Stanford Cardinal team preview

The good news for the Cardinal is that they return a majority of the team that probably gave the Trojans their biggest scare last season. The bad news for the Cardinal, among other things, is that, well, it's November, and the Trojans simply do not lose in this month.

Cardinal on offense

Quarterback – #5 Trent Edwards

Against the Trojans in 2004, Trent Edwards had one of the best first halves of his career. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Edwards must have fastened his helmet on backwards coming out for the second half, because he could do nothing to move the ball during the final two quarters. Last season, Edwards was one of the main contributors to Stanford's sub-par record, throwing 11 interceptions against just nine touchdowns. This season, the Cardinal have a winning record through seven games and Edwards' newfound ability to limit his turnovers is no small part of that. Edwards has thrown 12 touchdown passes against just two interceptions, and has completed over 50% of his passes in every game this year, going over 70% in each of the last two. Everyone wrote Stanford off after their loss to UC Davis, but few took the time to realize that Edwards missed almost the entire game after leaving in the first quarter with a hand injury. Without a dominant running game, the entire offense rests on the shoulders of Edwards. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm and, although he's been better this season, he has a history of making bad decisions. But when he's hitting the underneath receiver and throwing the ball away when under pressure, he is capable of moving the Cardinal offense down the field. Even with much of his supporting cast sitting out due to injury at various times, Edwards has thrown for 1,267 yards and has a quarterback rating of 105. Both of his interceptions came against Oregon and since that game, Edwards has thrown for three touchdowns against Washington State and Arizona State and two touchdowns against Arizona and UCLA. Last season, once the Trojans were able to apply pressure to Edwards, they forced him into mistakes that ultimately decided the game. This Saturday, Edwards will be looking to just get the ball away and into the hands of his playmakers. He has developed a tendency to run this season, carrying the ball 52 times, good for third on the team. But, his 2.4 yard average is mostly a result of being sacked 19 times this season. That, and the fact that he's just not exceptionally skilled at running with the ball. He may try to pick up a few first downs with his legs, but he's just not fast enough to make much of a different running the ball against the Trojan defense. Also, he doesn't like to hold the ball in the pocket and probably won't throw many deep balls so the Trojans will again need to be solid in their underneath pass coverage and develop a quick pass rush.

Running Backs – #26 Anthony Kimble, #33 Jason Evans, #9 J.R. Lemon

The running game for the Cardinal has been almost completely nonexistent this season. As a whole, Stanford has rushed for 801 yards, or 52 yards fewer than LenDale White. They rank 97th in the nation in rushing offense. Anthony Kimble came out of Louisiana, two years ago, as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation. This season, he's lined up at running back for the Cardinal, leading the team in both carries (59) and rushing yards (234). Kimble still hasn't put together a real great game running the ball. Because of Stanford's desire to spread the ball around, he hasn't received more than 18 carries in any game and carried the ball fewer than eight times in half his games. He has two touchdown runs on the season, one in the opener against Navy and one against Arizona State. Kimble has also used his receiving skills this season, catching 12 passes out of the backfield for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He was held out of the UCLA game due to an injury and there are questions about whether he will see the field against the Trojans. Stanford coach Walt Harris has been very hush-hush over the Cardinal injury situation this week so it's been hard to get a feel for who will play and who is still out. But if Kimble is indeed out, it will make the day that much easier for the Trojans. Despite his lack of eye-popping numbers, Kimble is an extremely valuable cog in the Cardinal offense and his absence will put a damper on what they are able to do offensively.

Jason Evans is the team's second leading rusher, carrying the ball 56 times for 197 yards. Both he and Kimble have the talent to be great running backs, but there have just been too many obstacles in their way to put up great numbers. From a lack of carries to unfamiliarity with the offense to a suspect offensive line, these guys just haven't been able to get it done on the ground. Evans had over ten carries in each of the first three games, going over 60 yards against Navy and Oregon, but has received fewer than nine carries in each game since then. His best game in those four came against Washington State, where he ran for 23 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards. Evans has yet to find his way into the end zone.

After missing the first three games of the season, J.R. Lemon has received more and more offensive responsibility in each of the last four games. Against UCLA, due to the injury to Kimble, Lemon started the game and carried the ball 16 times for 53 yards. But his real contribution came catching the ball out of the backfield, grabbing six passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Trojan fans will also remember him for the 82-yard touchdown run just before halftime last year in Palo Alto. Lemon is the most experienced runner of the three and no doubt should get the most carries against the Trojans.

Fullback – #39 Nick Frank

Nick Frank has lined up at fullback for every game this season after playing nose tackles during the previous two years. Frank was undersized for a nose tackle, but as a fullback, he is anything but. At 6'2" and 260 pounds, Frank has gotten most of his 113 yards this season simply by intimidating defenders into arm tackles and failed dives at his legs (and by playing against UCLA). Frank has just 33 carries on the year so far, but leads the team with three touchdown runs. A lot of those carries came last week against the Bruins, when he saw the ball 13 times and rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown. As a converted nose tackle, he isn't exactly a huge threat to break any long runs against the Trojans, but he will most likely get a bulk of the short-yardage carries on Saturday. While the linebackers on most teams would hope that Frank be used as primarily a blocking fullback, you can bet that Oscar Lua, Thomas Williams and the rest of the Trojan defenders can't wait for an opportunity to hit the big guy.

Wide Receivers – #86 Gerren Crochet, #4 Mark Bradford, #7 Justin McCullum

Besides Trent Edwards, probably the one offensive player that this offense could ill-afford to lose was wide receiver Evan Moore. He is, without question, the best skill-position player on the roster and presents an advantage for the Cardinal against any defense they line up against. In the season opener, he was well on his way to proving that he is one of the best receivers in the Pac-10, with three receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown before leaving with a hip injury. He has missed every snap since that injury and probably won't see any action in the Coliseum.

With the loss of Moore, Mark Bradford has stepped up and become the number one receiver for the Cardinal this season. He is a solid all-around receiver with great hands and more than enough speed. His 29 catches are almost twice as many as anyone else on the roster and his 431 receiving yards completely dwarf the rest of the roster. Of course, Bradford will need to suit up and see the field if he is to have an impact on Saturday and an injury suffered in the first quarter against UCLA may not let that happen. Bradford has five touchdown receptions on the year and if he can't go Saturday, the Cardinal receiving corps will be incredibly thin.

Justin McCullum and Gerren Crochet will be the primary receivers on Saturday and while they aren't bad, they aren't Moore and Bradford either. On the season, McCullum and Crochet have put up almost identical stats. They both have 181 yards receiving, McCullum's coming on 14 catches while Crochet has 15. McCullum has a touchdown catch, but Crochet has a touchdown run on a 46-yard reverse. McCullum will present more of a match-up problem on Saturday as his 6'4" frame looks a lot like other receivers who have used their height to grab passes over the heads of the shorter Trojan cornerbacks. I'll be excited to see if new corner Josh Pinkard will be able to physically stand up to McCullum and knock away those lobs to the end zone if the Cardinal try to exploit the height advantage. Crochet is more of a speed receiver who Edwards will try to get the ball to in open space, either across the middle of the field or behind the line of scrimmage.

Tight End – #87 Matt Traverso

Matt Traverso has been more of a blocking tight end this season, registering just seven catches for 75 yards on the season. With the lack of receivers though, we might see more of him in the passing game on Saturday. After watching former Cardinal tight end Alex Smith play against the Trojans for several years, Matt Traverso will be a welcome sight for Trojan fans.

Offensive Line – LT #67 Allen Smith, LG #59 Josiah Vinson, C #62 Tim Mattran, RG #60 Alex Fletcher, RT #78 Jon Cochran

It is said that a good offense starts with a good offensive line and thus far, the Cardinal offense hasn't been exactly good. The Cardinal are rushing for slightly more than three yards per attempt and just 114 yards per game. The offensive line has also allowed 22 sacks on the season including at least one in every game. They are coming off a game against UCLA in which they paved the way for just 140 rushing yards against one of the most porous run defenses in the nation and gave up five sacks. This is not one of the strongest lines in the Pac-10 and with no real standouts, look for the Trojans to attack any point along the line early and often.

Cardinal on defense

Defensive Line – #65 Gustav Rydstedt, #96 Babatunde Oshinowo, #94 Julian Jenkins

In the 3-4 scheme that the Cardinal use, the nose tackle becomes one of the most important players and Babatunde Oshinowo is a guy who can handle the responsibility. He is a great athlete and capable of stuffing just about any center in the Pac-10. The only problem for Oshinowo this Saturday is that Trojan center Ryan Kalil isn't just any center. Oshinowo leads the line with 35 tackles and has chipped in with 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. If the Trojans are to run the ball against Stanford, neutralizing Oshinowo will be step number one.

Julian Jenkins lines up next to Oshinowo and is another difference maker for this defense. Jenkins has 34 tackles on the year to go along with 6.5 tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead with five sacks. Jenkins plays equally well against the run and the pass and is recognized as one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-10. I think the Trojan offensive linemen will take a lot of pride in trying to shut Jenkins down and after neutralizing the Cougar tag team of Adam Braidwood and Mkristo Bruce for 60 minutes, Jenkins shouldn't prove to be much different. Gustav Rydstedt has served as little more than a place holder this season, picking up just three tackles on the season, all assisted. He has started the most games this season at defensive end but has managed to put up the fewest number. I'll be excited to watch the Trojans let their outstanding offensive line have their way with the three man front with some power running plays.

Linebackers – #37 Jon Alston, #48 Mike Silva, #47 Kevin Schimmelmann, #90 Udeme Udofia

Jon Alston is the star of this defense. His 37 tackles rank just fifth on the team, but he bring the most emotion and game-changing ability to this team. He is a relentless pass rusher, picking up five sacks among his seven tackles for loss, and has forced a team-high two fumbles and has both blocked a kick and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. With just three down linemen, Stanford looks to its linebackers to create extra pressure with the blitz and more often than not, Alson is called upon. The Trojan fullbacks and running backs have been exceptional this season at picking up the blitz and they will be tested constantly on Saturday.

Kevin Schimmelmann lines up at inside linebacker and leads the team by a large margin with 62 tackles. He will also come on the blitz occasionally and has two sacks to go along with four tackles for loss. It's a given that the Trojan tailbacks will break through the defensive line and it will largely be Schimmelmann's responsibility to stop them from breaking all the way into the secondary. I don't care if it's Schimmelmann or Superman, no inside linebacker is going to be able to accomplish that for an entire game.

Mike Silva stands next to Schimmelmann at the other inside linebacker spot. Silva is a tough player who makes a lot of plays because he will outwork his blocker. He has 41 tackles on the season, including a sack and has also intercepted a pass, which he returned 26 yards for a touchdown.

Udeme Udofia is the other outside linebacker and is the most physically imposing of all the linebackers. At 6'4" with great athletic ability, Udofia will probably match up against the Trojan tight ends in pass coverage and will also be brought off the edge to pressure Matt Leinart. Udofia has 23 tackles this season, and, illustrating that athletic ability, has picked up a sack, forced fumble, interception and a blocked kick.

Cornerbacks – #35 T.J. Rushing, #2 Nick Sanchez

T.J. Rushing is the leader of the Cardinal secondary and is an absolute burner. The only way a receiver is getting behind Rushing is if he bites on a play fake. Although Nick Sanchez is taller, I would imagine that head coach Walt Harris would rather Rushing line up against Dwayne Jarrett because he is a better overall cornerback. This, of course, makes Rushing's speed almost a non-issue unless he is using it to chase the Trojans down from behind after long gains. Against Washington State, we saw again and again how the Trojans are content to just flip the ball out to Jarrett at the line of scrimmage at let him work for his yards. His strength helped him break a couple for long gains and against Rushing, that could be the case again. Jarrett also has the advantage in a jump ball, as he does against every defensive back, so he should get his catches on Saturday no matter who lines up against him. On the season, Rushing has 31 tackles, two pass deflections and an interception.

Even though he saw action in ten of 11 games last season, Nick Sanchez still doesn't have a lot of experience going up against and shutting down top-flight passing attacks. Against both Oregon and Arizona State, Stanford's secondary allowed over 400 passing yards and three touchdowns. Sanchez has played very well this season; he is third on the team with 42 tackles, and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, but he'll have a tough time going up against either Jarrett or Steve Smith on Saturday. The Trojan receivers seem to have finally found their groove again and this secondary shouldn't do much to throw them out of it.

Safeties – #23 Brandon Harrison, #24 Trevor Hooper

Brandon Harrison and Trevor Hooper, while competent safeties, aren't exactly the two guys you'd point to first when trying to find the best secondary talent in the conference. Harrison is the leading tackler in the secondary with 43, to go along with his two interceptions. The best thing about a balanced offense, like the one that the Trojans bring to the table, is that it makes the game miserable to play for a strong safety like Harrison. At various times on Saturday, Harrison will be called upon to hit LenDale White coming through a hole in the line, make a solo tackle on Reggie Bush in the open field, play man coverage on Dominique Byrd on a crossing route, take on a block from David Kirtman and Brandon Hancock and read the mind of a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. It's just not feasible to ask one player to do all of those things without a mental lapse taking place somewhere, and when that happens, look for the Trojans to find it and capitalize, big time.

Trevor Hooper got the start at free safety in the opening game against Navy and against in the last game against UCLA. Hooper has the speed to keep up with most receivers and plays like a third cornerback out on the field. He'll need to be a very physical presence on Saturday in order to prevent the Trojan receivers from having clear running lanes and uncontested catches. Thus far, he's missed two games this season and has just 12 tackles.

Cardinal special teams

Kicker – #15 Michael Sgroi

Michael Sgroi is a very good kicker with an above-average leg. He's been called on plenty of times this season, converting 11 of his 16 attempts. But, most of those missed haven't been from a lack of accuracy or strength; he's had three field goal attempts blocked, which could be something the Trojans will look for, after that blocked extra point attempt against Washington State. Sgroi's strong leg has helped him connect from as far as 48 yards, and he has made his last six attempts. On kickoffs, Sgroi has forced touchbacks on 19 of his 39 kicks and is forcing opposing offenses to start, on average, at their own 20 yard line.

Punter – #27 Jay Ottovegio

Jay Ottovegio is a solid punter and will look to make the Trojan offense work out of its own end zone for most of the game. Of his 43 punts, he has forced six touchbacks, 11 fair catches and has downed 16 inside the 20-yard line. He's averaging just over 40 yards per kick. Reggie Bush was pretty well contained against Washington State and no doubt he is looking to make his mark on special teams this weekend.

Kick Returner – #35 T.J. Rushing

After missing Cougar return man Michael Bumpus, the Trojan kick coverage team will be tested by outstanding returner T.J. Rushing. Rushing is a sprinter for the Cardinal track team and has turned kickoff time into his personal 100-yard dash. He is averaging over 30 yards per return and has broken one 93 yards for a touchdown. When the Trojans struggle to cover kick returns, it's obvious that they are simply attacking in one wave with every player in a straight line across the field. In this case, one juke by the returner to beat the first man essentially beats the entire coverage. When they are covering kicks as should be expected from a National Champion, you can see that guys are maintaining their patience and creating two or three waves, allowing them to form angles and force the returner to beat three or four tackles instead of just the initial one. Against Rushing, it will be important to make him move east and west to avoid tackles, rather than just use his speed to head straight up the field.

Punt Returner – #35 T.J. Rushing

Rushing is also the punt returner, so if you thought it was safe to relax simply because it's not a kick off, think again. Teams have successfully punted away from Rushing or forced him to call for fair catches this season, as he has just nine attempted returns. He is, however, averaging over nine yards per return and it's always just a matter of time before he gets some speed and heads into the open field.

Outlook:

The good news for the Cardinal is that they return a majority of the team that probably gave the Trojans their biggest scare last season. The bad news for the Cardinal, among other things, is that, well, it's November, and the Trojans simply do not lose in this month. The Trojans will have had two consecutive weeks of home cooking, which they hadn't received yet this season, and, even though the game against Cal looms next weekend, the Coliseum crowd will not let them overlook Stanford. The Cardinal have some good athletes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but against this Trojan attack, it just won't be enough. Even if Stanford had their full compliment of offensive talent, they'd still be hard pressed to go score for score with USC. As it is, with Stanford missing at least one, if not two of their best receiving threats, the Cardinal could have trouble scoring at all.


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