21.Oct.2013 Stanford Q & A
From Hank at gomightycard.com. I’ll be answering his questions later in the week.
Are there any key injuries? What’s the status of Montgomery?
There are some definite injury concerns. Wide receiver Devon Cajuste, who has developed into a solid possession receiver, injured his knee in the second half on Saturday. When he left the game there was concern that it might something serious, but he returned to the sidelines without a brace, and Coach Shaw said afterwards that the injury was much less serious than they had feared. We won’t know the true extent of the injury until he gets an MRI early this week, but it’s my guess that he won’t play this week, regardless of what those tests show. This will be a blow, but the Stanford receiving corps is actually showing some depth recently. Junior Ty Montgomery (who should be healthy) has been enjoying a breakout season, both as a receiver and as one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, and sophomore Kodi Whitfield demonstrated his talent on Saturday with what was probably the best catch in the history of Stanford football. Seriously. There are other injury issues on defense. Starting defensive end Henry Anderson has missed several games and isn’t due back for at least another week, and the defensive line ranks have gotten thin enough that the coaching staff converted their starting tight end, Luke Kaumatule, back to defensive end for last week’s game. He’s a big kid, but last week he was used exclusively in passing situations, which means he could get a lot of playing time this week. Cornerback Alex Carter, one of the better all-around corners in the conference, was battling hamstring issues last week, and he was on the sidelines towards the end of the game. If he can’t go this weekend, it will definitely be a blow as the Cardinal attempts to stop Oregon State’s high octane passing attack.
How does this team compare to last years?
The expectation heading into this season was that this year’s team would be even better than last year’s Rose Bowl champions, but I don’t think we have a definitive answer just yet. Like many young teams, the 2013 Cardinal has been inconsistent. The defense was supposed to be one of the best unit’s in the nation, but they haven’t been as statistically dominant as expected, and the offense has struggled at times. The losses on offense of running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have been huge, and their absences have likely contributed to what many perceive to be a delay in the development of quarterback Kevin Hogan. The loss to Utah was surprising, but the good news is that all the goals this team set during the summer are still in play if they continue to win.
What are Hogan’s strengths and weaknesses?
Kevin Hogan’s main strength is probably his mobility, but he can also be an effective, if inconsistent, passer. He struggled mightily against Washington and Utah, but he bounced back to have a nice game in last weekend’s win over UCLA. A month ago many Stanford fans believed that Hogan was the Pac-12’s second best quarterback behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, but now it appears that he’s closer to the middle, behind people like Keith Price, Brett Hundley, Connor Halliday, and your own Sean Mannion. Right now his greatest weakness appears to be his decision-making skills. He sometimes struggles getting to his second read, and even when he’s running the ball — a strength, remember — he sometimes hits the wrong hole or makes the wrong choice on the read option. If the Beavers can apply pressure with just four pass rushers, he’ll likely have a difficult time finding his receivers, but if they have to start bringing five or six guys, Hogan will make them pay.
Will the defense be able to pressure Mannion? (This is huge, as Mannion has had time all year, and we know what he’s done..)
The defense will have to be able to pressure Mannion. The Cardinal will rarely rush more than four defenders — and sometimes they’ll only send three — but because they don’t always send the same four guys from the same four spots, they’ve been able to pressure quarterbacks consistently. Watch for defensive end Trent Murphy, one of the most athletic linemen in the country, coming off the edge, as well as Ben Gardner. You’ll also see lots of linebackers Shayne Skov and James Vaughters, both of whom relish causing havoc in the opponents’ backfield.
How do Stanford Fans like Shaw? To me he has been living off the players and mentality Harbaugh instilled. Now that he has his own guys and identity, what’s the verdict?
If Jim Harbaugh was the perfect coach to turn Stanford around (and he was), then David Shaw is the perfect coach to keep things going in the right direction. I disagree with your assertion that he’s succeeding with Harbaugh’s players and identity. Three recruiting classes have enrolled at Stanford under Shaw’s watch, and those groups have yielded starters Kevin Hogan, Ty Montgomery, James Vaughters, Andrus Peat, Alex Carter, and Devon Cajuste. As far as the identity of the team is concerned, I think the general mood surrounding the team is completely different. When Harbaugh left, most analysts predicted that without his fiery attitude, the team would recede into mediocrity. Instead, Shaw’s quiet confidence has permeated the program and instilled in everyone the solid belief that they belong amongst the elite teams in college football. I think that most Stanford fans recognize this, but there have been some fairly vocal critics. Most of those critics are concerned about Shaw’s play calling, and they’ll complain about how me managed the closing moments of the 2013 Sugar Bowl. More recently, there are those who blame Shaw for the Utah loss, and indeed it’s difficult to understand why he didn’t run the ball with his team trailing by six with 3rd and 2 from the six-yard line. But as I said, aside from these quibbles, most fans are firmly in Shaw’s corner.
Do you see any game-changing matchup problems, either way?
On most Saturdays the Cardinal will enjoy a distinct advantage with their offensive line, and I expect that to be true this weekend as well. The offensive line is one of the best in the nation. Left guard David Yankey earned All-Pac-12 honors last year and will again this year, and true sophomore Andrus Peat is just seven starts into his career, but he’s already become a rock at left tackle. Beyond the standard five-man line, you can also watch for a variety of special packages with reserve linemen entering the game with eligible numbers so that they can line up as tight ends or fullbacks. In short yardage situations you’re almost guaranteed to see six or seven linemen on the field, but there’s even one package that features eight linemen, a fullback, and a tailback. The beneficiary of all this, of course, is the running game. Running back Tyler Gaffney had career highs last week with 36 carries and 171 yards, and the Beavers should see a lot of him. Additionally, this line does a great job of keeping Kevin Hogan clean. When all of this works together, the end result is a distinct advantage in time of possession, which is probably the best way to stop a quarterback like Mannion. We’ll see.