Pac-10 Week 5 Notes and Observations: Stanford Cardinal
Stanford Cardinal 4-1 Overall (3-0 Conference)
This Week’s Score: Stanford 24 – UCLA 16
Next Week’s Opponent: @Oregon State
Don’t look now, but the Stanford Cardinal are alone atop the Pac-10 at 3-0. Jim Harbaugh’s club picked up their fourth win of the season against UCLA, and barring a major collapse, the ‘Furd should be bowling for the first time since 2001.
With all due respect to Jahvid Best, Joe McKnight, and Jacquizz Rodgers I believe the best running back in the Pac-10 right now is Toby Gerhart, and it may not even be close. In fact, I see Gerhart as a legitimate Heisman contender, but only if the Cardinal continue to win. Gerhart tore right through a very stout UCLA defense (134 yards 3 TDs), and he was particularly magnificent in the redzone. I have never seen such nimble feet on a player of his size. Combine that with his power, vision, balance, and deceptive speed, and it is easy to see why he is the fourth leading rusher in the country (130 rushing yards per game).
As impressed as I have been with Gerhart, QB Andrew Luck has been almost as impressive. His numbers from Saturday may look pedestrian (14/20 198 yards), but anyone who watches the freshman throw can tell he is special. Luck demonstrated the pocket poise of a seasoned veteran against the Bruins, and he also showcased his tremendous deep ball on a flea-flicker to Ryan Whalen.
For the first time in a long time, Stanford’s offense appears to have true balance. Whalen has been very good as the possession receiver (118 yards receiving vs. UCLA), Fleener has been solid at TE, and Owusu continues to stretch the field, so defenses cannot focus exclusively on stopping Gerhart like they could last season.
I can’t say enough about the sheer physicality of this Cardinal team. Harbaugh has instilled toughness and tenacity in his players, and for the second straight week, Stanford hit the opposition right in the mouth on both offense and defense. Now, the club must prove that it can beat a quality opponent on the road (lost to Wake Forest in week 2), as the next two games (@Oregon State, @Arizona) will be critical in determining how special ’09 will be on The Farm.