NO. 5 STANFORD AT ARMY, Saturday, Sept. 14, 9 a.m. Pacific time
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1050 AM
Stanford was efficient in its season-opening 34-13 victory over San Jose State, but the No. 5 Cardinal did not resemble the national championship-caliber team it is supposed to be.
The Cardinal gets a chance to clear up some of its shortcomings when it plays its first road game against Army on Sept. 14. Anything less than a dominating performance will raise questions for Stanford heading into its first significant test of the season, a Sept. 21 home game against Arizona State.
The Black Knights, who are 1-1 after a 40-14 loss to Ball State, have not beaten a ranked opponent in 41 years and don't seem to have the personnel to pull one off this year either.
However, Army's triple option running attack, which averages 6.2 yards per rushing attempt, creates an interesting matchup against the Cardinal's standout run defense.
Army led the nation in rushing the past two seasons, and rushing defense is Stanford's forte. The Cardinal yielded just 35 rushing yards to San Jose State in the opener, which puts the Cardinal third in the nation in that category. Stanford ranked fifth nationally in rushing defense in 2012.
Stanford's front seven is among the best in the country, although standout outside linebacker Trent Murphy said he thought the Cardinal was "pretty soft up front" against the Spartans.
Army does not pose much of a passing threat.
Stanford's patient, grind-it-out offense is not built to score points in a hurry, and its 27.9 points a game last year was not among the nation's leaders. However, the Cardinal's point production increased dramatically after Kevin Hogan became the starting quarterback at midseason.
Hogan, running back Tyler Gaffney and the Cardinal offense should have no trouble racking numbers against an Army defense that yielded 40 points and 440 yards to Ball State.
Coaches may not give Hogan many opportunities to throw in this game. But he will probably launch a few bombs because he needs to improve his accuracy on deep throws. Hogan was accurate on a medium-deep pass to Devon Cajuste that resulted in 40-yard touchdown pass on Stanford's opening drive against San Jose State. But Hogan was off the mark on several other deep throws during the game.
An inability to hit the long pass is the one noticeable shortcoming in Hogan's game, and if Stanford cannot demonstrate a deep passing threat, opposing defenses will continue to crowd the line of scrimmage against the Cardinal's power running game.
The biggest concern for Stanford against Army may be the early starting time, which will be 9 a.m. Pacific time.
STANFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Kevin Hogan is 6-0 as a starter, and that does not include a 49-0 victory in the seventh game last year against Colorado, when Hogan entered the game in the first quarter and supplanted Josh Nunes as the team's No. 1 quarterback. Hogan completed 17 of 27 passes in the 2013 opener, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was the team's second-leading rusher with 263 yards last year. However, Stanford did not call a single running play for Hogan in the opener. His only three runs came on scrambles on planned pass plays. It will be worth watching whether Stanford calls any running plays for Hogan against Army.
--RB Tyler Gaffney had 104 yards rushing against San Jose State, and the Cardinal figures to rely heavily on its running game against Army. Although coach David Shaw insists Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson will share the tailback duties, Gaffney was clearly the No. 1 back in the opener. Gaffney had more than twice as many carries as Wilkerson, who got most of his work in the final five minutes of the game when the Cardinal was running out the clock. How Stanford uses its two tailbacks against Army will be informative.
--OLB Trent Murphy may be the most talented player in Stanford's impressive front seven. He will be a key ingredient against Army's option running game and figures to rack up some tackles. He had just two tackles in the opener against San Jose State, and both were sacks.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford is 5-5 against Army in a series that began in 1928 at Yankee Stadium. Army won the most recent meeting 17-13 in 1979.
QUOTE: : "There aren't a lot of teams that look like us anymore, and that's fine. We want to control the ball and play great defense." - Stanford coach David Shaw, on the Cardinal's methodical pace on offense, which runs counter to the trend of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses.
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 rushed for 197 yards in its opener against San Jose State, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Tyler Gaffney was the primary runner, collecting 104 yards in the opener. Eight Cardinal players carried the ball against San Jose State, and it figures to spread out the carries against Army as well.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S PASSING GAME: Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan completed 17 of 27 passes for 207 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the opener. He is adept at throwing from the pocket or while on the move and he can escape a pass rush. In recent years, Stanford's passing game revolved around its tight ends, but tight ends combined for just two catches for nine yards against San Jose State. WRs Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste were the primary targets in the opener as the Cardinal makes an effort to get its wide receivers involved. Hogan still has problems completing the deep pass.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S RUN DEFENSE: Stanford yielded just 35 yards on the ground against San Jose State, and defending the run is Stanford's strong suit with its talented front seven. The Spartans are mainly a passing team, however, so those number may not give a true indication of the Cardinal's ability against the run this year. Army, which led the nation in rushing the past two seasons, will show how good Stanford is against the run.
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, had three against San Jose State in the opener, but Spartans QB David Fales generally had time to throw while collecting 217 passing yards. The Cardinal's secondary is improved from a year ago, and the star is S Ed Reynolds, who led the team with 12 tackles and intercepted a pass in the opener. Defending the pass will not be a major issue against Army, which relies on an option running game. That will bring Stanford defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage to help defend the run.
ASSESSING STANFORD'S SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jordan Williamson made two of three field-goal attempts against San Jose State, hitting from 40 and 48 yards and missing from 52. Three of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. Stanford did not punt against San Jose State, so we're still waiting to see how P Ben Rhyne will do. Ty Montgomery returned a kickoff 36 yards in his only try, and he has the ability to make a big play as a returner.
--TB Anthony Wilkerson is again listed a co-starter along with Tyler Gaffney, although Gaffney received the bulk of the work in the opener.
--TB Barry J. Sanders, a redshirt freshman, got his first career carry in the fourth quarter of the opener against San Jose State. He gained two yards. His playing time figures to increase as the season goes on.
--S Ed Reynolds, who had six interceptions last year, tied for the fifth most in the nation, picked off a pass in the opener.
--QB Dallas Lloyd looks like he will be used when Stanford wants its quarterback to be a running threat. It's a role Kevin Hogan filled last year before he became the starter. Lloyd took two snaps against San Joe State. He ran seven yards on the first, but fumbled the snap on the second, resulting in Stanford's only turnover.
--OT Andrus Peat made his first career start against San Jose State.
--TE Luke Kaumatule made his first career reception in the opener, for five yards.
--TE Charlie Hopkins made his first career reception in the opener, for four yards.