Take the Physical Advantage to the Perimeter
Once again, Stanford is considerably bulkier than San Jose State. The Cardinal's two offensive tackles outweigh the Spartans' by an average of 27.5 pounds, while their outside linebackers hold a 20.5-pound edge. In the physical realm of football, this is an advantage that should prove unconquerable should the Farm Boys execute decently well.
Stanford must also apply its physical advantage on the outside, too. San Jose State's chance in this game rests on the connection between stud quarterback David Fales (who led the nation with a 72.5 percent completion rate at 9.3 yards per attempt last year) and a bevy of relatively short, speedy wide receivers. Jabari Carr (nine catches, 111 yards at Stanford last year) is the only one of the group who reaches six feet, and he does so barely. Noel Grigsby, the active FBS leader in receptions, and Chandler Jones are both 5-foot-11.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal have developed some of the most physical defensive backs in the nation. Alex Carter learned to smother receivers as a true freshman, while both Wayne Lyons and Barry Browning have packed on strength since returning to full health over this offseason. Safety Devon Carrington will see time at cornerback, too, and that's just another testament to the Cardinal's commitment to suffocating physicality on the outside.
Stanford must use this muscle to disrupt San Jose State's undersized receivers close to the line of scrimmage. Carr, Grigsby, and Jones will be a headache to cover if their routes aren't disrupted. Fales is a slippery quarterback, too, so any extra time the Cardinal's secondary gives its pass rush to corral him will be critical. Keep in mind that Spartans' tackle David Quessenberry has graduated to the NFL (sixth-round pick), and that may play a significant factor in this game.
Deliver Downfield; Loosen the Box
San Jose State hung around until the bitter end in 2012, primarily because of Stanford's puny offensive effort. After two impressive opening touchdown drives, the Spartans realized they could load the box with nine men with impunity against Josh Nunes. Despite the stacked front, Stanford's quarterback averaged a measly 4.8 yards per attempt while the Cardinal rushing attack stagnated. The Farm Boys finished 2-for-13 on third down.
David Shaw's team had a significant weight advantage over a patchwork San Jose State defense, but the lack of offensive production in that game proved that the physical upper hand can only take a team so far. A viable downfield passing threat is required to maintain a credible attack, and it would behoove Kevin Hogan to establish that early on Saturday.
Now, Stanford's offensive line will almost certainly be better than its 2012 counterpart, so the home team may still be able to get away with a win despite putrid passing production in this contest. But in order for the Cardinal to have a legitimate shot to return to Pasadena, they'll have to establish that aerial attack.
Translate the Win from Paper to the Field
Stanford's muscle advantages over San Jose State are apparent all over the depth chart. The tight end difference dwarfs the massive weight edge at offensive tackle: The Spartans are starting true freshman Austin Vollert at the position, and his 221-pound frame is a good 44 pounds shy of Luke Kaumatule's 265-pound listing. It's also 40 pounds short of Trent Murphy's weight, so it's clear that the Cardinal are at least a couple notches above the Spartans, at least by the eyeball test.
On paper, it all seems easy. But an excellent quarterback like Fales can team up with a group of talented receivers to complicate things if Stanford leaves the door open like last year. Perform crisply on the offensive end, and Fales will see the sideline more often than the football.
The Spartans will have a difficult time stopping a balanced, Hogan-led attack.
Stanford 31, San Jose State 13.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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