-Every Stanford Running Back Friday Night
If there was one revelation that resonated most from Friday Night's 42-24 victory in Corvallis, it was the rebirth, redesign, and realization of Stanford's run game dominance. For the second week, Stanford's entire offense, including coaches and players, collaborated on a revival of that aspect of the Cardinal's previous success that endeared it to its fans and engendered the most exasperation from opponents. Stanford's offensive line was the catalyst for a rush attack that overwhelmed Oregon State to the count of a 217-0 rush advantage. As much as Stanford fans enjoyed the aerial acumen of Quarterback Kevin Hogan, it was the intellectual brutality manifested in the form of the Cardinal's ground game that put actual giddiness in the hearts of its fans. Four Cardinal rushes epitomized the design, effort, and execution that carried the Cardinal and bashed the upset dreams of Beaver Nation.
On Stanford's second drive of the second half, the Cardinal lines up in Twins Left Strong Left Single Back Single Right formation and runs a buck sweep to the strong side. As Ben Muth pointed out during the game on Twitter and in our podcast on Cardinal Sports Radio, the coaches have smartly tweaked the play-calling to suit the talent in the backfield and along the line. Power still exists, but the attack has diversified such that Stanford can run out of spread formations and passing personnel groupings. This is one of the biggest and best adjustments the staff has made starting with the final three contests of 2014.
Oregon State starts out with three down linemen, two of whom are shifted to the weak side. Three linebackers are between the tackles but also shaded to the weak side. The Beavers were almost checkmated before the ball was even snapped. Because of the success Stanford had enjoyed in the passing game, the Beaver safeties are two in number and deep in location. One of the things that struck me when looking at these plays is the advantage Stanford gave itself pre-snap due to alignment and personnel groupings.
At the snap, Hooper, lined up on the left as a tight end, seals the defensive end. It's a big deal when a tight end can be trusted to handle a D lineman, and it speaks to Hooper's vast talent, as we're speaking of a guy who'd also torched OSU with a 42-yard TD reception in the first quarter. At the snap, the OSU nickelback abandons the slot receiver (since he had safety help over the top) and crashes the line. David Bright and Josh Garnett pull left, with Garnett getting the SAM LB and Bright kicking out the aforementioned nickelback. Center Graham Shuler at this point has slipped out to the second level while Receiver Devon Cajuste continues to hold his block downfield. The receivers have definitely picked up their blocking games since Evanston. Have you noticed I haven't even mentioned the running back yet?
It's not because Barry J. didn't do his job, but it's just to illustrate that Stanford's coaches and the other players involved in the play did such a great job that Sanders' work was all but done before he even got the job. Once he did, he continued a trend from the SC game and ran downfield in between the off-tackle seam created for him and finished hard, falling forward for an eight-yard gain. Though he's mentioned last, Barry J. was far from least on this play and in this game, and it points to one of the bigger takeaways from the second half: Stanford doesn't have to run McCaffrey to be effective on the ground.
With 4:22 left in the 3rd quarter, Stanford has the ball on the OSU 39. The Cardinal goes I-Formation with Tight Ends bracketing the line, but wisely they use the eleventh man, Michael Rector, split wide right. Did this give away the play side? Maybe, but it also did something else. Rector had already beaten OSU on a big boy come back catch outside the numbers and fricasseed the Beavs on a deep fade, which meant that OSU's safeties had to respect his presence on the field and could not creep up and support the run in advance of the snap. It's just one guy, but it's details like that Shaw-Bloom-Vita have been so good on the last couple games. Even with Rector split wide, Stanford's got eight to block eight pre-snap.
Shuler and Johnny Caspers double team the OSU tackle at the snap, but the rest of the line simply bursts straight ahead, which is to say there is no pulling on this play. McCaffrey shows great vision and patience at the onset of this run. Tucker and #94 (the un-named Ogre) pin the defensive end inside so that Daniel Marx can get out into space and introduce himself to a linebacker. McCaffrey gets through the hole and faces Strong Safety Cyril Nolan-Lewis. In an instant, Christian the Lion jukes faking to the Lewis side then darting to the Nolan side, leaving Cyril grasping at Corvallis oxygen and then breaks the tackle of another Beaver defender immediately thereafter. The play earns 13 yards, and not coincidentally it happened as the 3rd quarter was heading towards its conclusion. As Troy Clardy pointed out on our podcast chat this week, this is the time of the game Bill Walsh noted that the dominant team begins to lean on the opponent and the strain becomes more than said opponent can bear.
Stunningly to anybody who follows Stanford regularly, the Cardinal comes back on the next play with the SAME FORMATION and the SAME PERSONNEL. I'd be stunned if this happened more than a handful of times in all of 2014. The coaches were clearly feeling it at this point, and the players reward them for their simplicity. This time OSU only gives the Cardinal 7 to block on the first two levels of the defense, and Stanford goes off tackle left, with David Bright and The Unknown #96 creating a lane for McCaffrey. Garnett and Shuler have already made it to the second level before McCaffrey hits the line of scrimmage. Running through the hole and behind Marx, McCaffrey runs hard and picks up eight more Beaver-demoralizing yards. Barry J. then replaced McCaffrey and took another Buck Sweep 11 yards to the house.
On our final focus play, Stanford returns to the formation from the first play: Twins Left Strong Left Single Back Single Right. Oregon State has only two linemen down and one linebacker in the D gap over Hooper's left shoulder. Once more, it gets "Buck" in here, as Shuler and Garnett pull to the play side. Shuler explodes off the ball, partially understandable since he's the snapper and should have the best jump, but regardless it's notable when you freeze the play and he's taken a step and a half and nobody else has even got out of his stance on either side of the ball. Bright and Hooper get the initial seal and then Garnett comes around and dims the lights on Linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu, who'd failed to set the edge from the play side and instead took an inside route that made it a room-service seal for Garnett.
Sanders bursts through the line, but the Cardinal's not satisfied with a solid gain. Sanders uses great vision to cut up towards the hashes so that Cajuste's block pins the DB to the sideline and takes him out of the play. Sanders then bursts through Nolan-Lewis' arm tackle attempt with a subtle stiff arm and is gone, aided finally by Francis Owusu's downfield block. Owusu is huge, by the way, and I expect him to get more and more snaps and passes as the season unfolds.
So there you have it. An absolute clinic served up in the Pacific Northwest. The play design, play-calling, point of attack blocking, downfield blocking, powerful and elusive running, all converged on a night when the nightmarish co-existence of a power running game and a lethal passing attack became an all-too present reality for Oregon State. The night made Stanford's opener seem even more inconceivable. This is an offense that should be closer to 60 points at the final gun than to six, in every game it plays this year. Those who came on up to Corvallis for The rising Stanford run game were not disappointed, as once more the tremendous talent on paper transcended into a very enjoyable on the field reality for the Cardinal and its fans.
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