Stanford Presents Some Major Challenges for BYU

Saturday night's collision with the BYU Cougars comes after just one game for Stanford in 2004 and, to be frank, little can be gleaned from the Cardinal 43-3 pasting of San Jose State.

The Spartans bring their top energy and focus every year when they play nearby rivals, but the visitors from the WAC were admittedly awful last week. San Jose State had six players ruled ineligible a day before the game, including a pair of starting safeties.

This is how mismatched the game was and how little confidence it inspires in Stanford fans this week as they mentally prepare for BYU. There are two lessons you can legitimately take away from the SJSU opener, however:

* The game was exceedingly clean. There were zero penalties from the first team offense or defense (two penalties were called late in the fourth quarter on the offensive reserves) and zero turnovers. There is some bad blood between the two proximal rivals, and there were a couple skirmishes, but Stanford was never charged with any aggression or personal fouls. Just as encouraging was the lack of turnovers, as opposed to the average of two interceptions thrown in 2003 - including a pair in the 35-10 win over San Jose State.

Stanford saw a lot of pressure in the first half, in particular (more on that later), and still they were smart with the football. You can argue that against better athletes and better schemes that BYU will bring to town, the mistakes will appear. But we believe there is better discipline and maturity in this team, when you are this squeaky clean against any opponent in penalties and turnovers.

* San Jose State had a new defensive coordinator in Keith Burns>, the former DC at Arkansas and former head coach at Tulsa. Stanford had to scout and prepare in the dark for what scheme their offense would face. In the first half, San Jose State overloaded with pressure with eight men in the box. The Card scored just twice in the half, reacting to a defense they saw for the first time. Second half adjustments put the game to bed. Against a pressure defense, Stanford's coaches and players made the correct adjustments to mitigate the pressure, find the weaknesses of the defense, and then exploit them for big plays.

Meanwhile, what BYU presents with their 3-3-5 defense is wholly different from the eight-man front and the 46 Bear defense, but the experience may hold some carryover.


Everyone remembers what Bronco Mendenhall's defense did to quarterback Trent Edwards last September. The redshirt freshman signal caller completed just 10 passes for 25 yards and the team managed a school record low 56 total passing yards.

Now a redshirt sophomore, the Stanford slinger has a world more experience, maturity and confidence compared to his first college start at Lavell Edwards Stadium. This will be the second time he has seen this defense, and he has the advantage of facing off against the confusing Cougars presentation on his home turf.

But Edwards is the subject of much discussion in Cardinal circles this week after his opener against SJSU. The Card quarterback had self-proclaimed "happy feet" and held on to the ball too long and too often. This resulted in him taking take far too many hits from the pressuring Spartan defense. If repeated this Saturday, that could force turnovers... or force Edwards out of the game again. He was pretty banged up last week and has been less than 100 percent in practice this week.

Should Edwards see his ailments exacerbated this weekend, you will likely see T.C. Ostrander in the game under center. The good news for BYU fans is that this would set up for the second straight year a ultra-green redshirt freshman has an early encounter with the 3-3-5 defense. Ostrander won't have the added burden of 65,000 screaming fans in his face, or the elevation (4,500 feet) of Provo. However, he would be hard-pressed to not have at least a little "deer in the headlights" reaction to such a unique and deceptive defense.

The bad news for BYU fans is that Ostrander got a quarter of experience under his belt against San Jose State, and he looked quite good. The highly touted Peninsula product looked remarkably confident in the pocket and connected for more than 22 yards per completion. Both Edwards and Ostrander are mechanically admirable quarterbacks with good size, arm strength and mobility.

While Edwards deserves significant blame for taking a number of his hits last Saturday, there still is much-deserved focus on the young offensive line that is charged with protecting him. On the entire Cardinal roster, there is just one redshirt junior of the offensive line, and nary a senior to be found. That is the cupboard left by legendary lax recruiter Tyrone Willingham when he took off for South Bend.

The reality is that Stanford has to play with their green giants today. The lone junior is 6-4, 295-pound center Brian Head, a leader in every way for the offensive line. He is not the best athlete of the five starters, but he is the most solid. He reads defenses well and makes the minimum of mistakes in his blocks and assignments.

The rest of the front five are filled out with redshirt sophomores. You might see the strength of the blocking on the right side where 6-4, 310-pound Josiah Vinson (guard) and 6-7, 290-pound Jeff Edwards (tackle) line up. Almost as incredible as the youth of this line is the dearth of experience by their backups.

Three of the next five played in their first-ever college football game last week. Only redshirt sophomore David Beall, at 6-5, 300 pounds, has any meaningful experience before this season. If there is an injury in the interior of the Stanford line, Beall is a good athlete with the strength and experience to avoid any drop-off.

But if either of the Card's two tackles goes down, you should expect to see BYU attack that edge and exploit the weaker replacement. As a unit, the line played decent football against San Jose State, especially against a defense they could not scout in advance. Offensive line coach Steve Morton gave them a C+ grade for their performance last week. The challenges they will face will be much greater against the Cougars, but they will also be better prepared.

While the Stanford passing game was woefully anemic against the Cougars last year, the running game had solid success. It is true that BYU held Notre Dame to just 11 yards on the ground last week, but Stanford fifth-year senior Kenneth Tolon has proven his ability to run against them with his career high 141 yards in Provo last season.

Tolon came off the bench after starter J.R. Lemon struggled and the senior delivered 96 yards rushing in less than two quarters of action. He may come off the bench again this Saturday, but Tolon is probably the best man to move the ball against the 3-3-5 defense. Pressure will come from deceptive angles, both up the middle and at the edges, from BYU's defense and that may call for a versatile and shifty runner who can elude tacklers. Tolon has been an explosive runner throughout his Stanford career and he brings those skills to the table. Lemon is a bigger and more powerful runner who excels inside.

A key element in Stanford's second half success against San Jose State came from two-TE formations that better protected against the eight men in the box. Keep in mind those tight ends were responsible for five receptions in the game as well.

The unquestioned leader at the position is fifth-year senior Alex Smith, 6-5, 255 pounds, who projects as a high NFL draft pick in June. He is a strong and experienced blocker, but where he will catch your attention is in the receiving game. For his size, he moves exceedingly well and has soft hands. Smith is a favorite safety valve in the Stanford passing game, but he can also stretch the defense.

The tight end position is stacked behind Smith and you should see 6-5, 250-pound Matt Traverso and 6-5, 240-pound Patrick Danahy on the field a lot. Traverso is a third-year player who has made great strides in both his blocking and receiving – to the point he plays just below Smith's level. Danahy is officially listed as a tight end, but has been playing more of a fullback/halfback role the last month. Look for him in the backfield, in motion and split out. All three of these big bodies can be on the field at the same time in "jumbo" formations, especially in the red zone.

The receiving corps was a question mark heading into the year for Stanford, but after a month of camp and one game, it is hard to not marvel at the newfound depth and talent. The engineer behind the transformation is new wide receiver coach Ken Margerum, once a receiving target for Jim McMahon on the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl championship team. He was also John Elway's favorite go-to guy at Stanford back in the early 1980s, earning First Team All-American honors twice. Margerum is credited with elevating the performances and confidence of this entire Cardinal corps.

Mark Bradford, at 6-2 and 190 pounds, was special last season, with the ability to separate from coverage as a freshman. He broke Stanford's freshman receiving record last year, and is stronger and more experienced this year.

However, it was a pair of oversized receivers who stole the show last weekend. Sophomore Evan Moore used all of his 6-7, 235-pound body to deliver four fantastic catches in the breakout game of his young college career. Think Ed McCaffrey back in his Stanford days with rare mobility and size – but bigger and stronger. Moore is a big matchup problem for defenses with the eight to 10-inch advantage he holds over most cornerbacks.

Similarly, 6-4, 220-pound Justin McCullum will tower over defensive backs. He will take a larger role in this game after he recorded the two longest catches of his career and a total of 115 receiving yards. There are four more wideouts who will see regular time on the field for Stanford on Saturday, but there is one name to watch: David Marrero. The 5-10, 190-pound speedster is a converted tailback who gives the Card their one true game-breaker outside in terms of speed. He is not that experienced at the position, however, so look for him to be used in specialty or designed plays. Against the BYU pressure defense, he has a chance to break some very big plays if he gets the ball in the right spot.


While most observers are focused on how Stanford's offense will fare against BYU's defense, there is an equally intriguing chess match ready to play out when the Cougars have the ball. Though many cite the dominating pass defense that stymied Trent Edwards, there was also a Stanford defense that held BYU to an incredible -5 yards rushing last season.

The acclaimed feature is the 3-4 Cardinal defense they unveiled against some passing situations. Outside linebackerJon Alston, 6-1, 215 pounds, was a reserve who came into the game as the fourth linebacker on those downs and he recorded two key sacks. Now the quick and athletic Alston is a full-time starter, and that best tells you about this year's Stanford defense.

They have swapped out a defensive lineman to put Alston on the field, creating a balanced, versatile and often deceptive look. The presentation is different from BYU's 3-3-5, but some of the advantages and threats are similar.

The linebackers are the strength of the defense, which is why the Cardinal coaching staff made a move to put four on the field almost all the time. Alston plays on the weak side of the field at the "rush" OLB position, while fifth-year senior Jared Newberry (6-2, 235 pounds) plays on the strong side as a "Sam" OLB. Newberry lines up on the line of scrimmage over the tight end. Though he is not as fast as Alston, he is a physical and experienced playmaker.

In the middle, Stanford now utilizes two inside linebackers who play similar positions, lining up typically over the offensive guard. David Bergeron (6-4, 245) is a fifth-year senior and class "Mike" linebacker who is a great run stopper who can shoot through the gaps or drop back in coverage.

Kevin Schimmelmann (6-3, 215 pounds) is a player who brings more speed to the middle of the field, playing two years ago as a safety and last year as an outside linebacker. He has developed into a bigger and stronger force that looks and plays like a linebacker, but with safety speed.

One reserve linebacker to watch is ILB Michael Okwo (6-0, 215 pounds), who starred on special teams last year as a freshman. He is now as a sophomore bringing his lightning speed and ferocious hitting to the defense.

Up front Stanford presents a three-man defensive line that is open to scrutiny. They more often than not failed to generate a pass rush in 2003 with a four-man front, and they will likely be without fifth-year senior defensive end Will Svitek this Saturday for the second straight game because of injury.

His replacement is Scott Scharff (6-5, 283 pounds) who came to Stanford a slender pass rusher but has made great physical strides toward his current size and strength. In just his second career start last weekend, Scharff did a nice job pressuring in the backfield, though neither he nor his defensive line mates were able to land any quarterback sacks. Alston was the only one who did from his linebacker position.

On the other side of the defensive line is 6-4, 275-pound junior Julian Jenkins, probably the best among the front three to get to the quarterback. He was rated the No. 1 defensive end in the nation out of high school, but he has emerged more of a power player than someone who can rush off the edge. The new three-man front brings him inside, playing head-up on the offensive tackle rather than playing outside the tackle. That better suits Jenkins body. The hope is that he can be much more formidable this year. He was on the field by far the longest last weekend in Stanford's opener.

The one defensive end reserve that will play a lot of snaps is 6-2, 290-pound Casey Carroll; the redshirt junior appears undersized, but he plays with a fast and hard motor. Watching him run down a ball carrier from behind on a blocked field goal last week, at 290 pounds, was something to see.

The man in the middle is 6-2, 320-pound Babatunde Oshinowo, who is ideally suited to the nose tackle position. Oshinowo is explosive off the snap for his size and quite powerful. His weakness has been his endurance in longer drives, but he will be spelled regularly by sophomore Nick Frank (6-2, 275 pounds). Frank gives up a good deal of size compared to Oshinowo, but like Carroll, he is explosive and tenacious. The school of thought is that centers should actually have a tough time seeing two such different athletes lining up against them from play to play and drive to drive.

The secondary features three fifth-year seniors. They were torched last year for some pretty ugly passing numbers, but most observers believe the lack of Stanford's pass rush uniquely disadvantaged the cover personnel. One who still managed to shine was free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, poised for an All-Conference season and June NFL draft selection. He is not only the quarterback of the Stanford secondary, but also their top playmaker. He led the team the last two years in tackles and led the Pac-10 in both forced fumbles and fumble recoveries in 2003.

Look for Atogwe to try to strip ball carriers on Saturday; he recorded three forced fumbles in 2002, six in 2003 and one last week. The strong safety position is less experienced and proven, with a pair of sophomores battling for the starting job. Trevor Hooper (6-1, 205 pounds) started all 11 games last year, but was passed by Brandon Harrison (6-2, 205 pounds) in preseason camp. He started in the opener.

The cornerbacks have three "co-starters" who rotate starts and series regularly, with two fifth-year seniors in Leigh Torrence (6-0, 183 pounds), Stanley Wilson (6-0, 189 pounds) and junior T.J. Rushing (5-11, 175 pounds). All three have extensive game experience and are in their third year manning these positions.

They are as good a set of corners as Stanford has ever had, though this year they are making an adjustment to zone coverages increasingly employed against them. That should allow the defensive backs and linebackers to react to the ball and keep plays to short yardage gains. It should also increase the occurrence of interceptions and forced fumbles, though Stanford recorded no turnovers in their opener - a concerning and disappointing statistic.


Several new faces took the field last week in their special team's debut, but Stanford still has a lot to still learn. Redshirt freshman punter Jay Ottovegio was the biggest positive surprise, placing his punts nicely inside the 20. Only once was he asked to kick for distance. It will be interesting to watch Saturday whether he can he deliver the hang time against a more pressing rush?

The long snapping position is one seldom mentioned in these preview reports, but the snapping was a major concern heading into this season. Redshirt freshman Brent Newhouse managed the snaps marvelously in his college debut. The placekicking falls with Stanford's one veteran specialist, Michael Sgroi. The redshirt junior has suffered back problems the last couple years and that affected both his distance and accuracy. In the 2004 opener, Sgroi put three of his kickoffs deep into the end zone for touchbacks. He missed his one 42-yard field goal attempt by a foot or two, but he has a lot of length.

David Marrero is the new man on punt returns this year and he has the afterburners to break something special. Kickoff returns are also manned by two new players, T.J. Rushingand Marcus McCutcheon. Both are explosive athletes, though Rushing is smaller and faster. With just three points scored against them last week, Stanford had only two kickoffs all game to return.

Rushing "averaged" 36 yards after his lone return last Saturday. The rest of the special teams units, with protection and coverage, are largely anonymous but rather effective. Special teams became one of Stanford's real strengths last year, and most of the non-specialist personnel have returned and are improved.

For more on the 2004 Stanford Cardinal, check out And if you are interested in talking up the game with Stanford fans before or after Saturday night's showdown, you can find a convivial conclave of Cardinalmaniacs™ at the BootBoard.

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