. Also likely to see ample action is blue chip true freshman Shayne Skov (6-3, 237), who started in place of Amajoyi last week and has collected 14 tackles in seven games on the year. Quality depth is basically non-existent for Stanford as beyond this list of four linebackers, few at the position have earned noticeable duty this year as no ‘backer on the roster after this group has collected more than four tackles, while gritty fullback Owen Marecic is listed as the second-string strong side linebacker behind Powers.
Free safety Bo McNally has been one of the team's leading forces for over three years, having started 31 straight contests dating back to the start of his sophomore year, and thus far in 2009 he ranks second on the squad with 43 tackles, adding 2.5 stops for loss.
After spending his true freshman season at running back, second-year player Delano Howell was moved to strong safety in the offseason and has earned high acclaim thus far, leading the team with two interceptions while ranking second behind McNally among Cardinal defensive backs with 36 total tackles.
Howell returns to the lineup this week after missing the previous two games due to injury, and in his absence junior Taylor Skaufel (6-0, 202) and junior Austin Yancy (6-3, 216) each earned starting nods and figure to add depth in the secondary against the Devils.
The Cardinal defensive front provides talent at multiple positions, led statistically by sophomore end Tom Keiser, who has already improved on his excellent redshirt freshman year, totaling team-highs of 9.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks among 25 total tackles.
Redshirt freshman Chase Thomas figures to make his third start of the year opposite Keiser and has totaled 18 tackles and two sacks. Senior Erik Lorig, who started the first five games of the year, will miss Saturday's game due to injury.
Senior nose tackle Ekom Udofia, rated as the top high school prospect in Arizona for the 2005 class, has now started 33 of 38 career games played but hasn't blossomed into the dominant lineman his prep credentials predicted he would be, with 14 tackles but no stops behind the line of scrimmage or sacks yet this year. Line mate Sione Fua has totaled 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack in seven games with five starts, taking over in the third game after original starter Matthew Masifilo was shelved due to injury.
Senior Richard Sherman (31 tackles) and junior Corey Gatewood (28 tackles, one interception) have been the primary starting cornerbacks, however senior Kris Evans (6-0, 188) replaced Gatewood in the starting lineup last week at Arizona and has tallied 25 tackles and four pass breakups on the year. Stanford's defense has lately been in the fetal position, having allowed 38 each game in consecutive losses to Oregon State and Arizona while allowing 823 combined yards between the two games.
While the ASU defense versus Stanford offense will pit strength versus strength, the matchup that will likely determine the game's outcome is whether Danny Sullivan can efficiently navigate the Sun Devil offense past the Cardinal defense or if Stanford can defensively assert itself in a fashion unlike its two previous games.
Special Teams Lineup and Preview
K 39 Nate Whitaker 5-9 185 Jr. San Diego, Calif.
P 38 David Green 6-1 205 So. Mission Viejo, Calif.
KR 81 Chris Owusu 6-2 201 So. Westlake Village, Calif.
89 Doug Baldwin 5-11 184 Jr. Gulf Breeze, Fla.
PR 4 Drew Terrell 5-11 182 Fr. Chandler, Ariz.
Kickoff return specialist Chris Owusu has quickly taken the Pac-10 by storm during the early half of the 2009 season, leading the nation with three touchdown returns while ranking fourth in the country with a 35.6-yard average on 18 returns. Owusu can quickly turn the tide of a ballgame, and an aspect of this week's contest to observe will be whether Thomas Weber or Bobby Wenzig handles kickoffs for the Sun Devils and how they strategize to disallow Owusu to impact the game.
Stanford's kicking game has been generally average, as placekicker Nate Whitaker has converted six-of-nine field goal attempts, while punter David Green ranks seventh in the league with a 41.6-yard average on 15 punts.
Though Richard Sherman averaged 10.2 yards on 14 punt returns with one touchdown, Chandler native and true freshman Drew Terrell has assumed duties and figures to again appear on special teams against his home town team.
All cliché expressions aside, this game is of grave importance to both teams – ASU can match its win total from a year ago while Stanford's early season momentum can ill-afford a three-game Pac-10 losing streak.
The game figures to be a ‘may the best man win' scenario; if the Sun Devil defense can limit the Stanford rushing attack and rattle its youthful quarterback, victory may very well be brought back to Tempe. However, if Toby Gerhart can trudge through ASU's attack and if Andrew Luck can properly manage his responsibilities, the Cardinal will be tough to stop.
The potential "X" factors in this game may prove to be the efficiency with which ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan plays, while special teams dynamo Chris Owusu has the skills to instantly impact games both on kick returns and at receiver.
In the head-to-head series, ASU has taken three straight from Stanford and five of the past seven, including what proved to be the Sun Devils' most dominant effort of 2008, trouncing the Cardinal, 41-17, in the second week of the season last year.
Injury News and Roster Notes
- Cornerback Omar Bolden is still nursing a sprained MCL and will be out for the Stanford game.
- Wide receivers Kerry Taylor and Kyle Williams were very limited this week with sore hamstrings. Taylor probably stands a better chance than Williams to play. In Williams' absence, Clint Floyd and/or Terell Carr will assume the punt return duties.
- Offensive linemen Garth Gerhart and Matt Hustad will play this week. One of them or both have to start as well – Gerhart at right guard, Hustad at right tackle.
- Thomas Weber's groin injury has improved and he appears to be kicking the ball better than he did last week versus Washington.
Five Questions: ASU at Stanford
- Will the Sun Devil defense be able to limit running back Toby Gerhart?
- How will redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck fare against ASU's top-ranked defense?
- Can Danny Sullivan build on the momentum gained from ASU's win over Washington?
- Will penalties haunt the Sun Devil defense?
- How healthy is kicker Thomas Weber after an inconsistent outing last week?
- Running back Toby Gerhart is the older brother and former high school teammate of ASU offensive lineman Garth Gerhart. Toby Gerhart also played with ASU offensive linemen Kyle Johnson and Adam Tello at Norco (Calif.) High School.
- Wide receiver Chris Owusu and safety Sean Wiser played at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif., with ASU tight end Christopher Coyle. Stanford's senior offensive lineman Joe Dembesky also attended Oaks Christian School.
- Defensive tackle Ekom Udofia was a teammate of ASU wide receiver Kyle Williams at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School. Sun Devil cornerback Deveron Carr is also a graduate of Chaparral High.
- Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Allen Smith is a Tempe native and graduate of Corona del Sol High School, where he played with former Sun Devil and current Indianapolis Colt Mike Pollak.