Paulsen's Preview of the Stanford Game

After two games this season, the jury is still out as to what type of team we should see out of the Spartans for the remainder of the year. The same holds true for San Jose State's next opponent, The Stanford Cardinal.

Stanford comes into this game with a record of 1-1, beating Washington State by the score of 39-13 and losing a heartbreaker to Wake Forest, 24-17. The win at Washington State, who many say is the consensus cellar dweller of the Pac-10, was expected although over the last several years Stanford was hard pressed to win at all on the road so in that sense and the fact that Stanford was debuting a new quarterback, it was a perfect first game and a nice Pac-10 win for the Cardinal. In quarterback Andrew Luck's debut, he was 11-23 for 193 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 54 yards. Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen combined for seven of the 11 receptions. As in the USC game against the Spartans, the passing game was not needed as the Cardinal rushed the ball 42 times for 288 yards, a 6.9-yard average, and 3 touchdowns. Toby Gerhart was the workhorse in this gamed rushing for 121 yards on 23 carries and two of those touchdowns. Owusu caught one touchdown and added an 85-yard kick off return for a touchdown.

On defense, the Cardinal had to put up with Washington State's use of two quarterbacks. The Cougars were able to move the ball under senior Kevin Lopina but the offense sputtered when Marshall Lobbestael replaced Lopina in the second and fourth quarters as part of an ongoing battle for the starting job. The Cardinal allowed 349 yards with 123 yards of that rushing the ball. Part of that is because the Cougars fell behind early but look for the Cardinal to be stingy against the run on Saturday against the Spartans.

Last Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wake Forest erased a 14-point deficit as they scored a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback keeper with two minutes remaining in the game to hand Stanford their first loss of the season. Luck had a much better game passing for 276 yards on 23-34 with two touchdowns and one interception. Gerhart only managed 82 yards as the Cardinal totaled 115 yards on the day. Stanford's defense gave up 458 total yards with 251 of that on the ground. Of the 458 total yards given up, 311 of that were in the second half. Stanford should have one this one but they allowed a few big plays including a couple of fourth down conversions.

What do Stanford's first two games mean for the Spartan game down on the farm? Not much. Stanford does not have a clear identity yet as Luck is still feeling his way, trying to get comfortable and not being called on to do too much. I think Luck will get a little longer leash this week as he gains experience but I expect to see Gerhart early and often with a spattering of Jeremy Stewart on the ground. Look for Luck to keep the ball and gain some good yardage, as Cain was able to do against the Spartans last week. I would have expected Gerhart to have better numbers against Wake, especially with a 17-3 halftime lead, so the Spartan front seven or even eight needs to stop the run and stay disciplined to not let Luck turn it up field.

The Cardinal defense seems to have some holes in the secondary, especially over the middle, and they also gave up some yards on some quick hitting run plays to the outside but they will be tough to run against up the gut. Look for Stanford to be as stout as the Spartans last two opponents on the ground putting pressure on the coaching staff to open things up even more then last week through the air. La Secla will need to do a better job of play action and checking down his receivers and not locking on his primary even if he is wide open. Locking on allows the defender to make up too much ground too quick which can turn a wide open receiver into a catch with not much chance to add yardage after the catch or a marginally open receiver into an incomplete pass or worse.

What do the Spartans need to do to win? On the defensive side of the ball, they need to stop Gerhart and try to keep him less than 100 yards like Wake Forest did. They need to put Stanford in third and long situations, make Luck throw the ball. The other thing that needs to be corrected in a hurry is the third down defense for the Spartans. Too may times going back to last season, the Spartans would play hard nosed aggressive "D" on first and second and then soften up on third both in pressure and in coverage. For example Utah had some third and ten or longer and the defensive backs and linebackers would back up to just in front of the first down allowing the underneath completion and most of the time allowing the first down. The defense needs to get themselves of the field and not rely on the offense to keep them off. The Defense also needs to continue its turn over streak with a couple fumble recoveries and add a pick or two.  

On offense, things need to get more imaginative. The long passes are great but the way they are run; it's a crapshoot as to them working as they did against Utah. I think if the Spartans throw deep, it will continue to be the deep sideline pass because they are safe but watch for Stanford to recognize that as well and be all over it. If those plays are run like last week, mix in a double move with a pump fake or pump fake and hit a crossing receiver over the middle underneath. The running game needs to get into gear and I don't believe it is the runners fault. The offensive line needs to blow the "D" line off the ball, create some inside wholes and pull much quicker to the outside on the sweeps and the play calling needs to add in some quicker hitting plays weather it's to the inside or outside. The running schemes the last three years seem to develop in slow motion as compared to other college schemes, the talent is there, use it. Speaking of running backs, the Cardinal is vulnerable as most teams are in following a back or tight end when they stay in protection, chip a rusher and flair out to an opening in the zone.

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Phil Paulsen is the Football Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Phil with any questions, comments, or tips at phil@insidesparta.com

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