Clardy's Corner: Video-Game Style

In this day and age, the phrase "instant classic" is used way too often. But those words appropriately describe last weekend's 54-48 overtime thriller between Stanford and Arizona. It was compelling, frustrating, entertaining, and record-breaking football, a game that no one who saw it will soon forget.

Games like that and numbers like those are thrilling for fans to watch and intriguing for the media to cover. But what's it like for coaches?

"Awful," answered Stanford's David Shaw when I asked him after the game. "Awful, awful. For coaches' wives, too."

Wild, scoreboard-breaking shootouts may not be good for Shaw's mental health, but he may not have much choice. Based on what's happening in the Pac-12 and around college football, he probably had better get used to it. Video game football and arena football-style scores may very well be taking over the college game for the foreseeable future.

The numbers from Stanford's win over Arizona would make a statistician curse. Total points: 102. Total yardage: 1,234. Total passing attempts: 103. Total touchdowns: 13.

On his way to setting a new Pac-12 record for passing attempts in a single game, Arizona's Matt Scott threw 35 passes in the second quarter alone. In that quarter, Arizona snapped the ball 40 times, gained 205 yards, and called 15 straight passing plays on two separate stretches.

I'm used to that kind of football. But that's because much of my college football offseason is spent following the Arena Football League, where high scores, incredible quarterback stat lines, and complete and total disregard for defense are ways of life. Those staples of the indoor game have been taking over college football this year, and almost everyone involved with the sport has taken notice.

Much of this scoring explosion stems from offensive schemes that basically turn the game into fast-break football. Stretch out the opposing defense as thin as you can. Attack that defense where the seams are frayed, via run or pass. And do it at a tempo that is so relentless, it's almost cruel.

When it works, it's devastatingly unstoppable. And judging from the numbers around the Pac-12, it's working. Eight Pac-12 teams have already scored 49 points or more in a single game this year. Eight Pac-12 teams have already recorded a 500-yard day on offense this year. As of this moment, Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA are averaging over 500 yards of offense per game.

There's more. Pac-12 teams have rolled up 500-plus yards of offense 20 times this season. That's in 48 games involving Pac-12 teams, by the way. Oh, and if that's not enough, we've already seen nine 600-yard games in the Pac-12 this year, too.

As Stanford found out the hard way last week, no team has racked up the yards like the Arizona Wildcats. As soon as Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez, I said to myself, "Oh boy, it's on." I'm sure the other Pac-12 defensive coordinators said things that can't be printed for family reading.

I have to put my personal Cardinal biases aside when I say this: watching that Wildcat offense work in the second and third quarters was, quite honestly, a thing of beauty. It was actually a real pleasure to watch the tempo, the execution, and the efficiency. If that offense can look like that now, can you imagine what it's going to look like when Rich Rodriguez gets his kind of players in the program?

But Arizona wasn't the only team to upgrade its offense by installing a new head coach. Washington State grabbed Mike Leach. And say what you want to about Todd Graham (and I have), but he knows how to get an offense going. That influx of offensive coaching star power already added to a Pac-12 dominated by playcallers and schemers.

Mike Riley, Lane Kiffin, and Steve Sarkisian are no slouches. Contrary to what some Weenies and Booties may think, Jeff Tedford and David Shaw know what they're doing, too. Meanwhile, no one in the country does it better than Chip Kelly right now. He's so good that Bill Belichick actually sought him out for advice on how to run a high-powered up-tempo attack.

This scoring bonanza hasn't been limited to the Pac-12, as defense seems to be in short supply all around college football. Entering last weekend's action, the scoring average among FBS schools was 30.6 points per game. Nine teams were averaging over 45 points per game after the first five weeks of the season.

Football is cyclical. And right now we are in a cycle where offenses aren't just dominating, they're obliterating everything in their path. That 70-63 result between West Virginia and Baylor will probably always be an outlier. But at this rate, results like those may become closer to the norm.

While David Shaw feels "awful" about shootouts, he has to at least feel better that his team proved it can actually win one of them. Before last week, who would have thought that Stanford could win a game by matching the other team score for score?

And who would have thought Josh Nunes would be the Card's biggest gunslinger? The deeper his throws are, the better Nunes looks. And when he needed to raise his game and get Stanford into the end zone, he got stronger as the game went on. Time will tell if that performance means the light bulb is now on for good for Nunes, but it's encouraging to see. Nice to see his wide receivers stepping up big, too.

The bad news is that the Treefense's reputation took one on the chin with their performance against Arizona. That result sent every Cardinal fan scurrying to look at the schedule to see which upcoming opponents might pose similar problems.

If you're going to combat these kinds of schemes, you need three things: speed, depth, and sure tackling. Stanford showed off its defensive depth by trotting out their entire second-team defense on two separate occasions. The Card have good speed at all defensive positions, and they are better tacklers than they showed against Arizona. So, Stanford may still be well-equipped to slow down the fast-break offenses they'll be facing for much of the rest of the season.

Scoreboards across college football may be lighting up all across the land, but in high-scoring games, it's not when you score, it's when you don't score that truly counts. One defensive stop can decide the entire game. Stanford got a defensive stop in the fourth quarter and an interception in overtime. Those two plays swung the balance in the Cardinal's favor.

Whether or not you prefer these video-game style outcomes in college football, get used to them. Until some hot-shot defensive coordinator comes up with a solution, scores and excitement will be up to all-time highs. And while fans will be reaching for their pom-poms, coaches will be reaching for the Maalox.

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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS

Major kudos to the Stanford Alumni Association for putting on an outstanding and smooth Reunion Weekend. Great to see old friends. Awesome to make new ones. And big thanks to former Cardinal safety Eliel Swinton for being on the reunion class panel I hosted. Last weekend could not have been better. Thank you to all involved. It was great to be home…

The next time you see a Stanford student, pat them on the back and thank them for their support of Stanford Football. That stadium was rocking, and those students were the biggest reason why…

Can't wait to make the roadie to South Bend again. If it's your first time heading to Notre Dame on game day, you are in for a real treat…

Levine Toilolo is a freak. But you knew that already…

I still couldn't believe it when I looked up and saw the entire second-team defense in the game against Arizona. Judging from how the Wildcats reacted (allowing back-to-back sacks by Jarek Lancaster and David Parry), they couldn't quite believe it either…

The first four minutes of that U$C-Utah game went just about the way I thought the whole game might unfold. Lucky for the Trojans (and for my picks), they were able to restore order and survive Salt Lake City with a win…

Wow. UCLA's offense just went absolutely haywire against the Bears. That was brutal to watch…

Big blow to the Beavers, as QB Sean Mannion is out indefinitely after suffering a knee injury last week. Mike Riley talked up Cody Vaz during the preseason…can Vaz live up to Riley's hype?...

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… when Nos. 3, 4 and 5 all lose in the same week, that's really only good news for Nos. 1 and 2. Alabama and Oregon, the BCS Title game is yours to lose now…

Not a Pac-12 thought, but… remember when The Travel Channel actually aired travel shows instead of "Man vs. Food" 23 hours a day? Less Adam Richman and Andrew Zimmern. More Samantha Brown. You're welcome…

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PAC-12 PICKS

Arizona State @ Colorado. (Thursday) Colorado is 2-0 all-time on Thursday night. Unless they have an answer for Sun Devil DT Will Sutton, that undefeated streak will come to an end. I like Arizona State by 17.

Utah @ UCLA The Bruins took a major step back at cal last week. Look for Jonathan Franklin to steady the ship. I like UCLA by 10.

U$C @ Washington. Last week I could think of a lot of reasons why U$C would lose to Utah. Yet I still picked the Trojans to win. This week I can't think of as many reasons why U$C can lose to Washington. So, I like U$C by 14.

cal @ Washington State. Nice win for the Bears last week. Now, are they talented and mature enough to beat the Cougs in a night game at Pullman? Not in my book. I like Washington State by 6.

Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 10-3 (straight-up), 6-7 (ATS).
Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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