"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 38, WSU 28
Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of The Bootleg's executive management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp, Jack Thompson, Ruben Mayes, Ryan Leaf or Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Weeping and wailing after a win. Ah, what a welcome testament to how far the Stanford Football program has come. Expectations are now higher. A lot higher. As damp and dampened Stanford fans filed somewhat soberly out of Stanford Stadium on Saturday night there was a real feeling that the Cardinal did not play its best game, that it had failed to play "60 minutes of football". There was some understandable disappointment due the absence of a blow-out victory over a heavy underdog on homecoming weekend. Yes, this is essentially the same fan base that sat through a dismal 1-11 football season just four seasons ago. In reality, it was a relatively comfortable "coaster" of a conference game, a contest that for a significant portion of time featured a 17-24 point cushion even if the final score was a more "competitive-sounding" 38-28. Yes, the Cardinal program has come so far, that expectations are now that much higher. Winning seems no longer to be good enough. Our initial response? We like it!
RUNNING GAME: A
Ja, sure, at times the Stanford offense appeared a bit out-of-sync. Penalties were committed with alarming frequency - a snap was fumbled, an interception thrown, a pass dropped, The Stanford Express seemed to derail itself time and again until it seemed the Cardinal coaching staff finally threw up their hands and said "Enough, let's get back to basics and just steamroll them!" And that was how the running game became the day's blunt instrument of choice.
Sophomore Stepfan Taylor
(#33) was simply outstanding, once again showing he has no problems being
the Cardinal's lead workhorse with 27 carries for 142 yards and two
touchdowns. The 142 yards rather quietly represented a Stanford all-time
top-50 rushing performance and was the fifth-highest mark by a Stanford back
against Washington State in the 61 games played in the storied history
of the 74-year rivalry with the Cougars.
Freshman Anthony Wilkerson (#32) continues to improve as time goes on. He had the most productive game of his career with 55 yards on nine carries. The north-south, downhill-running Wilkerson has clearly earned the role of backup running back, at least for now. He and Taylor made for a one-two punch that kept each back fresh. It was certainly great to see senior Jeremy Stewart (#34) back on the field for the first time since he got injured and Usua Amanam (#15) made a couple of appearances in set packages before taking over at running back with the second string. But at least for the time being Wilkerson appears to have a hold on the number two spot on the depth chart.
Uncharacteristically, the Cardinal offensive line struggled with penalties for the first time this season. However, when it was time to man up and just pound the opponent, the TWU stepped up big-time and opened some huge holes.
Overall the Cardinal rushed 47 times for 249 yards and 5.3 yards per carry. Those are pretty nice numbers.
PASSING GAME: B
This grade is the hardest of all. Watching the game, one felt as though rhythm was absent from the passing game. Andrew Luck (#12) had a momentary lapse, throwing a pretty terrible interception on a screen pass. There were a couple of dropped passes. Luck badly under-threw a deep pass to a wide-open Doug Baldwin (#89). And again, it seemed the offensive line struggled at times.
Ah! How expectations change us. Andrew Luck was 20-for-28 with three touchdown passes. True, he only threw for 190 yards, but some of his completions were big-time plays. Like the 3rd &18 conversion to Ryan Whalen (#8), when WSU rushed only two players.
Coby Fleener (#82) had a
nice "catch & run" for 19 yards and ended up with a touchdown
Expectations down on The Farm are high. Luck is expected to be near-perfect. When he is not, fans ask "why not?" Yet when you take a moment to look back at the numbers, how would Stanford fans love the stat line of 20-28, 190-yards, three touchdowns and one interception from any other quarterback between Trent Edwards and Luck? Those pesky heightened expectations certainly made things seem worse than they really were.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Playing from behind for most of the game, WSU could never establish much of a running game. They managed to produce a couple of nice plays. Carl Winston had one run for 26 yards and Cal transfer James Montgomery scampered for 22 yards. But the Cougar team as a whole ran for only 90 yards on 23 carries. Take out those two long runs and the numbers look like gold.
The Card defensive line did a nice job holding its ground. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov (#11) was again all over the place. The safeties played good support defense against the run. Tackling was sharp and for the most part WSU runners were going down on the first tackle.
PASS DEFENSE: C
With no viable running threat from Washington State, and with the Cougars' need to play from behind, the Stanford defensive effort was all about limiting the passing game. The results were decidedly mixed. WSU's Jeff Tuel is going to be a very good Pac-10 quarterback. He showed some flashes of brilliance, going 21-for-28 for 298 yards and four touchdown passes.
Turnovers were Tuel's downfall.
His pass on the first drive, intercepted by double-duty throw-back Owen Marecic
(#48) and almost taken for a "pick-six", was a poor pass and a worse
decision. Skov made a nice play on the tipped ball that ended up as a
Taylor Skaufel (#40) interception. The pass rush was inconsistent, making
some plays here and there, but the effort was
The Cougar offensive game plan seemed to be to pick on junior cornerback Johnson Bademosi (#27), who did not have the luxury usually afforded by the protective presence of Delano Howell (#26). Because of that focus by Wazzou, Bademosi led the team with eight tackles. He and Austin Yancy (#23) had a major miscommunication that allowed the final touchdown bomb in the closing seconds, a collective mistake that allowed WSU to lose by "only" 10 points and sent some disenchanted Cardinal fans into a near hissy-fit.
Playing in at least a nickel defense for much of the game, and without the injured all-conference-caliber Howell, true freshmen Ed Reynolds (#29) and Devon Carrington (#5) each rotated in at the safety positions. This provided valueable experience for the two promising young players and given the circumstances, each seemed to play fairly well.
In the end, the Card cornerbacks are going to need to make more plays on a consistent basis as the season winds down. There still seem to be some inconsistencies in terms of giving up too much room at times and failing to turn and play the ball. For this one Saturday, however they made enough plays to get the job done.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
There was nothing spectacular about special teams against WSU, but sometimes that can be a sign of a great game. Amanam looked good returning kickoffs, taking one of them back 37 yards. Drew Terrell (#9) had a nice 10-yard punt return. Daniel Zychlinski played more than expected with three punts and an average of 44.3 yards per kick. Nate Whitaker made his lone field goal attempt, converted all five of his extra points and sent his kick-offs deep enough, whether into the wind or with the wind.
The key adjustment of the game for Stanford was going to the power running game. When things did not work out as expected, the coaches just decided to pound the ball. It worked and in the end, it led to the better team winning. The game plan was solid. It was a "we are better than them" approach. When some things did not work out, the staff seemed able to adjust calmly on offense.
Despite plenty of complaints in the stands about the peformance by the defense, the reality remains that WSU scored only seven points in the first half and without a late comeback in the fourth quarter, the game really would have been the blow-out the Cardinal fans had expected and wanted.
A win is a win and one should never take a conference victory lightly. Stanford is already bowl-eligible after seven games. One should not take that lightly either. Despite all the precautionary warnings issued during the "improvement week" leading up to this game, it did appear that Stanford may have been looking past WSU just a little bit. There seemed to be a lack of focus at times. There was certainly a lack of discipline that Stanford had not shown at all this year. Eight penalties is unacceptable and you can be sure that the coaching staff will drive that sentiment home at practice this week.
On the surface, it felt like the worst game that Stanford has played this year. Yet on the other hand, fans can take heart - the Cardinal came out sloppy and still won a Pac-10 game with relative ease. It is occasionally a good idea to wait a few days before grading a team's performance. High emotions tend to exaggerate faults and embellish attributes.
Sure, if Stanford keeps playing below its potential (which we feel is very unlikely under Jim Harbaugh), the Cardinal will lose some games down the stretch. But if instead they shake off the rustiness from the bye week, and what can only be hoped was a classic heavy favorite's "let-down" game, and put things back together, the remaining opponents on the 2010 schedule had better come with their A-games. It is always a lot more fun for fans to complain about how their beloved team won or my how many points, than to lament why they lost.
Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com
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