It's easy to start any preview of Stanford by starting with the offensive line. The offensive line for Stanford has gotten praise on top of praise heaped upon it by the Pac-12 media over the past few years, and it has generally been one of the top lines in the country. This year, however, there has been a step back in production in the running game, and the once dominant line has begun to show some vulnerabilities. Make no mistake, Stanford's line is still good, but they are not quite the group of maulers that the Pac 12 is used to seeing from the Cardinal.
Stanford's starters on the offensive line have some heft and there is a lot of talent across the board. The entire line are juniors, led by LT Andrus Peat, a future first round NFL pick, and RT Kyle Murphy. Stanford has given up 22 sacks this season, 64th in the nation, so they are beatable.
Inside, guards Joshua Garnett and Johnny Caspers flank center Graham Shuler. The group has paved the way to a decent rushing average, 4.3 yards per carry, but Stanford's running game has only broken the 200 yard barrier once this season. They consistently averaged 200 yards rushing per game in the 4 previous seasons.
Kevin Hogan has been a steady presence for the Cardinal under center since taking over a couple of seasons ago. His numbers aren't the flashiest on the ground or in the air, as is the case with all elements of Stanford's offense. He's completed 64.5% of his passes, throwing for 2,369 yards with 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He's also rushed for 5 touchdowns and has sneaky good running ability.
Of course, Stanford would rather hand the ball to a running back rather than have Hogan toting the ball, but Stanford's backfield still is not set after losing Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, and Anthony Wilkerson over the past two seasons. Stanford has gone to full running back by committee backfield, and this week Kelsey Young will get the start. He'll share carries with leading rusher Remound Wright, Barry Sanders, and Christian McCaffrey. All four add some unique abilities to the backfield; Wright is the short yardage back and the team's leading rusher, Sanders is a home run hitter, McCaffrey has been very good catching the ball, and Young is a solid, all around back.
The Cardinal also boost one of very few traditional fullbacks still left in college football. Lee Ward replaces departed Ryan Hewitt, and you'll see a lot of collisions between Ward and our linebackers on Friday.
At wide receiver, Ty Montgomery is out on Friday and is a huge loss in the passing game. Montgomery led the team in receptions and yards, and had over twice as many receptions as the second leading receiver. Devon Cajuste, Jordan Pratt, and Michael Rector will be the primary receivers on Friday, and of the group Cajuste will cause the most matchup problems because of his size (6'4 229 lbs.). Without Montgomery, this group simply is not very explosive, and they will need to find a creative way to threaten vertically on Friday.
Of course, Stanford will utilize their wealth of talent at tight end in the passing game. Austin Cooper, Eric Cotton, and Greg Taboada form a talented and deep group of tight ends. All are in the 6'4-6'6 range and 240+ lbs., and they're all very capable receivers. Stanford has sent a lot of tight ends to the NFL in recent years, and it is because they recruit and coach the position extraordinarily well.
UCLA has played most of the season with 5 defensive backs on the field. This week, the defensive scheme will be a little different. We get to line up on defense in a base set and play good ol' fashioned football. And it's for a shot at the Pac-12 Championship game.