Looking back, looking forward: 1H Duke blog

We're trying a new format here, using a liveblog of last game as a preview of today's game. Here, we're looking at the first half against Duke and projecting what it means for Stanford's matchup today with Arizona – and beyond.



  • It's awesome to be here and see Stanford football in person again. This year's tree is a light green, a clear evergreen. Count me as a big fan, I hated the red leaves, hated the maple trees. Just be the iconic evergreen tree – our mascot doesn't need a pro combat uniform too. 83 degrees, partly cloudy and windless, should be good practice for the trip to Arizona and beyond.
  • Caught Jon Wilner, Jim Young and Kevin Gemmell, our permanent ESPN blogger for the season, among others in the press box. Only a select few teams this season get permanent bloggers, e.g. Stanford and Notre Dame. Good news for ESPN is those two programs should have 17 wins between them at the end of the season. Bad news for Notre Dame is that I have Stanford running the table.
  • Heard Todd Husak interviewed on the Duke radio network while driving on down I-85. "It will go to him… [long pause, clearly an afterthought] most likely." Bet you can guess the athlete and the award. Husak also called Andrew Luck a physical specimen, analogizing him to a baseball player who isn't just the team MVP, but also is the best athlete on the field.
  • With the Pac-12's showing early this college football season, Stanford should be favored every game here on out. A potential Pac-12 title game also looks a lot less scary – who in that Pac-12 South less USC really scares you?
  • "Eye of the Tiger" to pump out the crowd? Really Duke? That's not cliché at all. Was "We Will Rock You" taken? Oh, and here comes "Start Me Up." "Zombie Nation" is coming in the second half. What's wrong with a band?
  • Here come the teams running out with American flags for 9/11.
  • An advertisement for pulled pork, Bojangles is a sponsor and Stanford will receive a postgame meal of ChickFilA. Oh, how I miss you, South. Bojangles, for those not in the know, is the new cult favorite now that ChickFilA has gone national. Good thing Stanford isn't going to serve that postgame, otherwise half our team would be transferring to the ACC.
  • Stanford's probably got a little over two sections, maybe 800 folks. Duke's got this puppy 60 percent full.

First half:

  • Chris Owusu bobbles the opening kickoff and only gets to the 15, but at least Coach Shaw is sticking with his best kickoff returner. Somewhere down the line, it's going to mean a touchdown, and shift a close game. Makes me feel a lot better about our special teams after losing Mr. Automatic, Nate Whitaker.
  • Duke looks confused by Stanford's shifts and the Cardinal hurrying up to the line. Plus-one for our offensive coordinators, a focal point for us Cardinalmaniacs with the offseason turnover.
  • The line is not looking great early. Our playcalling reflects this, as we get a bubble screen out to Owusu to let him go one-on-one. Then it's Stepfan Taylor fighting his butt off for four. And goodness knows we're bigger than them. Here comes a sack, and here comes a throw to Drew Terrell on 3rd and 3. Then a 1st and goal goes nowhere, while the touchdown finally comes on a play-action pass to Fleener. Duke's gonna start have to start playing to defend the pass, no? But in the meanwhile, the run game is suffering. We scored a touchdown so maybe this is all nitpicking, but when's the last time Stanford passed on a 3rd and 3? We'd run on 3rd and 10 with Toby. And when's the last time Luck would get sacked twice in a game and blown up several times more? Got a lot of postgame quotes coming on the offensive line's struggles early. It was the most concerning takeaway from this game, I thought.
  • Here comes the flea-flicker to Chris Owusu. It's curious we'd bring it out now. Maybe we want to get it on tape, give our opponents one more thing to think about. Trivia: when's the last time Stanford called a flea flicker? David Shaw mentioned it postgame, answer's in the second-half blog.
  • My trick play idea: a throwback to Andrew Luck. He's a sick enough quarterback and Owusu is a big enough threat in space everyone has to respect them accordingly. Luck bubble screens it to Owusu behind the line. Owusu dances around and then fires it to an open Luck streaking downfield. Luck's fast enough that if he has a little green, he's gone. Watch out Chip Kelly.
  • My biggest positive takeaway from the first half is Stepfan Taylor. He's a beast and looks NFL-like in that he doesn't overwhelm you with one specific skill ala a Denard Robinson. He just does everything well. I know it's heresy -- and I'm not talking about grit or durability or what he means to his team – but Taylor might just have more raw talent than Toby Gerhart.
  • Stanford's showing a lot of variety in their formations, like last year. A big worry is that the offensive playcalling would fall off, and while we haven't exactly faced the '85 Bears of defenses yet, again, that fear looks unfounded so far.
  • Another big takeaway from early in the Duke game is that our players are blowing up some opponents. We're faster so we're in a better position to make a solid hit, we're stronger so we can patch more of a punch, and maybe we are playing with a bit more fire in our bellies. Whatever the case, I'm all in favor. Here, Shayne Skov has a nice stick on special teams, and Delano Howell lays out a guy on a first-down dumpoff, but it wasn't just those two; the whole team would get in on the action throughout the day.
  • Duke's showing spread, good practice for Oregon.
  • Overheard in the press box, as Stanford leads "just" 7-0 early: "If it keeps going like this, we might have to stay the whole game."
  • Duke's alternating quarterbacks in Sean Renfree and Brandon Connette. Their spread, misdirection and play action is carving Stanford up. But then a third-down screen that was going nowhere is dropped; Max Bergen with the hurry. Duke cooperates by pushing a 27-yard field goal wide left. So no harm, no foul. Overheard in the press box: "Stanford leads the country in field goal defense." Duke would go onto miss several more tries on the day.
  • Duke's DEs are 240 and 250. Our tackles are 297 and 299. This not being able to run thing is getting frustrating, as Stanford goes three-and-out, with Luck drilled on the third down.
  • Give Duke credit though. First, Stanford gets the ball back after Shayne Skov bails out someone on a coverage bust with a knockbown of what would have been a wide-open pass. Then, Luck perfectly drops it in to Owusu, who has half a step on Devil DB Ross Cockrel. But Cockrel makes a great play to break up the pass. Not too many folks can stay with Owusu. Almost looked like our secondary back there.
  • Luck throws off his back foot. He'll end up with a good stat line, but whether it was the pressure, a lack of practice or just a bad game, who knows, but "the franchsie" did not have his best game. Sure enough, here comes a pick six, courtesy Duke's Lee Butler. It was bad luck, yeah, but it was also high and slightly behind Owusu. Also, there's the whole principle of play with fire and get burned. Luck knows he has a good arm and can fit it into tight spaces. And on the whole, I'm darn glad that he goes for broke, but the downside is that plays like this happen. He got lucky not to have a few picks against Virginia Tech; the guy has a bit of the Elway streak in him.
  • And that, in a nutshell, was the ballgame. Duke gives it their best shot with the pick-six and then the onside kick. They're within 10-7 in the late second quarter with the ball. But Chase Thomas notches two sacks, and then Shaw calls a timeout after the third down to get the ball back. A lot of coaches wouldn't do that, and it pays off as Luck picks apart the Duke defense for a four-play, 58-yard, 39-second drive and a 17-7 halftime lead.
  • Holy defense. At the half, Duke has three rushing yards, with Stanford's four sacks playing a big part in that. The hometown Devils are 2-of-2 on fourth down, and 12-of-17 passing, but the Devils went 0-of-7 on third down. Through two weeks, Stanford will have allowed some field goal attempts and one measly touchdown in a 40-point game against the third-string D.
  • This is a top-five defense. The linebackers are elite, given Skov, Thomas and Vaughters' potential. (And let's not even talk about the incoming class.) The DBs are not household names, but they should be. And, in contrast to the big boys on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the DL has greatly exceeded expectations this year as well.
  • My theory as to why this is a top-five defense: no one stinks. On offense, if you have a glaring hole (ahem, no No.2 receiver, cough cough), you can scheme around it with three tight ends, or favor the left side of your line on running plays, or go run-heavy and not ask your quarterback to do too much, or whatever the case may be. On defense, if us fans can recognize a glaring weakness, so can opposing coaches, and they will make sure every other play exploits it mercilessly.
  • No one knows better than long-suffering Stanford fans exactly who has been deficient defensively and in what ways in recent years. Those holes, as we know full well, explain a lot of our defensive struggles, even with some top-end talent. I was Class of 2008, and was struck by the fact that early in my Stanford career, say '04 and '05, we had some darn good football players, but we'd run them into the ground because we had no depth (hello, Babatunde Oshinowo), or we'd line up our NFL talent alongside a lot of marginal D-I talent.
  • Now, seriously, name a guy in the starting 11 who stinks. Heaven knows you could for just about every defense Stanford's had, and you probably could for every defense in college football outside of Tuscaloosa or Norman. Not on the Farm though. The majority of our starters should be All-Conference by season's end, and the freshmen are making a huge impact and allowing us to rotate liberally. It's counterintuitive, but that's why our defense is rock-solid. (And don't let the ghosts of defenses past blind you. Our defense is rock solid.)
    David Shaw talked postgame about our defensive depth. We might not be recruiting as many five-star "whales" on defense as you'd like, but when you sign a class full of three- and four-star guys, you ensure that the players who underperform don't have to see the field, while the guys who play are all at least 7s on that proverbial 10-scale. On offense, you need elite talent, and we have that. On defense, you need everyone to be good, with no weak links. We have that too, and that's why both sides of the ball are top-five caliber.

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