With just one game left before the league schedule gets underway, the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal will travel to West Point for a test against the Army Black Knights at Michie Stadium.
After having the first week of the season off, Stanford finally got on the field and looked as strong as expected in a 34-13 win over San Jose State. Hyped starters of the defense like Ed Reynolds and Shayne Skov lived up to the expectations as the Cardinal held the potent Spartans to just 251 yards of offense. With the win, David Shaw is now 24-4 as the head coach of the Cardinal since taking over in 2011. Even with the strong showing the Cardinal remained at the fifth spot in the most recent Top 25 poll.
Army has split its first two contests of the season. Both outcomes could not have been more different as the Black Knights rolled over FCS foe Morgan State (28-12) in the opener but were then routed on the road by Ball State (40-14). After playing mistake-free football against the Bears, Army was guilty of its first turnover in the loss to Ball State.
In 10 total meetings between these two squads, the series is deadlocked at 5-5. Army has won the last two meetings, although the most recent was in 1979.
Though it is the defense that is the star attraction for Stanford, an anomaly in the offense-heavy Pac-12, the Cardinal are an efficient offensive squad. Shaw runs a pro-style offense that is predicated heavily on the run. Against San Jose State the Cardinal picked up 197 yards on the ground and 207 through the air, showing the kind of balance that fits with Shaw's gameplan.
Tyler Gaffney was impressive as he looks to have claimed the starting running back spot left by Stepfan Taylor. Gaffney totaled 104 yards and two scores on 20 carries. Anthony Wilkerson (65 yards) averaged 7.2 yards per carry as a backup option.
Kevin Hogan didn't need to do much more than manage the game against San Jose State, a role he is very well suited for. Hogan completed 17-of-27 pass attempts for 207 yards and two scores in the game and also added 17 yards on the ground on three tries.
Ty Montgomery (four receptions, 81 yards, TD) and Devon Cajuste (three receptions, 62 yards, TD) were Hogan's favorite targets in the contest and each had at least one reception of 40 yards. Gaffney (two receptions, 20 yards) and Wilkerson (two receptions, 14 yards) factored in the passing game as well.
However, as anyone that has paid attention to Stanford recently knows, it is the defense that powers the Cardinal, and the unit looked strong out of the gate. Though San Jose State is a pass-heavy team led by star quarterback David Fales, the Cardinal made the Spartans a one dimensional squad in the contest. San Jose State had just 35 yards on 23 rushing attempts. Stanford also played extremely well in the red zone, allowing just a single touchdown on four trips.
"We tightened up in the red zone and played great red zone defense, which is one of our calling cards," Shaw said. "We don't worry what happens between the points. IF we keep them out of the end zone we'll win games."
Reynolds, who said that the defense was 'average' against San Jose State, led the Cardinal with 12 tackles and also collected an interception. Skov was also on the attack in the contest with nine tackles, while fellow linebacker Trent Murphy had two sacks.
Army runs one of the most traditional offenses in the country. Along with Navy and Georgia Tech, the Black Knights rely almost exclusively on the run game in a triple option attack that requires a mobile quarterback and a stable of ball-carriers. With 658 yards on the ground, Army ranks 10th in the country in rushing yards per game.
Larry Dixon has been the most productive rusher for the Black Knights. In two games he has amassed 220 yards and two scores on just 25 carries. He is the only player on the team currently averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game. Raymond Maples has also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards (102), while Hayden Tippett has 61 as the fourth rushing option.
Angel Santiago is the man under center and has been the most dangerous rusher in the red zone with three touchdowns. Santiago is second on the team with 157 rushing yards on a team-high 31 attempts. When passing, Santiago hasn't looked great with just 150 yards passing on 7-of-19 passing along with an interception. A.J. Schurr has also gotten some play at quarterback, especially against Ball State when he rushed for 41 yards on just five carries and completed 4-of-8 pass attempts for 27 yards.
"I liked when A.J. came in the game. He can do all of the things that we want at quarterback," Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson said. "I will say what I said in the beginning of the season; don't be surprised if you see two quarterbacks."
It is difficult to say which defensive unit Army is. Is it the team that allowed just 12 points and less than 300 yards of total offense to an FCS foe or the one that was ripped for 440 yards and 40 points against Ball State? More than likely it is the latter. Against Ball State Army failed to record a sack and allowed the Cardinals to score on all seven of their red zone chances.
Geoffery Bacon (20 tackles), Alex Meier (18) and Thomas Holloway (17) have been tackling machines for the Black Knights but the team has struggled to create turnovers and negative plays, as illustrated by the effort against Ball State, when they did not record a sack.