The Road Blues: Stanford Is Desperate For Victories Away From the Farm

Jason Figueiredo@sportschatterCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2009

BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 22: Toby Gerhart #7 of the Stanford Cardinal is stopped for a two yard loss against the California Golden Bears during an NCAA football game on November 22, 2008 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Taking a look at the Stanford Cardinal’s road performances over the past few years, it reminds me a lot of the movie Road Trip

Unfortunately, not the somewhat hilarious Road Trip with Tom Green, but the straight-to-DVD sequel whose trailer resembles an unwanted journey to Guantanamo Bay…the real one and the one with Harold and Kumar.

Like all second-rate movies, there are always some bright spots (the upset win at USC two years ago and putting up four wins in 2005), but the bulk is a terrible joke that is not worth remembering. 

Since 2002, the Cardinal have displayed a miserable 10-29 record on the road, posting only two multiple road win seasons.  A reverse in this dreadful trend is greatly needed if Stanford hopes to satisfy the constantly growing bowl talks spreading along the Peninsula. 

The 2009 schedule poises an uphill task for the upstart Cardinal and will be an excellent test on whether or not this team is worthy enough to be playing past November. 

To kickoff the season, Stanford travels to Pullman to face Washington State which, on paper, should be a “layup game”.

The Cougars gave up an average of 43.9 points per game last year and that was only the beginning of their statistical woes.  Washington State ranked 100th or worst in almost every offensive and defensive category and will no doubt experience additional growing pains this season.

A second season in Coach Paul Wulff’s system should translate into marginal improvement but this team is still pretty far from creating any serious waves in the Pac-10. 

Stanford’s secondary could get an early test from sophomore quarterback Marshall Lobbestael who missed last year’s 58-point whooping because of a knee injury. 

Lobbestael’s four touchdowns led all Cougar QBs despite only playing in five games. He is by far the most talented slinger on their depth chart and has the ability to get production out of a subpar wide receiver corps. 

When all is said and done, a weak defense will keep Washington State out of this game allowing Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck, and the rest of the offense to shine. 

Week Two brings another road trip and this time Wake Forest should test the legitimacy of Stanford’s offense and defense.  

Stanford’s offensive line will have their hands full with a very strong Deacon front four.  Seniors Boo Robinson and John Russell combined for 13 tackles for losses last season and sophomore Kyle Wilber is maturing quite nicely.

Once Stanford does get the ball past this front line, they will run into a young linebacker group that is anxious to prove their worth.  Gerhart could have a big day if the O-line can consistently win their battles and get Toby into this inexperienced second tier.

Riley Skinner’s accurate cannon and pocket agility should expose any weaknesses in the Stanford secondary.  Skinner ranked third in the ACC in total offense accumulating 2,347 passing yards and 144 rushing yards.  He has the ability to single handedly take over this game. 

The Stanford defensive line will need to take advantage of a Wake Forest front line that struggled consistently in 2008.  Steady pressure on Skinner should force him into a few poor decisions. 

If the secondary can lock it up and silence the Deacon passing game, Stanford could escape Winston-Salem with a win and a 2-0 record to start the season.

Following three straight weekends at the Farm, the Cardinal head north to face the revamped Beavers.  Oregon State surprisingly contended for the Pac-10 title last year and they strongly believe they can repeat the performance.

Stanford successfully dodged the overachieving version of the Beavers in 2008 when they took the season opener, 36-28.  This year should be an entirely different story.

Stanford will face a more experienced and explosive offense, spearheaded by outstanding sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers.  Rodgers rushed for 11 touchdowns last season and ranked second in the Pac-10 with 113.9 rushing yards per game.  

Oregon State’s passing and total defense ranked in the Top 25 in 2008, but will have to replace their entire secondary and the majority of their front line in 2009. This untested and much less talented defense should allow Luck’s talent to illuminate.

Coming out of Reser Stadium with a win has not been a simple task for most that enter.  The Beavers are 34-10 at home since 2002 and haven’t lost there since running into an uncharacteristically hot UCLA team on September 29th, 2007.

The Cardinal did come out of Corvallis with a win in 2005, but they will need to be running on all cylinders in order to get it done this year.

A trip to Tucson the following week should be Stanford’s best chance to take a conference road game, but it is hardly a shoe-in.

Stanford’s offense will have a long day ahead of them, facing the larger parts of an Arizona defense that held teams to 21.3 points per game in 2008. 

Luck should be challenged most of the day to find an open wide out.  Senior cornerback Devin Ross is considered to be of All-Pac-10 team quality and sophomore Trevin Wade has the potential to be a great lockdown corner after quietly recording four picks in three games.  

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal’s defense can expect a mouthful from the always-productive Nic Grigsby and his change of pace counterpart Keola Antolin. The player getting the ball to these backs is still the Million Dollar Question in Wildcat camp. 

Three straight difficult road games leading into this tilt could slightly jostle Arizona’s quarterback depth chart.  If Stanford can run a highly productive offense while taking advantage of a possibly unsettled Arizona offense, the Cardinal should be able to leave the desert with a tally in the win column

Two home games and a bye week separate Stanford from their next and final road game in Southern California. 

USC lost several big names on both sides of the ball but don’t be fooled by their Waylon Smithers appearance.  This team still has Mr. Burns’s arsenal close at hand and will no doubt reign supreme amongst their Pac-10 brethren. 

Despite having to replace star quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC is expected to once again reload at this extremely important position and hit the ground at Usain Bolt speeds. 

Sophomore QB Aaron Corp is said to be a future star, but has had freshman Matt Barkley nipping at his heels in training camp.  And this was before Corp got injured.  Either way, the Trojan offense appears to be locked and ready to fire. 

The Trojan defense took an enormous hit of their own, losing eight stars to the NFL Draft. But with the blue chippers they have waiting in the wings they shouldn’t miss a beat.  Their defense probably won’t be as stingy as their 2008 version (ranking 1st in the FBS allowing only nine points per game), but the drop off should not be that dramatic.

Stanford’s offense actually managed to score 23 points against that 2008 Trojan defense, albeit in a losing effort.  With USC’s defense taking a slight step backwards and the great potential surrounding Stanford’s offense, a shoot-out victory for the Cardinal isn’t entirely unfathomable.

While the odds of Stanford marching into the LA Coliseum and pulling out a win are statistically more likely this year than it was in 2007, it is probably not in the cards. 

But, hey!, stranger things have happened. 


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