Players to Know
Toby Gerhart, RB: A punishing, physical runner who has a lot of speed for his size, Gerhart is among conference leaders in most rushing categories -- he has 779 hashes, nine touchdowns, and a 5.6 per carry average. He's also on pace to become Stanford‘s first 1,000 yard rusher since Tommy Vardell in, wait for it... 1991. Backup Anthony Kimble offers a solid change of pace option.
Tavita Pritchard, QB: Pritchard has done a nice job managing the game and minimizing mistakes, Still, there are some amongst the Stanford faithful who think he has taken the team as far as it can go under his watch. The fall prospectus put out by the Stanford SID was surprising in how uncomplimentary it was -- those materials usually emphasize the positives. In '08, Pritchard has just 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and his lack of arm strength has been apparent against faster defenses. Backup Alex Loukas brings a solid set of physical tools and is starting to get worked into the games regularly but in the end Pritchard remains the best option and keeps starting, week after week. With Loukas, running is his first and second option.
Stanford has made running the ball its focus with Gerhart and Kimble -- they run it almost twice as much as they pass. This plays to their strength on the offensive line, but they are also trying to cover up a passing game that has not found much success.
Ideally, you shut down the run and test Pritchard‘s arm. The Cougs will need to stuff Gerhart, probably by risking exposing their secondary. But Stanford is pretty raw at receiver, so it might not be all that big a gamble. The Cougs may want to mix in some zone blitzes and cover-3 on third and long, and disguise it as well, although if the Cougs can't stop the run better than they have, all of that becomes pretty much moot.
THE CARDINAL ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
Pat Maynor, LB: Attacking from the weak side, Maynor gets in the most action of Stanford linebackers. He leads the team with 59 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, and 4 sacks.
Stanford 4-3 defense is full of veteran talent, and largely talent that was brought in from the previous regime before Harbaugh. They are big, strong and tough, but they do lack speed in some areas. Opponents are averaging just 3.2 yards per rush, but the Cardinal have given up an average of 281 passing yards in their four losses.
| Cougars (1-7) vs Cardinal (4-4)|
AT A GLANCE
2:00 pm Pacific Time
A valuable lesson from Stanford's huge upset of USC last year: patience, control the clock, and don't turn the ball over. Stanford can be thrown upon, but the Cougs will need to run in order to keep the Stanford defense off of their QB. And when they pass, they will need to make the most of their passing opportunities. Forcing it when it's not there has resulted in turnovers and critical losses of momentum for WSU this season time and time again. They'll need to reverse the trend if they're going to pull off the upset.
THE CARDINAL ON SPECIAL TEAM
Kicker Aaron Zagory and punter and punter David Green both have strong legs. Zagory is 9-for-11 this year and hasn‘t missed a kick inside 40 yards. Stanford leads the conference in net punting, but doesn‘t have any dangerous return men.
The Cougs got a much needed week off, but so did Stanford. The Cougs are healthier, but still not healthy. The defense needs to get back to playing, as they have at times this season, with more purpose and fly to the football. Getting hold of Gerhart and not letting go will be critical -- if WSU arm tackles and/or doesn't wrap up, it will be a long day. If they do force Stanford to throw and if they do get some pressure on the Stanford QBs, things could get interesting. Offensively, the Cougs need a spark. And once they get a spark, they need to fan it to a flame. J.T. Levenseller will get some time under center and if he's able to come off the bench and bust off a long pass or go on a long jaunt, that could give WSU such much needed momentum. Dwight Tardy returns but he doesn't need to carry the team, just get good solid yardage and put WSU in short yardage situations rather than third-and-long. The key will be the offensive line. They have to give Kevin Lopina and Levenseller adequate protection and open enough holes for the Cougar running game. They don't have to be perfect but if they play at the level they're capable of, Washington State can do some things against the Cardinal. And as with any team that is favored by a ton, if they find themselves in a slugfest in the second half, they have a tendency to tighten up. Just ask USC against Stanford last year. Brandon Gibson is due to bust out. If the o-line does their job and gives Lopina and/or Levenseller enough time, this might just be the game B-Gib goes atomic against a struggling Stanford secondary.