22.Nov.2010 Q & A with a Stanford Blogger
A Stanford blogger, Hank Waddles, wrote me over the weekend asking to do a Q & A about the Beavers. If anyone cares to read my response to him, it can be found here.
Below he fields some of my questions. This was pretty fun, and hope to do it more in the future with fellow Pac-10 bloggers.
Does Luck run any read/option? This play kills the Beavs.
Recently there have been a lot of comparisons between Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, mainly because there might not be another quarterback in college football who’s better at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. You can probably expect three or four designed runs from him a game, but it’s usually some type of a bootleg. Maybe once a game there might be a more typical read option play, but those are rare. I’m guessing you’ve seen the 58-yard rumble from the Cal game. That’s what defenses really have to watch for, when he’s checked all three or four of his reads and takes off. He never makes the wrong decision in those situations, and he’s fast enough to outrun lineman and linebackers but big enough to run over defensive backs. Just ask Cal’s Sean Cattouse.
What's Stanford's mindset right now? Over-confident? Focused? Etc.
There’s only been one game all year when Stanford looked disinterested, and it almost cost them two weeks ago at Arizona State. I have to believe that that comes from Jim Harbaugh. The intensity you see from him on the sidelines bleeds into his team, and they never seem to take any team lightly, nor do they relax when a game starts going in their direction. One of the mantras this season has been the need to win with “character and cruelty,” and the team has bought into that completely. This team will never be over-confident because we’re still talking about Stanford University, but they will certainly be focused. Big things are at stake for them, and if they’re beaten it won’t be because they didn’t come to play.
Do Stanford fans respect the Beavers (be honest)?
Stanford fans are certainly reveling in the glory of this season, but there’s also a sense of wonder that goes along with it. Each game makes us nervous, and each win brings with it a sense of relief. We’re not Red Sox fans, assuming that disaster awaits around the corner, or Cub fans, convinced that we’ll never win, but nothing is expected. With that mind, I honestly think we respect every team on the schedule. As for Oregon State, I still have painful memories of last year’s loss, a game that I’m convinced would have gone differently had Chris Owusu been able to hang to that touchdown pass on the opening play of the game. I still remember Jacquizz Rodgers and I wonder how the defense will ever be able to stop him. So yes, we respect the Beavers.
Rate each unit–special teams, offense, defense–and note any players to watch.
Last year the offense’s success was a complete revelation. Andrew Luck came in as a highly-touted recruit, but I don’t think anyone expected that he would be so efficient as a redshirt freshman. And Toby Gerhart? I’d have bet my house against anyone who would have tried to tell me he’d be a Heisman finalist. This year, though, even without Gerhart, I knew the offense would be even better. Andrew Luck gets all the love, but everything begins with the offensive line. Even without Gerhart, the team is on pace to top last year’s points and total offense figures. Sophomore running back Stepfan Taylor is approaching the 1,000 yard mark, but true freshman Anthony Wilkerson is probably even better and has quietly been stealing carries from Taylor. The receiving corps has been something of a M*A*S*H unit all season long, which makes Luck’s accomplishments all the more impressive. Starting wide receiver Chris Owusu has missed five games and likely won’t play this weekend, but senior Doug Baldwin has emerged to become the team’s leading receiver (and Go Mighty Card’s favorite player). When Owusu is healthy, this is the best offense in college football; even without him it’s still pretty impressive.
The big story surrounding this team during the summer was defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the switch to a 3-4 scheme. Last year the defense was absolutely awful, but this year they’ve made the leap to above average, as evidenced by road shutouts of UCLA and Washington. They’ve only allowed Oregon and USC to score more than 30 points, and over the past four games they’ve yielded an average of just eleven points a contest. The 3-4 scheme has something to do with it, but I think the main thing is that some of Harbaugh’s recruits are beginning to make an impact on that side of the ball. Sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov is clearly the most talented player on defense, and lately he’s emerged as the emotional center of the team. Junior safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell have played well all season, and Howell has earned a reputation as a heavy hitter. Linebackers Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas are athletic enough on the outside to contain the run and rush the quarterback when asked, and Owen Marecic patrols the middle effectively. For the first time since the mid 90s, the Stanford defense is aggressive, confident, and dependable. Not dominant, but good enough, especially when the offense jumps out to a lead and simplifies the opponent’s offense.
Not as much to say about special teams. When Owusu was healthy last year he was one of the best kick returners in the country, and even made several preseason All-America lists this fall. Without him, there's nothing special about the Cardinal special teams. Kicker Nate Whitaker will likely top his own single-season record for extra points this Saturday, but that obviously says a lot more about the offense than it does about him.
Why does the home crowd seem to be so quiet?
The home crowd seems quiet for two reasons: one, it’s small; and two, they simply don’t know how to be loud. Jim Harbaugh has succeeded in changing the culture of the football team, now either he or the marketing department has to change the culture of the fan base. If you attend a USC game at the Coliseum, it’s an event. Stanford Stadium? Not so much. But if the team continues to win, I think the community will embrace the team and fill the stadium. Right now, there isn’t much of a home field advantage, but hopefully that will change.
What's your prediction for the game?
I tend to look at the world through Cardinal colored glasses, and I’ve predicted victory every week this season. It’s no different this week. I can’t imagine that there’s a defense in the country that can slow the Stanford offense, so I’d expect them to score at least 35 points. If the defense can somehow contain Mr. Rodgers, I expect things to go well. Stanford 38, Oregon State 17.