It takes a unique mindset to look at those set of facts – and what we saw last week on painful display – and determine that what Stanford needs to do is return to its pound and ground game that served it well over the last four years. Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney – all those guys are powerful men earning NFL paychecks (and scoring NFL touchdowns) right now. We don’t have that right now, and it’s time to go spread.
Meanwhile, our defense allows a first down maybe every third or fourth drive. They are No. 1 in the country in scoring, rushing and passing defense, per the KNBR pregame report, and it’s easy to see why. Take that D, embrace a spread scheme – and hey, if it works great, then the holes for the runs are going to open up too (plus you can run out of spread formations too, and to lethal effect with the guys we have) – and this team could run the table. I still believe that.
Ty Montgomery coughs up a punt return for the game’s first turnover, but after a single first down, Army goes backwards. James Vaughters blows up a third-and-long reverse for a 12 yard loss, and Stanford will
frustratingly stall in opponent territory go on offense at its 21.
Hogan takes too long to recognize, but does hit an open Ty Montgomery on a checkdown, and then Montgomery cuts the length of the field to turn a five-yard gain into 14. The next snap is Hogan’s second-near pick of the day. He honestly looks to have regressed over the offseason. [I ask for a second opinion and Andy Drukarev talks me down from the ledge on that last sentence.] But still, he threw right to an opponent on a near-pick against USC, and has already done so twice today (on top of actual turnovers). So at some level I understand the reluctance to go to a more pass-heavy offense, but a) passing on first and ten is a lot easier than passing on third and eight, and b) the status quo is emphatically not working. On third and eight, Stanford waits until there is one second left on the clock to snap, and then gives to the fullback(!) for only the half the distance needed. That was the first time I have heard boos for the home team at Stanford Stadium.
Am not going to name names, but a reporter up here took a nap – like actually fell asleep, not just closed his eyes for a second – during this thrilling second quarter. The D stuffed an Army drive and the Knights punted again, barely gets a mention now because it's so commonplace.
The way I would rank Stanford’s running backs based on what I have seen:
This drive, it’s Sanders who does well to get four on first down, and then it’s a seven-yard hitch to Montgomery. Sanders again maximizes his yardage, gaining six for a first down, and then Montgomery on an end-around for three. 2:12 and counting in this first half, and hey, we’re headed for a scoreline reminiscent of when Army ruled the football universe. 13-0, 17-0, something like that.
I realize I am kind of inciting Torch and Pitchfork Central on our boards, but I write what I see, and right now, Kevin Hogan absolutely misses two open guys by yards and yards apiece, and it’s punt time. Thank heavens for the defense, which has been absolutely incredible.
Stanford is calling its timeouts to try to get one last shot at it before the half. I bet we move it too if we get that shot, because we’ll have to go hurry-up spread in spite of ourselves.
One peril of the triple option is that you carry the risk of fumbling, and Army did just that now, with Kevin Anderson recovering at the 15. With about a minute left, Stanford is going to go spread, and my bet is it’ll work. Sure enough, a quick hitter to Montgomery goes for ten, and then Hogan scrambles for three (despite slow, slow recognition) on consecutive plays, bringing up second and two with 40 seconds and a timeout. Stanford goes to the fade and it doesn’t work. How much proof do you need?
Third down, okay David Shaw, you win. We’re going to run the fade again, and even though Army has perfect coverage and gets their hand in between Cajuste and the ball, Cajuste hangs on for the touchdown because he is a good six inches taller than the guy covering him. But that was an instance of the play working despite the call, not because of it. 14-0 Stanford with 27 seconds left in the half, but this has been a dispiriting 30 minutes of play. Stanford, despite the nation’s No. 1 defense and elite offensive talent when in open space, continued to baffle with frustrating offensive playcalling, and a desire to mold the talent they have to the scheme the coaches prefer, instead of vice versa.
Hey, at least we didn't see the wildcat. Coaches get out of our own way and Kevin Hogan finds his level again, and the sky is still the limit for this team. Maybe, in a weird way, a game like this -- in which the red zone struggles continue against an inferior opponent -- is the irrefutable evidence the coaches need to realize the offensive approach needs to change. Hang on for another 30, test out some different things, and rescheme for a Pac-12 elimination game at Washington.
Stanford 14, Army 0, Half