October 22, 2009

Gerhart brothers provide ASU-Stanford subplot

After a 413-day hiatus, the Gerhart Bowl will renew on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.

Between Stanford senior running back Toby Gerhart and Arizona State sophomore offensive lineman Garth Gerhart, there will be dozens of family and friends in attendance. Presumably, they will always be rooting for the offense.

It'll be a nice belated birthday present of sorts for Garth, who turned 21 on Wednesday. In a fine display of brotherly love, Toby gave Garth a nice present over the phone, saying, "I'm not going to take it easy on you guys just because it's your birthday."

At the moment, both Gerharts are fighting through injuries. For Garth, it's turf toe on both feet, something he's been battling since training camp. For Toby, it's an ankle injury he sustained last week in his team's 43-38 loss at Arizona. Both are expected to be able to play.

Listening to ASU coach Dennis Erickson this week, one can tell he has a great respect for the way coach Jim Harbaugh has developed Stanford's program in his three years at the helm.

"The key to them is their offensive front," Erickson said. "They're physical up front, that's what Harbaugh preaches.

Toby, who leads the Pac-10 in rushing with 124.1 yards per game and has 12 touchdowns, will provide the ASU defense with its first big test of the season. With Toby healthy this year, Stanford has simply been a different beast.

"He just has a lot more confidence," Garth said of his brother. "When he was a freshman he seemed more nervous and it seemed like he was more tentative in all his cuts. Now he's just letting loose. He's making cuts, he's running people over, he's showing people that he has actual speed. He's just an all-around good back this year."

What's also added to Stanford's rise is redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck. According to ASU senior safety Ryan McFoy, Luck is much more accurate than his predecessor, senior Tavita Pritchard.

Erickson said Luck thrives in play-action pass situations, which he said Stanford does as good as any team. As much as McFoy loves to make big hits in run support, it will be especially crucial for the secondary to stay disciplined this weekend. The last thing ASU needs is to give up another big touchdown.

"It's all mental," McFoy said of his team's propensity to give up a big play. "Sometimes if you don't key your keys, it can mess up everything … That's all it is."

But don't get McFoy wrong, he loves to create collisions near the line of scrimmage.

"When it's that time, I like to come down and show them I'm there," McFoy said.

McFoy should have plenty of opportunities to do that on Saturday, as the Cardinal average 39 rushing attempts per game.

In his eyes, McFoy said the defense isn't even playing close to its potential, calling it 60 percent as good as it can be. But ASU surely can't suffer a lapse against Stanford, which averages nearly 430 yards per game on offense.

"[Stanford's] not special," McFoy said. "They're just going to try and run it down our mouth. Our defense is real good, so I think we're going to be able to stop them. They're going to make plays, but it's just the amount of plays we let them make."

The defense will be without junior cornerback Omar Bolden Saturday, who was ruled out by Erickson. Senior wide receiver Kyle Williams (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, but Erickson didn't speculate on his availability for Saturday. Senior wide receiver Kerry Taylor (hamstring) was also limited.

Sophomore offensive lineman Zach Schlink will also be held out, while Erickson said Gerhart and sophomore Matt Hustad will be available. Erickson said he still hasn't decided who will start on the right side of the line, as Gerhart and senior Brent Good have been sharing time at guard while Hustad and senior Tom Njunge have been switching at right tackle.

"Those guys are all young and they're pretty good," Erickson said of his o-line. "I feel better now than I ever have, as far as our offensive front is concerned."



 

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