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
3 pm Pacific Time
LOCAL CARD CONNECTIONS:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.