Skill Position StartersStanford lost Heisman Trophy finalist and program great Toby Gerhart to the NFL draft, but have responded with a balanced attack that has already seen a remarkable 15 players score touchdowns over the first three contests (9 Notre Dame players scored touchdowns last season).
The Cardinal remain a traditional power running team, one that gashes a defense with a downhill trio of ‘backs to make up for their lost bulldozer, Gerhart. Quarterback Andrew Luck may be the best in the nation and is the key to the team's bread-and-butter play-action passing attack. While Iso power plays define the physical offense, the attack has been multiple through the season's opening quarter.
- Quarterback – #7 Junior Andrew Luck: When a quarterback combines a cannon arm with accuracy, and augments that with impeccable decision-making both in and out of the pocket, you have a college All-American. Meet Andrew Luck, the 6'4" 235-pound future No. 1 NFL Draft pick. Luck has fired 23 career touchdown passes vs. just four interceptions – none this season. He's completed just over 64 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns en route to the nation's No. 3 pass efficiency mark through three contests. The second-year contributor has added 150 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries
Broke free for a 52-yard scrambling touchdown run, weaving through the heart of the Demon Deacons defense last Saturday.
- Running Back – #33 Sophomore Stepfan Taylor: Has 31 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown to pace a balanced running attack. Gerhart's caddie last season, the 5'11" 208-pound Taylor has added 85 receiving yards and a score on just four receptions. Taylor hits the hole in a hurry and has averaged better than five yards per carry over his 87 career rushes. Posted a season-high 12 carries in the Thanksgiving Weekend win over the Irish last November.
- Fullback – #48 Senior Owen Marecic: Old School. An absolute hammer as a lead-blocker at 6'1" 244 pounds, Marecic doubles as a starting linebacker – the only such player in the FBS to serve as a true two-way performer. Marecic's vicious block on then-freshman Manti Te'o in last year's contest vs. the Irish paved the way for a Cardinal touchdown; he then added a score on an inside hand-off from the 1-yard line to cut the Irish lead to four, 24-20 at the end of the first half.
- Wide Receiver – #89 Senior Doug Baldwin: Tied for the team lead with 10 receptions for 194 yards. The 5'10" 189-pound vet is shifty in space, previously serving as the team's chief return man prior to the breakout performance of Chris Owusu last fall (below). Baldwin is tied with backup tailback Tyler Gaffney for the team touchdown lead with three over the first three weeks.
Has 10 plays in excess of 35 yards over his career as a runner, receiver and return man.
- Wide Receiver – #81 Junior Chris Owusu: The 6'2" 200-pound speedster scored two touchdowns vs. Wake Forest – his season debut. Defenses must respect the potential All-America return man's straight line speed and the resulting cushion from opposing corners opens up a variety of quick throws and bubble screens that allow Owusu room to operate in space. Perimeter tackling will be at a premium for a trio of Irish cornerbacks Saturday.
Owusu burned the Irish with a 41-yard kick return to open the contest last season; then hurt ND in terms of field position for the duration as the Irish avoided the dangerous runner on future boots.
- Tight End – #88 Senior Konrad Reuland: The Notre Dame transfer finally ascended to the starting role and entered 2010 as a member of the Mackey Award Watch List. The 6'6" 257-pound target has five receptions for 56 yards but ranks as one of the few Cardinal regulars not to hit pay dirt yet this season.
Offensive LinemenJim Harbaugh's unit features four returning starters and likely the best front line in the Pac-10. It's easily the most physical unit the Irish have faced (and maybe will face) in 2010.
- Left Tackle – #73 Junior Jonathan Martin: The 6'6" 304-pound Lombardi Award candidate was an honorable mention Pac-10 selection as a redshirt-freshman last season, serving as Luck's blind side protector. Martin has started 14 of 16 career contests entering Saturday and is part of a five man front that has allowed just one sack to date.
- Left Guard – #71 Senior Andrew Phillips: The 6'5" 302-pound versatile veteran has started at both guard positions over the last two seasons. Named honorable mention Pac-10 in 2009, Saturday will be Phillips' 27th career start.
- Center – #72 Senior Chase Beeler: A pre-season candidate for both the Outland Trophy and Rimington Award, the 6'3" 285-pound 5th-year senior popped up on multiple pre-season All-America lists and is a veteran of 23 career starts. Beeler, who began his career at Oklahoma, was named second team All-Pac 10 last fall
- Right Guard – #52 Junior David DeCastro: Started all 13 games as a redshirt-freshman last season. The 6'5" 310-pound road grader's forte is the running game, though the Cardinal have yielded just 8 sacks in his 16 career starts.
- Right Tackle – #53 Senior Derek Hall: The 6'5" 303-pounder made his first career start in the season-opener vs. Sacramento State. Hall is the line's lone newcomer and will be challenged by the DE tandem of Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore as well as the pass-rushing presence of Darius Fleming when the Irish reduce their front seven set.
- Tight End – #82 Senior Coby Fleener: The 6'6" 244-pound target secured four receptions for 56 yards in last year's meeting between the teams, including three third down receptions – two of which occurred on 3rd down, both of which set up touchdowns including the game-winner with 1:03 remaining. Finished third on the squad with 21 receptions last season.
- Running Back – #25 Sophomore Tyler Gaffney: 6'1" 216-pound bruiser will be involved in most goal line and short-yardage situations this season. Gaffney moonlights as a member of the Cardinal baseball team. Has three touchdowns on 23 touchdowns this season, adding a 32-yard run to his between-the-tackles power approach.
- Running Back – #15 Sophomore Usua Amanam Undersized running back offers a true change of pace from the backfield, providing open-field ability as both a return man and runner. Has a touchdown reception; 90 rushing yards on 15 carries, and four kick returns totaling 141 yards in his first 20career touches. Amanam will develop into a nightmare cover as a receiver out of the Cardinal backfield.
- Wide Receiver – #8 Senior Ryan Whalen: The underrated 6'2" 205 pound target is doubtful due to a dislocated elbow suffered last week in a blowout of Wake Forest. Tied with Doug Baldwin for the team reception lead (10). Whalen caught 57 balls for more than 900 yards last season and has paced the Cardinal in receptions in consecutive seasons entering 2010.
- Wide Receiver – #17 Junior Griff Whalen: Four receptions for 85 yards this season, Whalen is a reliable possession receiver that must be accounted for in passing situations. A former walk-on, the 6'1" 185-pounder caught seven passes last season.
- Tight End – #82 Sophomore Zach Erzt: The No. 3 tight end 6'6" 249-pound No. 3 tight end scored a touchdown in his first career appearance this season.