Both Stanford and USC accomplished what they needed to in Week One match-ups versus overmatched opponents. Saturday cannot come quickly enough, as it'll be tough to concretely know more about this coming weekend's pairing until the two West Coast powers actually clash in Northern California.
The Trojans made more of an opening splash, primarily because their game came against FBS competition. Steve Sarkisian, hoping to implement his speed-oriented offense quickly in Troy, saw his team run a Pac-12 record 105 plays in its 52-13 romp over Fresno State. Stanford's defense countered with an impressive nugget of its own: UC Davis didn't cross midfield until the final play of the game.
The Cardinal had an opportunity to shake off rust in their 45-0 win, a walk in the park ahead of a brutal conference opener littered with tantalizing subplots. Stanford has a chance to avenge last season's gut-wrenching 20-17 loss at the Coliseum. And since Sarkisian was still the head man at Washington in 2013, we have a rare situation on our hands: Both head coaches have a chance to exact revenge in this game (the Cardinal defeated the Huskies in a 31-28 nailbiter last year).
David Shaw ripped into Sarkisian following the latter's accusation that Stanford faked injuries down the stretch to slow Washington's up-tempo offense. The coaches insist there's no lingering bad blood between them, but observers have inevitably drawn parallels to the famed Jim Harbaugh-Pete Carroll feud that poured gas on this California rivalry -- especially after Sarkisian relocated to USC.
"I think that's what coaches should do," Shaw scolded his counterpart in a prepared statement last October. "Handle [a loss] with mutual respect and dignity."
Regardless of the current relationship between the two coaches, this much is clear: The Stanford-USC rivalry entered overdrive following upset Cardinal wins in 2007 and 2009. The two programs have engaged in tense affairs in the four years since. The 2013 season saw the Trojans finally get the best of the Cardinal again, and that has set the stage for even bigger early-season fireworks here in 2014.
Of course, Stanford's season opener against physically overwhelmed UC Davis pales in comparison to the grand clash that awaits Saturday, but it is possible to extrapolate a few nuggets that are significant in the context of this USC game. The Bootleg Breakdown postgame show (featuring appearances from A.J. Tarpley, Jordan Williamson, and Andrus Peat -- who shares a nugget about his potential match-up with Trojans' stud Leonard Williams) is embedded below, as are several observations from the Cardinal's opening romp.
- Saturday's dominance of the Aggies was yet another staggering reminder of just how far Stanford has come in less than a decade, and today is an especially good day to address that point since September 1 marks the seven-year anniversary of Jim Harbaugh's first game as the Cardinal's head coach (Shayne Skov also verbally committed to The Farm on that day). But remember that UC Davis actually beat Stanford during the programs' previous match-up in 2005, something that seemed like an impossibility Saturday while red jerseys were repeatedly running untouched into the end zone.
- Shaw raved about Christian McCaffrey, but it took Saturday's gameday performance to appreciate just how valuable of a weapon the true freshman can be this season. McCaffrey may earn headline-generating reps as a returner and as a specialty back, but some of his most astounding contributions will likely continue to come on kick coverage. He recorded three tackles in that phase of the game, each coming after hungry, electric sprints downfield. The best part of this story: It was actually McCaffrey's first lifetime game experience on kick coverage. Special teams coordinator Pete Alamar slotted him in only after Stanford had decided to conserve Zach Hoffpauir for a bigger role on defense. Simply put, the kid's a natural.
- Stanford's new-look offensive line suffered through bouts with hesitant and sloppy play. Remember that 2013's veteran group was called for only two holding penalties throughout all of last season. Well, officials flagged the 2014 line twice for that infraction Saturday while Josh Garnett racked up three penalties of his own. To be fair, growing pains were expected up front, and Saturday's easy game was the perfect time to work out kinks. But USC's defensive front will certainly not be as forgiving as the undersized group UC Davis brough to Stanford, so jelling up front remains a primary Cardinal issue of concern.
- Ty Montgomery is not a Stanford issue of concern. My dad
poetically described his dominance in the open field: "They call
him 'the Beast' and I suppose he looks that way to someone
trying to tackle him, but his excellence lies in his
elusiveness; how he can save his speed and killer cuts for just
the precise moment that obliterates an 11-man punt coverage
- With Aziz Shittu (toe) missing on Saturday, Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders shifted over to nose tackle whenever David Parry needed a breather (which wasn't often, considering how explosive and energetic a finally-healthy Parry was Saturday). Alex Yazdi -- yes, the "Iranian Meatball" -- manned the middle once the Cardinal opened up a big lead. Though Luke Kaumatule played well, Stanford certainly hopes Shittu is ready to go Saturday. The Cardinal's primary plan is to keep USC's offense on the sideline, but in case that doesn't work out and the Trojans start racking up the play count for the second straight week, Stanford's defensive line will be in a precarious position without the immediate depth and versatility that Shittu can provide.
- Stanford's new
depth chart is out, and there's concern that the team may
have some depth issues at linebacker since neither Joe Hemschoot
(who left the Davis game early) nor Kevin Palma is listed.
Missing both would obviously not be ideal since USC is coming
off a record-breaking performance when it comes to offensive
tempo. More information on this front will be known Tuesday.
- Hoffpauir is emerging as the Swiss Army knife of Stanford's secondary. His excellent performance earned him a spot with Kyle Olugbode at free safety atop the team's depth chart. As anticipated, Hoffpauir's versatility and aggressive style of play seems best fitted for the nickel back position, and that will be a critical role against an athletic Trojan attack, especially if Stanford intends to set a nasty tone on the edges early.
- Saturday's contest made it clear that Stanford's smaller
running backs feature much different skill sets than the
powerful bell cows of the past. Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young
were the top two performers against Davis, and they weren't
nearly as effective at running through contact as their powerful
predecessors. On the other hand, there was an an added dimension
of shiftiness present, and that opens a whole new room of
potential for the offense. It will be interesting to see how the
Cardinal utilizes it against USC. The bet here is that Mike
Bloomgren has saved some of his most interesting offensive
wrinkles for when he'll actually need them -- i.e. this coming
- Stanford's offseason focus on re-establishing the intermediate
passing game was apparent. A year after catching only 10 passes
for 69 yards (zero touchdowns) all season, Stanford
tight ends grabbed six receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown
on Saturday alone. Austin Hooper took credit for the score with a brilliant end zone catch. The Cardinal also successfully distributed
the ball to targets in all parts of the field. The quarterbacks'
21 completions on the game were spread out to 12 different
receivers. Success against USC's secondary should be
exponentially more difficult, but it appears that Stanford has
at least established a solid framework in the short passing game
that can help the team avoid severe red zone struggles -- those
that cost the team the game against the Trojans last season.
- Devon Cajuste will be back in action next Saturday. The wide
receiver was suspended for a violation of team rules before the
UC Davis game.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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