The day's news started off bad for the Stanford football family. Sophomore defensive lineman Harrison Phillips announced via Twitter that his 2015 season came to an end in the first of half of game one.
"I'm heartbroken to share the news that I have torn my ACL. I will be out for the remainder of the season, however I will medically redshirt and still have three years of eligibility. It's now time to trust in the plan God has for me. I ask simply to keep me in your prayers. It's going to be a huge challenge to come back from but I am at the best place and have the best staff to do it."
"It's sad," Head Coach David Shaw said during his Tuesday media conference. "He's just starting to really show what he can do. I thought he made some plays during the game."
As difficult as the news is from a human perspective, from the team perspective it was the exact place Stanford could not afford to have major injuries. The depth at DL was ultra thin and after Phillips left, Stanford pretty much just used three linemen the rest of the game. Someone is going to have to step up in the coming weeks.
"We have to play more than three guys," Shaw said. "Jordan Watkins came on at the end of training camp. We're going to need him to step up and play. We'll see if that gets Luke Kaumatule back in the mix on the inside. We'll see if Nate Lohn gets back in the mix on the inside. We have a few other options but those are the three main candidates right now."
As of now those options do not include any true freshmen.
"It's most likely they are going to redshirt," Shaw said. "You never know if a lot of stuff happens. But I think both those guys are going to contribute a lot in the future I think they need this year to develop and get a little bigger and stronger. I'm extremely excited about them though. They are doing some nice things in practice. Wesley Annan is a big physical guy in the middle that we need, at the nose position in particular. Dylan Jackson is long and physical and athletic in the line of Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro. I'm excited about those guys future, it's just as far as they are concerned, hopefully the future is not now it is later."
Another injury or two though could change that story as it did for Phillips last season.
Reviewing the game film, Shaw gave no single excuse for the team's performance against Northwestern other then to say the team didn't play well.
"We didn't play as indicative as how we prepared. Indicative of how we practiced, how training camp was. It was in all phases. The defense did a good job of holding on but still didn't play to the defensive level that we are used to and that we think we are capable of. Giving up 55 percent conversions on third down is not something we do. And offensively only getting 20 percent conversions is not what we want to have happen either."
Shaw gave his quarterback good grades for his play in the 16-6 loss.
"Kevin, I thought started out the game outstanding. Saw everything, was getting the ball out of his hands, played pretty well. We missed a couple but we don't expect guys to be perfect. Missing that touchdown pass I know eats away at him. But he made some nice throws and we dropped some balls. Overall I thought he played about a B for him. He knows he can play better but I thought he gave us a winning performance when you look at the game beginning to end. We got to keep him from getting hit, he got sacked a couple of times by guys that should have been blocked. We had some opportunities to get the ball down the field where he didn't have time to get the ball down the field. Those are things we have to get better at but I thought Kevin played well."
After reviewing the film and distancing himself from the game, Hogan gave himself a mixed review. "You are never as good as you think you are and you are never as bad. I'd like to have some plays back."
Hogan also said something that Stanford fans may hope the coaches here. Hogan said how the no huddle offense can help the quarterback and the receivers find a rhythm. That was part of the reason for the team starting to move the ball again late in the fourth quarter. In the hurry up offense the Cardinal just have one group of players and they just go. Maybe the offense needs to be simplified to take better advantage of that?
Shaw didn't want to disrespect Northwestern as he said the defense played very well. But it was clear that he though the loss was more about his own team's play. "The few times we were able to shake free in coverage we dropped the balls. or we missed a throw. Those are big plays that change games. Dropping the third and long in a two minute drill keeps the drive going and we might get points before halftime. Dropping a touchdown pass and missing a touchdown throw, those three plays are game changers. Those opportunities that we can't let slip past. But as far as what they did against us, they played really hard and played really well. They had a good scheme. They did a good job."
Shaw had some good things to say about the play of his offensive line overall.
"I thought Josh Garnett played extremely well. I thought graham played well for his position. But as far as our cohesiveness, there was time we had protection the quarterback stepped in the pocket and made great throws, there were times we had protection when we missed a throw or dropped the ball and there were a couple of times too many when he got rushed. A lot of that goes on the offensive line from the outside perspective. But not all of it should go on the offensive line. We missed a couple of protections from the running back position as well. Protecting the quarterback is paramount, especially when you are playing a team like we are this week that will come after you."
Don't look for any changes in the OL for game two.
"I thought Casey Tucker played well for a first time starter. He'd never played that many snaps in a game in his career. He is another one who was not perfect, but you see the beginnings. He's very powerful, he's athletic. He's not going to be perfect, but when we get to midseason with him we think we're going to have something pretty good at the right tackle position. I think Johnny Caspers played well. Probably as well if not better than he all of last year. So I think he is growing and improving. Graham Shuler played better then most of how he played last year. We're still coming together as an offensive line and now we have a young guy in there at the right tackle but with four experienced guys it is a far cry from last year having one experienced guy and four new guys. Once again it wasn't perfect, it wasn't up to our standards, but I think we started something that is pretty good. We have to clean up a few things but when we get into midseason form it should be a good group."
At linebacker Shaw seems pleased with the rotation of Kevin Palma and Jordan Perez.
"I thought Kevin Palma played well. I thought Jordan Perez started out a little slow and came on late in the game and played extremely well. We have two guys that are ready to play. They are still going to have a couple of bumps and bruises just because it is game two for them as far as extensive playing time. We'll protect them to a certain degree but at the same time we have to let them play. Both those guys made some plays, both those guys made some nice tackles, both those guys did some things that they are supposed to do to help somebody else get tackles which shows they their unselfishness. The only clarity I got was both of those guys are ready to play."
Of course there was plenty of conversation about the offense as a whole. It's safe to say the Stanford fan base was hoping for more than 6 points from the offense after last season's woes. Shaw laid out his thoughts on being labeled a conservative coach.
"I've been asked repeatedly about being conservative on third and 17 and third and 15 and when a team plays two man, which means they have two safeties really deep, they would love for you to throw it deep so they can go intercept the football. They played some three deep, deep, deep zones where they dropped eight guys into coverage. We had post routes, we had go routes, we had double moves but they were playing, as we typically play, deep to short and not giving up the deep balls. So we had to be creative. We found a way to get Greg Taboada down the middle. We found a way to get Michael Rector matched up on the safety and get him across the field. So it took some orchestration to manufacture those deep throws. When a team is deciding to play deep, if you just go back and take deep shots they are going to intercept the ball because they are in position to make those plays. We're not going to force it. We never have. Even when we had Andrew Luck and Chris Owusu and Coby Fleener, we take calculated shots versus specific coverages. Besides that we need to be efficient in our passing game and we were not. That's why you feel stagnant when you don't complete the standard six or seven yard passes to get to third and medium and convert those."
Shaw was also asked what he would say to Stanford fans who have gone to full fledged panic mode after game one?
"I say don't live in the moment. Look at what we've done. Look at what we've done since Andrew Luck left. Don't even look at when Andrew was here and we were breaking records. There are multiple times we've scored over 30, scored 60 once, 50 a couple of times. I want to say four of the last six games last year we scored over 30. But it's a combination of how well we play on offense and how well we play on defense. We shouldn't have to score 50 to beat somebody if we play defense the way we should. If we run the ball the way we should, if we complete passes the way we should. We'll win time of possession. We'll be in positive position. The formula for the west coast offense hasn't changed. It's about taking care of the football, being smart, getting positive yards. Explosive plays are going to happen when they are there."
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