The regular season is over and it is time to submit the final report card on a season that was a disappointment compared to the expectations set by the past few years. 7-5 is certainly not where the team or the fans wanted to end up. Could it have been better? Or was this the right end for a team that the fan base (and the coaches) may have overrated? At least after a 31-10 drubbing of UCLA, the season ends on a happy note. We could wait to do this exercise until after the bowl game but the reality is that any team that plays in a bowl game is not the same team given the several weeks off between games.
QUARTERBACK: B –
Here is a prime example of how a glowing end may cast some light on the shadows of the first 11 games. Bottom line with Kevin Hogan as a whole is that he did not improve from his previous seasons and an argument can still rage about whether or not he regressed. The numbers for Hogan in 2013 included 61% completion percentage, 2630 yards, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 151.5 quarterback rating. 2014 showed 65.7% completion, 2603 yards, 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 143.6 rating. The difference between the two years is that Stanford really needed Hogan to step up and lead the team this season, and in many of the big games, Hogan was inconsistent and stymied by good defenses. That is until UCLA where Hogan arguably put together his best game at Stanford. While that type of perfection is tough to duplicate, it’s that type of game that Stanford needed more often from Hogan. If he delivers it more often, Stanford has a few more wins.
RUNNING BACKS: INCOMPLETE
I flirted with this the last time we did grades, so I figure now is a good time to emphasize it. Twelve games through the season and I really don’t know what Stanford has at running back. There is some good, there is some bad, there is some in between, there is some mishandling by the coaching staff, and with the changes in the offensive line, I’m just not sure what is there.
Remound Wright clearly is the most well rounded back and that got him the most snaps. He was the best inside runner for the power and was best at pass pro. He had a breakout game against Cal and at the end of the season he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Not too shabby. True freshman Christian McCaffrey was quite the find and he ends with 6.9 yards per carry. (Cue the fan chant “why only 35 carries.”) Barry Sanders averaged 5.6 yards per carry and Kelsey Young 5.4 yards per carry but only managed 54 and 57 carries respectively.
The numbers are all pretty good but somehow the coaches could never find a rotation that worked for them. And it always seemed like when one play would work, that back would then go to the sideline for a breather. Mid-year, as the running game shifted to a “do what they do best” rotation, defenses could key on a play based on who was in the backfield. (At least I assume defense could do that as I certainly could from my seat in the stands.)
The bottom line is that there is some talent in this running back crew but I just don’t feel we learned enough about each one of them because of the handling. So I really don’t have an honest grade for them.
Overall I would say this is the best class of receivers Stanford has had in a while. You have the star wide out in Ty Montgomery. You have great support with Devon Cajuste, Jordan Pratt, Michael Rector, Jeff Trojan and Francis Owusu all playing a role. The argument could be made that one reason Hogan was so good against UCLA is that he was forced to use all his weapons with Montgomery out of the lineup. There is some good depth at receiver and overall they did have a good year.
Montgomery is a beast, and with 61 catches for 604 yards, he had a very productive year, especially considering opposing defenses were keying on him. The rest of the catches were split up nicely. The one knock on this group as a whole is they had too many dropped passes. The drops really seemed to hit in the big games in the key moments. Overall the unit played very well.
TIGHT ENDS: B+
Tight end U is back! Okay, maybe that is a bit too optimistic but that said, there are some very good things here. Austin Hooper was rewarded for his breakout season with 2nd team All-Pac-12 honors. Hooper was the third leading receiver with 35 catches and averaged 12.2 yards per catch. He did have a couple of drops and fumbles, but he is young and the hope is that he progresses out of those things. Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton each made nice contributions as well. Next up for all three is to continue to improve as run blockers, but the base is in play to have some very intriguing talents for the next few years.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
My harsh grade for the day. This is a highly touted group of youngsters who came together and did not achieve the standard of greatness set by expectations. Andrus Peat will be a first round pick. Kyle Murphy won 2nd Team All Pac-12 honors. But this line was never able to achieve the consistency it needed to make to have the offense thrive.
There is no doubt the offense struggled throughout the year. Everybody under the umbrella played a role in that. But I’m old school. The games start with the offensive and defensive lines. While this unit played very well at times, it could never sustain success. Whether it was actually being beaten at the point of attack, a poorly timed penalty, or the occasional missed block, the five-man unit just never gelled as we all expected them to do. The fact is that if the line plays better, Hogan plays better, and the running game becomes more effective. Expectations for this unit may have been too high based on the fact that they were replacing four starters. But just put the expectations away and focus on the results. Stanford needed the offensive line to play better.
With at least four starters returning (will Peat make it five?) I would expect a huge improvement next season. But for this season, breakdowns here and there just proved to be too many.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
I thought David Parry deserved 1st team All-Pac-12 honors. He was outstanding for much of the season as a wrecking ball in the middle. Henry Anderson was a big, physical force. Blake Lueders was a solid lunch pail guy who showed up every play. The starting defensive line was dominant against lesser foes and kept the Cardinal in games against the top talents. The thought of having to replace these men next season seems daunting at the moment.
Aziz Shittu was having a breakout season before getting injured. Harrison Phillips played admirably after ripping the red shirt off. Both players will be key cogs next season. Overall the line played very well this season, but the lack of depth was noticeable at times.
The strength of the linebackers made up for the lack of depth up front. On the outside, the rotation of James Vaughters, Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi were outstanding. The ends provided regular pass rush, but against the run were equally as imposing holding their ground, containing the outside, and finishing with tackles. The threesome combined for 16 sacks. Having that kind of depth seems unheard of these days.
A.J. Tarpley and Blake Martinez were tackling machines in the middle. The senior gets much of the accolades but I thought Martinez was a breakout performer for the Cardinal leading the team with 96 tackles. Kevin Palma and Noor Davis did nice jobs providing depth.
Overall I thought the linebacker unit was the best of the bunch for the Cardinal with great players and great depth and as a whole they excelled this season.
(Like any great RB is helped by the OL, I tip my cap again to the defensive line, as it takes a stout front to allow the tackling machines to work their magic.)
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B+
Again we have a unit here that played very well overall and had nice rotational depth as well. Ronnie Harris emerged as a nice performer this season for Stanford allowing him to rotate with Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter. This unit was helped mightily by a fierce pass rush to be sure. But it was not often that they were flat out beat. It would have been nice had they produced more interceptions, (only Carter had one among the top three) but overall this corners were very solid if unspectacular.
The same can be said at safety. Jordan Richards did his normal thing, earning All-Pac-12 honors. He was third on the team in tackles and tied for first in interceptions. Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir developed a nice rotation based on their strengths; Olugbode as a free safety playing center field, Hoffpauir as a physical presence who also played nickel corner and was ready to lay anybody out
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Of course when you talk special teams it always starts with the kicker. I think collectively we all felt so good for Jordan Williamson every time he made a field goal. What a roller coaster of a career he has had at Stanford. Overall his numbers look decent at 14-20 with a long of 51. That, of course, was helped by making his last seven kicks. Opening the season 2-5 was a tough one and the USC game…
Ben Rhyne was solid as a punter averaging just under 40 yards per kick. The coverage teams were decent across the board.
As for the kick returns, they weren’t as flashy as we saw last year, but Montgomery still earned All-Pac-12 honors with his return ability. He averaged 19.8 yards per punt with two touchdowns. The kickoff returns went scoreless but the unit was still very acceptable.
And we get to the end to get to the most controversial of all. How did the Stanford coaches do? Well, I’d say the defensive coaches get an A and the offensive ones get a D-.
First the positives, which seem obvious. Lance Anderson stepping in for Derek Mason did a fabulous job. The defense played well just about every game and even survived some injuries as well. The defense played at a championship level throughout the year with the exception of at Oregon. Given the number of departures from last year’s team, the coaches get a lot of credit.
But on offense, not so fast. I think the coaches did a poor job of evaluating their own talent and they took too long to make adjustments as it became clear to the rest of the world this was not the same offense. The coaches got fooled by success against lesser teams, and pawned off subpar performance against good teams as exception when the reality should have been reversed. The coaches misjudged the impact of four new starters on the offensive line. The coaches never could adjust to not having a dominant go-to running back and how best to use the back-by-committee model. The coaches never seemed to adjust to Hogan not stepping up in his game.
My overall impression of the coaching is that they got spoiled by being the best team in the past. They were able to exert their will on others and find success doing it. This year Stanford’s offense was not the best and not able to do that. It took the coaches at least half the season for the first adjustment and maybe most of the season for the second adjustment to identify ways to win when you don’t have the best team on the field.
The same example can be used for the Rose Bowl last year when Stanford, even with Tyler Gaffney, couldn’t run against Michigan State. The big learning curve for the offensive coaching staff is to figure out what adjustments they need to make when their squad isn’t the best on the field and when to make those adjustments.
Coming into the season before training camp, looking at all the departures and the tough road schedule, I figured Stanford was an 8-4 team. If some things go their way they could get 10 wins. With injuries, they could fall to 6-6. The frustrating part of this season though is the defense played at such a high level. Had the offense supported them, this easily could have been a 10- or 11-win campaign.
In the end the team provided some very entertaining moments, another year with the Axe, and a foundation to grow for next year.