"Just for Kicks" w/ Aaron Mills: The Zona-Zone
3-0 and counting! With Auburn's loss to Clemson, the Stanford Cardinal now own the nation's longest winning streak. It was nice to get out of the desert with a 37-10 win and satisfying to see the special teams back on track after a sub par performance at Duke.
*Close in the first half: I'm not sure what it is…maybe it's because we have sky-high expectations for the 2011 season, but if most Cardinal fans are like me, the last two games have felt somewhat "too closely contested" during the first 30 minutes of action. I wasn't so worried about a slow first half against Duke. However, against a much better Wildcats team, even though we did control the first half, we were only two missed Arizona field goals away from being tied 16-16 in the third quarter. We need to start controlling the game "on the scoreboard" in the first half.
*Speaking of missed field goals: Stanford's opposing kickers are a combined 2-8 on field goals this season. Those misses certainly didn't factor in the final score of any of the games, but many of those misses in the Duke and Arizona games came at key junctures when the games were still relatively close. The good news out of all of this is that Jordan Williamson is off to a sensational start, going 6-6 in field goals during the first three games. Keep up the good work Jordan!
*45-yard field goal: Oh what an amazing kick by Williamson! What was so amazing about it? Read below to find out why.
*Chris, we need you to stay healthy: Chris Owusu is the most potent, big-play wide receiver on the Cardinal roster. He is so important to the Stanford offense that Coach Polian would prefer to use Owusu sparingly on kick returns. However, the only kickoff he returned against Arizona resulted in a shoulder injury. I'm sure that the coaches all agreed that Chris should have downed the ball in the end zone instead of taking the kick back out for a return from four yards deep in the end zone. By the time he reached the 10-yard line, he was forced to run east and west to turn the corner and was cut down laterally in full stride resulting in an awkward landing after he was tackled. Rest up during the BYE week, #81.
let's get to the specifics of Stanford's kicking and punting
Stanford 3, Arizona 0
Field Goal: The Stanford drive stalled out at the three-yard line, and with the ball spotted just inside the left hash mark, it presented a sharp angle for Williamson to negotiate on the field goal attempt. Coach Shaw elected to take a delay of game penalty to back the ball up five yards to lessen the angle of the kick. However, Arizona predictably declined the penalty to force Stanford to kick with the spot still at the three-yard line. Jordan Williamson was not adversely affected by Arizona's decision. Jordan took the proper alignment to the uprights, had great elevation to his kick and made the 20-yard field goal right down the middle. Great snap and hold.
Kickoff: Jordan had excellent hang time down the left side of the field to the four-yard line allowing the special teams enough time to hold Arizona to a short 16-yard return.
Stanford 10, Arizona 0
Extra Point: Williamson had nice height on the extra point and did a great job of driving directly through his target.
Kickoff: Jordan executed a nice, high hanging deep left kickoff to the goal line with the coverage doing a nice job stopping the return at the 20-yard line.
Stanford 13, Arizona 3
Field Goal: From the left hash mark, Williamson kicked one of the most beautiful field goals I have seen by any kicker in a very long time. No it wasn't a 60-yard field goal. It was an often-kicked, 45-yard field goal that shows up in the box score and blends in with all of the other 45-yard field goals made during any given game. Jordan did not sacrifice any of his technique in order to gain more distance on his kick. His head was down, his hips were square, his follow through was perfect and the kicked sailed right down the middle…hitting the top of the net behind the uprights! The kick was a tape-measuring boot that would have been good from 60 yards for sure.
Kickoff: The Stanford special teams switched it up a bit and Williamson executed a deep "right" kickoff down to the one-yard line and the coverage group did a nice job of keeping the return to just 20 yards.
Stanford 16, Arizona 10
Field Goal: Yet another field goal attempt from the left hash mark and Williamson made it look easy by booting a 33-yard field goal down the middle with nice elevation to the kick. Jordan's three first-half field goals were key in a first half that saw Stanford clearly controlling the game, but somehow finding themselves only up by six points going into the locker room.
Kickoff: Williamson hit a nice kickoff deep towards the left corner, three yards deep into the end zone, with Arizona returning the kick to the 21-yard line.
Second-Half Kickoff: To start the second half, Williamson had a nice deep kick-off with good height to the two-yard line, but Arizona was able to open a small hole in Stanford's coverage and returned the ball to the 36. This was the longest return allowed by Stanford all game, and it happened on the first play of the second half. If you Cardinal fans remember, Williamson's worst kickoff of the Duke game came on the opening play of the second half when he snap-hooked his kick out of bounds, giving the Blue Devils good field position at the 40-yard line. I mentioned last week that it is not unusual for a miscue to happen on the first play of the second half. It is important to come out warmed up and mentally ready for that first play after spending 20 minutes resting in the locker room. On a good note, the Arizona kick returner was tackled by Williamson himself in what may have been his first contact action of the season. I know, he only bumped the returner out of bounds. But hey…it still counts as a tackle on the stat sheet. Who said kickers can't be athletes!
Stanford 23, Arizona 10
Extra Point: Williamson made the extra point with great height, right down the middle.
Kickoff: Jordan hit a nice deep left kickoff, two yards deep in the end zone. Poor tackling by the Cardinal coverage team resulted in a 30-yard return to the 28-yard line.
Stanford 30, Arizona 10
Extra Point: Williamson made the extra point with great height, right down the middle. Wait a minute. Didn't I just mention that a few sentences ago?
Kickoff: There was no sign of fatigue in Williamson's leg this week as his kickoff traveled down the left hash, six yards deep into the end zone for a touchback.
Stanford 37, Arizona 10
Extra Point: Williamson made the extra point with great height, right down the middle. Okay, I'm starting to sound like a broken record now. If Jordan continues to be this predictable with his extra points, much of my analysis is going to be about as boring as reading Thomas Hobbes for a Culture, Ideas and Values class. Nevertheless, as long as Jordan is predictable in a good way, I will work on making the same talking points more flavorful in their own, unique way.
Kickoff: Jordan ended his game on a high note, as he drilled his best kickoff of the night seven yards deep into the end zone for a touchback. The last two kickoffs for touchbacks were a fitting completion for the game, giving the Cardinal cover unit a couple of plays off from having to make tackles. A kickoff return is arguably the most dangerous play in football with the potential for numerous high-speed collisions on each play. Believe me when I say that despite in-game bravado, most kick cover players are delighted when the kickoff goes for a touchback.
1st Punt: David Green's first punt, spotted at the Arizona 47-yard line, went for a touchback. Last week against Duke, David had a touchback where the ball landed at around the six-yard line and rolled into the end zone and I mentioned that those are the breaks. In the case with his touchback against the Wildcats, the punt never had a chance to be downed. David simply misjudged the distance and drilled the ball eight yards deep into the end zone. Coach Polian is looking for David the land the ball at about the 10-yard line, which makes his punt about 18 yards too long.
2nd Punt: David's second punt was perfectly executed and I am sure Coach Polian would like this scenario on virtually every punt the Cardinal executes this season. At our own 47-yard line, David hit a beautiful punt with excellent hang time, resulting in an Arizona fair catch at their 14-yard line. This is a perfect example of a 39-yard punt being much more effective than a 47-yard punt.
Overall, I would grade the Stanford special teams play against Arizona a borderline A/A-, with the only deductions being for two kickoff returns allowed of 30+ yards, Green's punt for a touchback, and Owusu's poor decision to return a kickoff from four yards deep in the end zone. I was very happy with our performance and would like to give kudos to Coach Polian and all of the Cardinal special team players for focusing on making the necessary changes from the Duke game and putting on a very nice display. Stanford's overall kicking game kicked the claws off the Cats' seriously struggling special teams unit!
Here's to our special teams taking advantage of the "Improvement Week" by resting up and taking care of any nagging injuries. Our "Bye" came early this year, as we now have nine straight weeks of games from October 1 on (I'd like to say 10 straight weeks including the Pac-10 Championship Game). Let's stay healthy and get ready for the Bruins at home. GO CARDINAL!
About the Author: Aaron Mills kicked and punted at Stanford University from 1990-94 and was an Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 as a punter in 1993. After graduating from Stanford and having reconstructive knee surgery in 1994, the Satellite Beach, Florida-native was invited to participate in the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis in 1995. A 6-0, 180-pound specialist, he ended up kicking for the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League in 1995-96, playing an integral part in San Jose's road to the AFL Western Division title in 1996. That same year, he set an Arena Football League record by making a 63-yard field goal against the Florida Bobcats, which tied the long-standing NFL record (held by Tom Dempsey 1970 & Jason Elam 1998). Aaron retired from kicking after the 1996 season to pursue a career in real estate while continuing to work with aspiring kickers and punters. He currently resides in Las Vegas with his wife and three dogs.
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