G David Yankey (Personal matter — Probable)
If Washington's game Saturday against Arizona was payback for the beatdown that they received last year at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats, the Huskies could be in trouble this week if Stanford feels obliged to deliver a similar lesson. As virtually any reader of this blog is aware, an unranked Washington team upset the Stanford Cardinal last year in a Thursday night game at Century Link Field in Seattle that threw the eventual Pac-12 champions' national title hopes into disarray. Stanford will have revenge on its mind, and perhaps more importantly, a new-look offense in addition to their brand of smash mouth, nine-offensive-linemen sets that we've all come to know and love.
Last year, Stanford featured a middling quarterback in Josh Nunes, whose game against UW (18 of 37 for 170 yards, zero touchdowns and one pick) was especially bad. This year, they won't have that problem: Kevin Hogan was a veritable virtuoso for the Cardinal in the final six games of 2012, passing for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns versus three picks while completing 71.5 percent of his throws. It's not like Stanford's back schedule was full of pushovers, either: Hogan's wins came against No. 2 Oregon, UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Hogan is off to another hot start this year, as he's gaining an absurd 9.6 yards per attempt while completing 63.2 percent of his passes en route to Stanford's 4-0 start.
After taking a one-year leave of absence to play professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, Tyler Gaffney returned to use his final year of eligibility as the Cardinal's go-to tailback. His return was a stroke of luck for David Shaw, who had no clear candidates to take the position that Stepfan Taylor had staked as his own for the previous three seasons. Gaffney hasn't taken long to acclimate himself into his role as Stanford's workhorse, as he's averaging 5.27 yards per carry, including a gritty 19-carry, 95-yard performance against then-No. 22 Arizona State in which he earned two of his five rushing touchdowns on the season.
For years, Stanford relied on tight ends like Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo to advance the passing game, especially in the red zone: In 2011, for instance, those three players accounted for 20 of Stanford's 38 receiving touchdowns. Zach Ertz was the last of those players to move on from the college ranks last year, and without any similarly sized players able to step up to fill the void, Stanford has been forced to alter its air attack. The primary beneficiary of that adjustment has been junior Ty Montgomery, who accounts for nearly 33 percent of Stanford's receptions and 40 percent of its receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, sophomore Michael Rector has only notched three touches, but has taken two of them for scores. If Hogan can rock Washington's defense to sleep by feeding the ball to Montgomery, Rector will likely be the prime beneficiary of when they inevitably try to get him the ball in space.
Of course, the bread and butter of Stanford's offense has long been its offensive line, which is perhaps the most fearsome in America. The Cardinal live and die by the ability of their offensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage, and love nothing more than to go into single-back sets with no wide receivers, and bring everyone on the field during the play's pre-snap phase as close to the ball as possible. Their style of play is perhaps the direct antithesis of the spread/zone read offenses that are so in vogue throughout college football today, and without absurdly talented linemen, it's likely that their offensive scheme would fold on itself like so many houses of cards. Fortunately for the Cardinal, they have road-grader linemen in abundance, foremost among them left guard David Yankey, a consensus All American in 2012. He's joined by LT Andrus Peat, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser and RT Cameron Fleming, and though he's not a starter, expect to see true sophomore and five-star recruit Joshua Garnett, a product of Puyallup, Wash., and the son of Washington legend Scott Garnett, get a number of reps at left guard, as well.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.