Home Sweet Home: Stanford Hopes to Continue Winning Trend in Palo Alto
While Stanford has experienced some extreme road woes the past few years, in 2008 coming home to Palo Alto made all of the difference in the world.
For the first time since 2003, the Cardinal posted a record at or above .500 in Stanford Stadium. In fact, their four wins last year in front of their die-hard fans was the most since they won five during their 2001 bowl season.
The Cardinal will definitely be ready for some home cooking after two straight weekends on the road. They start off their three-game home stand with an extremely winnable game against San Jose State.
When Spartan’s coach Dick Tomey called their non-conference schedule “very ambitious,” he wasn’t kidding. San Jose State faces two 2008 BCS bowl winners (USC and Utah) in the first two weeks of their season. Then, they have to stagger into the Farm, hopefully licking their wounds, for Stanford’s home opener.
San Jose State has struggled to regain the fortune they found in 2006 when they manage to beat Stanford, 35-34. Since Jim Harbaugh has taken over, the Cardinal are 2-0 against this cross-town rival, allowing only five points, 43 rushing yards, and 148 passing yards per game. The returning five starters from this anemic Spartans offense should bring more of the same in this year’s match-up.
Harbaugh has leaned heavily on Toby Gerhart in order to dispose of San Jose State the past two years. Gerhart tore apart the Spartan’s D, accumulating 140+ yards and a touchdown in each of the two games.
While Gerhart should be expected to continue this trend, the Spartans defense is hardly anything to scoff at.
San Jose State gave up only 311.7 yards per game in 2008, ranking 21st in the nation. This can be credited to their 10th ranked passing defense that stifled opposing offenses, averaging a minuscule 170.3 yards allowed per game.
In order for the Spartans to have a chance at this game, their defense will have to live up to it’s billing and their offense will need to try to hold their own on the scoreboard.
When all is said and done though, Stanford should be sporting an overall record above .500 and hopefully one that has a goose egg in the loss column.
Stanford adds a little more cushion to their home schedule the following week against Washington.
The Huskies looked absolutely miserable last season, failing to post a single victory. The Washington faithful have not seen a win since Nov. 17, 2007 and tough home games against LSU and USC shouldn’t make things any easier on them.
The road hasn’t shown any sympathy to the Huskies’ woes either.
Since 2003, Washington has only been able to put up six road wins in 32 tries. Their last road win came against Stanford in 2007, where they held the Cardinal to nine points.
This previous win in Stanford Stadium may help build the confidence of this timid team but expect the Cardinal to seek out a little revenge after this loss in front of the home fans.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker looks to return from a thumb injury that kept him out of eight games last season. Locker’s great arm and quick feet should keep the Stanford’s defense on their toes and Washington’s offense in the hunt for most of the game.
Washington’s defense brings back seven starters from last year but their rushing D will be the Achilles Heel that Stanford will constantly attack. Gerhart should not have a problem racking up enormous numbers against a run defense that ranked 117th last year, allowing 240.6 yards per game.
The Huskies will no doubt experience issues as they once again try to right the ship this season. The Cardinal should be able to take full advantage of the mistakes that Washington brings to the table and emerge from this game with a win.
Week five opens the Farm’s doors to the UCLA Bruins.
Like Stanford, UCLA has been fighting through several rebuilding seasons and are optimistic that this is the year that all of the pieces fall into place.
The Bruins rest their hopes on redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince to turn this organization around. Prince takes over an offense that ranked 111th in 2008 and will have to rely on protection from an offensive line that is suspect at best.
The experience and talent of Stanford’s front four should constantly overpower this young and weak offensive line, creating constant pressure on Prince, forcing him to commit multiple turnovers.
On the flipside, Gerhart could potentially have another huge game in front of the Cardinal faithful. Toby faces a defensive line that has one stud in Junior DT Brian Price but lacks any significant talent around him.
Andrew Luck will have to make reads against last year’s eighth ranked passing D though, which may force the Cardinal’s offense to become slightly one-dimensional.
UCLA has been picked by many experts to finish above Stanford in the Pac-10 and if their offense starts to gel early, the Cardinal could have their hands full.
Following two games away from the friendly confines of Palo Alto, Stanford welcomes Arizona State into town, where they look to avenge last year’s 24-point loss in Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State’s defensive line is by far their strong point and will definitely create havoc in Stanford’s backfield the entire game. Right end Dexter Davis is coming off of back-to-back 10-sack seasons, the only active collegiate player to accomplish such a task. Freshman All-American tackle Lawrence Guy also returns to this speedy ASU defense that Dennis Erickson has been crafting since he arrived in Tempe.
With Stanford’s rushing game staring into a brick wall, Luck will have to exploit an exceptionally weak Sun Devil secondary, provided that he has enough time.
The Cardinal’s defense should hold their own against a particularly untalented ASU offense, making any type of offensive production that Stanford can muster tremendously important if they hope to win this game.
The final three home games accompanied with a trip to USC are the toughest set of games the Cardinal will face this season.
A bye on Halloween weekend will give Stanford time to prepare for their contest against the often high-powered Oregon offense.
Last season, the Ducks averaged 41.9 points per game, good enough for seventh in the FBS.
Junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is expected to continue his maturing process under new head coach Chip Kelly and should improve on his 1,744 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Their second ranked rushing offense loses 1000-yard rusher Jeremiah Johnson and three offensive linemen, which may slow this offense down a smidgen. Senior running back LeGarrette Blount, who also surpassed the 1000-yard mark last season, will have to prove there is life after Johnson.
The Ducks rushing defense also loses several stars on their front line and should see a slip in the 119.4 yards allowed per game they put up in 2008. This slightly downgraded rushing D parlayed with a passing defense that is absolutely terrible against the long ball could spell success for the Stanford offense.
Oregon may be able to iron out the kinks of this questionable defense by the time this November tilt takes place but if they cant, this could be Stanford’s game for the taking.
A trip to USC should leave the Cardinal a little wounded coming into The Big Game on Nov. 22.
Since the turn of the century, this bout with California has been more one-sided than a Fox News debate.
Stanford does have bragging rights to their last match-up in Palo Alto, but last year’s loss in Berkeley brings the record between these team to 2-6 as of 2001.
California can be summarized by two words: rushing and defense.
Sophomore running back Jahvid Best finished third in the nation, averaging 131.7 yards per game. He will no doubt keep the Stanford d-line and linebacker corps busy the entire day.
The Bears defense returns all three defense linemen, a linebacker, and their entire secondary. A second year in defensive coordinator Bob Gregory’s 3-4 defense can only mean improvement to the outstanding numbers they posted in 2008.
Containing Jahvid and finding a way to score against a Top 25 defense doesn’t bode well for Stanford.
In the final week of Stanford’s regular season, Notre Dame marches into town for this yearly non-conference rivalry.
Notre Dame currently holds a seven game win streak against the Cardinal and haven’t lost to Stanford since 2001 in Stanford Stadium.
As they have the past two years, the Irish will rely on outstanding recruit Jimmy Clausen to guide them back to the promise land. Clausen’s arm has been the only reliable source of offense for Notre Dame as their rushing game has been the worst in Irish history, thanks to a below average offensive line.
New offense line coach Frank Verducci could shake things up a bit in the running game but expect the ball to be in Clausen hands the majority of the time.
A significant loss in talent on the Irish’s defensive line could plague them the entire season if their young prospects can’t quickly step up. Stanford’s elite rushing attack has the ability to overwhelm this defense and light up the scoreboard early and often. Notre Dame will need to lean heavily on Clausen and their offense in order to keep up.
Stanford’s “saving the best for last” schedule is the biggest roadblock in between this budding team and a bowl appearance. If they can win two of their final four games, snatching away BCS hopes and dreams from a few teams in the process, Stanford should see their first bowl game in eight years.
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