Stanford 101: Game to hinge on both run games

FIFTY-EIGHT TO zero. The worst Cougar football season in history arguably hit its lowest point against Stanford. So it is perhaps appropriate that the crimson rebuilding process starts off against that same club. The Card went 5-7 last season -- a feat that gave head coach Jim Harbaugh enough confidence to ask his athletic director to build him a private, $80,000 bathroom. And the AD did it!

Typically in football, you go from the outhouse to the penthouse after a winning season. Apparently not so down on The Farm.

Last season, even though their head coach had to shower and urinate in the same facilities as everyone else in the building, the Card exploited the Cougs in every facet. The ground game was especially painful thanks in large part to Toby Gerhart and his 137 yards and 4 TDs.

This time around, the Cougars will be out to prove that they not only fixed what was wrong a year ago but have game enough now to pull off the upset -- or least hang tough for most of the afternoon.

Cougars (0-0) vs Cardinal (0-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
3 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
FSN Regional Coverage

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Stanford by 17

LAST MEETING:
Stanford won last year 58-0.

THE SERIES:
Stanford leads 25-33-1

LOCAL CARD CONNECTIONS:
Senior QB Tavita Pritchard (Tacoma), junior WR Marcus Rance (Yakima), freshman LB Geoff Meinken (Lynnwood) and freshman center David DeCastro (Bellevue)

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 28, Cardinal 25 OT

THE CARDINAL ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Andrew Luck, QB: Harbaugh appears to have seen enough of Tavita Pritchard and is opting to turn the page early in the succession process. The freshman Luck is a bit of an unknown quantity heading into the fall, but at 6-4, 235 pounds he certainly looks the part of a Pac-10 QB.
Toby Gerhart, RB: Gerhart turned down offers to play professional baseball to return for a final campaign. The bulldozing senior managed 1,136 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns last season and will continue to be the focal point of the offense.

Overview
Stanford will follow Gerhart's lead in a blue collar, run-oriented attack that was second in the Pac-10 and among the top 20 in the nation in rushing last season. Passing accuracy could continue to be an Achilles' heal.

Strategy
The Cougs either play some stingy run defense or it really doesn't matter what else they have improved upon. Stanford ran effortlessly through WSU last year, producing 344 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. Any remotely similar performance could spell huge trouble for this week, and beyond. Gerhart is almost exclusively a north-south runner, so plugging the gaps between the tackles is the name of the game. Stanford will have the play-action pass ready if the Cougs try to over-commit to the trenches.

THE CARDINAL ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Clinton Snyder, MLB: Fairly tall for a linebacker at 6-4, he has started all but two games during his Stanford career. The senior moves to middle linebacker this season and will be the hub of the defense.

Overview
Stanford made a conscious effort to move a lot of athleticism to the defensive side of the ball early in the Harbaugh era, allowing them to be more aggressive. They run an attacking 4-3 scheme and have excellent pass rushers. But athletic doesn't mean their personnel is short on beef, so expect them to once again be far more difficult to run against than pass.

Strategy
Run the ball to eat up the clock and effectively shorten the game, and avoid turnovers. Expect Stanford to overemphasize run defense until the Cougs prove they can pass the football. The Cougs will have to execute flawlessly and creatively if they plan to win the game on the ground.

THE CARDINAL ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Stanford will be breaking in a new kicker this fall. Sophomore punter David Green could potentially get the nod at both slots, but competition is still open.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougs need to bring their lunch pails and match the Cardinals in energy and tenacity. The defense must stop the run and force some turnovers. The offense must control the clock and take care of the ball. The Cougs were obliterated last year by a Stanford squad that finished with a losing record. But a competitive performance could go a long way to rebuilding the program's psyche -- and a win will have the Cougs riding high headed into Week 2 vs. Hawaii. This game against Stanford is either a golden opportunity or land mine depending on your level of optimism.

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