STANFORD VS. UTAH, Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 12, 3 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Stanford needs to re-establish its status as a national-championship contender in its Oct. 12 road game against underrated Utah.
Doubts were raised in Stanford's 31-28 victory over then-No. 15 Washington on Oct. 5. Although the Cardinal remained unbeaten and remained ranked No. 5, it was dominated statistically by the Huskies. Stanford won in large part because of three big plays provided by Ty Montgomery.
The aftermath of that game created animosity between Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford's David Shaw. Sarkisian suggested in a postgame radio show that Stanford faked injuries to slow down the Huskies' hurry-up offense. On Oct. 8, Shaw spent time on the Pac-12 teleconference to dispute that claim.
"We don't fake injuries, and we never will," Shaw said. "I don't care what Steve Sarkisian thinks he saw."
Shaw called Sarkisian's comments "unprofessional," and when asked whether he had any conversation with Sarkisian since Sarkisian made his remarks, Shaw said, "No comment."
(To see the complete comments by Sakrsiana and Shaw on the issue, click here).
In one sense, Stanford's ability to win close games enhances its image. The Cardinal went 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, and it is now 1-0 in those situations this season.
"We are a mentally tough team," Shaw said. "Of all the things you can ask for as a coach, that is what you want."
However, that does not erase the fact that Washington outgained the Cardinal 489-284 in total offense and had 30 first downs to Stanford's 14. Such sizable discrepancies typically result in a loss, and Washington did its damage on the Cardinal's home field.
Now the Cardinal must travel to Salt Lake City to take on a Utah team gave No. 11 UCLA all it could handle in a 34-27 loss to the Bruins at Utah. Plus, the Utes have two extra days to recover and prepare after that Thursday night contest.
After the way Washington quarterback Keith Price sliced up Stanford's pass defense, the Cardinal has to be concerned with Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, a big quarterback who has played pretty well this season. He is not nearly as mobile as Price, so the Cardinal may be able to apply pressure on Wilson and force him into mistakes. Wilson has thrown nine interceptions this season, including six against UCLA, although four of those came on tipped passes.
The Utes (3-2) are just two close losses from being undefeated. They lost to Oregon State in overtime, and they got to the UCLA 23-yard line in the final minute of their seven-point loss to the Bruins.
Utah has a good run defense, yielding just 3.14 per rushing attempt. That will make it difficult for Stanford to control the contest with its power running game.
It will be up to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to produce a few big plays. He did not have a great game against Washington as a he started slowly and finished with just 105 passing yards.
STANFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kevin Hogan is 10-0 as a starter. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes in the first five games, which is down from his 71.7 completion percentage last year. The fact that Hogan is attempting more passes downfield has something to do with that. Hogan is getting better at throwing the deep ball, and his 11 touchdown passes through five games are already two more than he had all of last season. He started slowly against Washington, completing just 3 of his first 8 passes for 12 yards and an interception. He finished with just 105 passing yards and needs to produce considerably better numbers against Utah, whose pass defense is vulnerable.
--WR Ty Montgomery - After being injured much of last season, Montgomery has emerged as a big-play threat, something Stanford has lacked in recent years. His 23 receptions are 11 more than the team's No. 2 receiver, and he has five of the team's 11 touchdown catches. More significant is his work as a kick-returner. Against Washington, he had a 99-yard return for a touchdown and a 72-yard return to set up another touchdown.
--OLB Trent Murphy - Murphy leads the Cardinal with four sacks and also returned an interception for a touchdown this season. He needs to provide a big play defensively against the Utes. Utah has yielded just seven sacks this season, although UCLA recorded three of those in its most recent game. Stanford needs to apply pressure to Utah QB Travis Wilson to force some mistakes, and Murphy is the most likely candidate.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford has a 3-2 record against Utah and has not faces the Utes since they joined the conference. Their most recent meeting was in 1996, a game Utah won 17-10 at Stanford. Stanford beat the Utes 27-20 in 1995 on Utah's home field.
QUOTE: "Their defensive line coach [former Washington assistant Randy Hart] was telling them to sit down. I guess that's how we play here at Stanford, so we'll have to prepare for that next time. At some point, we'll get repaid for it. That never serves a purpose for us, and we'll never do that." - Washington coach Sarkisian, suggesting Stanford faked injuries to slow the Huskies' hurry-up offense, while speaking on KJR radio during his postgame show, according to SportspressNW.com. Stanford coach David Shaw later lashed out at Sarkisian for making those statements.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S RUNNING GAME: Stanford relies on a power running game behind its strong offensive line to control the game's tempo. The Cardinal had only moderate success running the ball against Washington and is averaging 5.1 yards per rushing attempt for the season. RB Tyler Gaffney is the team's leading rusher at 89.8 yards a game, but he has been less effective the past two games. His average per carry is down to 4.9. Utah has a good run defense, so it will be difficult to simply overpower the Utes' physical defenders.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S PASSING GAME: Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan has completed 62.6 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He did not have a particularly good game against Washington, passing for just 105 yards. He is getting much better at throwing the deep ball, and WRs Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste provide a deep threat that had been lacking in recent years. Having the time needed to complete those long passes will be a challenge, because Utah has recorded 18 sacks, tied for the third most in the country. Hogan will have to rely on his mobility to create throwing opportunities.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S RUN DEFENSE: Stanford's run defense is its strength, although it has not been quite as dominant against the run as expected. The Cardinal is yielding 3.5 yards per rushing attempt after allowing just 3.0 per run last year with virtually the same front seven. Utah is a pretty good running team, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, which is better than Stanford's rushing average. Utah uses a physical style in its running game, and Stanford's defense is based on physical dominance.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S PASS DEFENSE: Stanford's pass defense is based largely on its pass rush. The Cardinal, which led the nation in sacks last year, has 14 through the first five games, after sacking Washington's Keith Price five times. However, Price passed for 350 yards and found plenty of holes in the Cardinal secondary. Stanford's secondary, led by CB Alex Carter and S Ed Reynolds, is better than it's been in recent years, but it remains vulnerable. The Cardinal has intercepted six passes this season, and Utah QB Travis Wilson has thrown nine picks.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jordan Williamson is 9-for-11 on field goal attempts and has made his last five in a row. His only misses came on attempts of 51 and 52 yards. Ty Montgomery has proven to be an outstanding kick returner, averaging 33.5 yards a return, third best in the country. He returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown against Washington. Ben Rhyne averages 41.6 yards per punt with minimal returns.
STANFORD ROSTER NOTES
--DE Henry Anderson will miss his fourth straight game because of a leg injury suffered against Army. He probably will miss a few games after that, but is not expected to be out the rest of the season.
--ILB Shayne Skov had an MRI on his knee that showed no major damage. He is expected to play against Utah.
--WR Ty Montgomery had 290 all-purpose yards against Washington. That was a career high for Montgomery, but a long way from the school record of 379 yards held by Glyn Milburn. Montgomery was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week.
--ILB A.J. Tarpley got his first interception of the season and third of his career in the fourth quarter against Washington.
--OLB Trent Murphy was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week after have two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry in the game against Washington.