Practice Notes 10/11: One Step Forward, One Step Back

The offensive line improved in pass protection, but the run blocking suffered, and drops and miscommunications among the wide receivers emerged to hurt the team.

Bloomgren: “It’s a Constructive Process”

At first glance, it might have seemed like more of the same from a Stanford offensive line that can’t seem to figure much out right now, but offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren saw progress in the offensive line in the blowout loss to Washington State – which was promising even though it didn’t necessarily produce results.

“The reasons might have been a little different,” Bloomgren said. “It was nice not to be completely dominated up front and to be able to pass protect a little bit and some of those things that we really put effort into.

“I’m not saying it was perfect. But they were obviously a lot better in this week’s contest than they were the week before. They were happy with their progress." 

It’s hard not to make progress in pass protection when you’re moving on from facing Washington to Washington State, but at this point, it feels like the struggling Stanford offense will take solace in any promising sign it can get.

Unfortunately for Stanford, the improvement in pass protection was counteracted by sloppiness elsewhere, including several drops by wide receivers, most notably by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and a miscommunication between Ryan Burns and Michael Rector that negated a big play.

“He’s an outstanding young receiver that has a lot to learn,” said head coach David Shaw. “He’s had a couple of errors, also – he’s dropped a couple of balls in the last couple of games.” 

In addition to several of those missed opportunities that handcuffed Ryan Burns in what actually ended up being a decent performance by the senior (apart from holding the ball too long and missing some open reads downfield), the offensive line continued to struggle in run blocking and was actually hesitant at times against Washington State’s defensive line motions, which goes against everything the aggressive, blue-chip mindset that this program has been building for the last decade stands for.

It got to the point where Bloomgren actually began to worry that he might be giving the line too many things to worry about, which led to them being slow to react and adjust to the Cougars’ motions, leaving them a step behind and letting defensive linemen into the backfield to negate running plays. (McCaffrey rushed for 35 yards on eight carries; Love mustered three yards on four carries.)

“Washington State did such a good job with their lateral movement, and normally we crush that stuff,” Bloomgren said. “Our zone schemes and our gap schemes – we run power and we crush the movement. We weren’t able to do that the other night, and then they became very hesitant. We weren’t able to move some targets and we allowed more penetration than we normally do.” 

To counteract that, Bloomgren said that the line is going to start playing more “reckless” and “violent,” which, while fixing the hesitancy on the line, might very well open another can of worms with penalties. Hopefully there isn’t too much of an overcompensation there, which is a real risk given how dire the straits seem to be on the line right now mentally.

Bloomgren agrees that a lot of the block right now for the offensive line, and the offense as a whole, is mental as much as it is physical. As always, he put it in words better than I ever could.

“If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Tin Cup,’ it looks like we’ve got the shanks,” Bloomgren said. “We’re still a talented group and we’re playing really hard and really physical. It’s almost like we need to take the change out of our right pocket and put it in our left pocket so we can hit that seven-iron." 

The errors (hesitancy, drops, miscommunications) seem to suggest that the mental load on the offensive players might be too high on any given play, which certainly can’t help them snap out of an extended funk like this. I’m sure you’d heard of players overthinking their problems and making things worse – that certainly seems like it could be the case here, with players unable to just play with a clear head and react to the game.

(This could be the beginning of a longer discussion about whether Stanford’s offensive system, in general, is too complicated. For god’s sake, it took each of Stanford’s last two quarterbacks three to four full years to get truly comfortable in the system. Is that really setting them up for success at the college level? Maybe Luck left that bar set too high. But this is a discussion for another time.)

Maybe it’s just a case of the early 2015s, where it just took a well-placed flea flicker to ignite Stanford’s offense out of its funk for good. This team is certainly too talented to be playing like this, but what’s going to be that kick in the rear end that finally gets it in gear?

Nobody knows what it needs to be – or when it might present itself, but Bloomgren feels that such a moment may be coming.

“We have a bigger sense of urgency than we’ve had in a long time,” he said.

“The thing we have to do is to find a way to get that first first down and then get the ball in the end zone. I do believe there’s going to be that moment.”

Until that moment comes, Bloomgren says he’s going to focus on running the team’s “core plays” to get them back in rhythm and to get them executing again. Because even if the offensive line takes a step forward, if the receivers take two steps back (like last week), nothing’s going to change.

As Bloomgren says, it needs to be a “constructive process.”

“It takes all 11 on offense, and I think that’s something that gets lost a lot on defense,” he said. “It’s a destructive process by nature, and one person doing their job really well can make a great play. On offense, it really takes all 11. It’s a constructive process. We have to build. That’s what we’re working towards right now.”

 

Meeks will Return, but Reid is Lost

“[The targeting] was the right call. It was a good call. I had a visit with Justin about it, and the hard part for him is that there’s absolutely no ill intent. He’s not trying to hurt the guy. He’s flying over the top. He did duck his head and there was contact.” – Shaw

 

Injury Updates

LIKELY

Quenton Meeks

Meeks started practicing again mid-last week and is on track to return to the field on Saturday alongside the upstart Frank Buncom at cornerback.

Francis Owusu

Owusu has made good progress over the last week since he started running and doing exercises again, and we should know by Wednesday whether or not he can play in South Bend.

“He’s got to pass the last bar of testing before we completely clear him, but he’s able to run around and he feels great,” Shaw said.

Greg Taboada

Taboada participated in Monday’s short practice and is on track to return.

Casey Tucker

Tucker didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday, but the plan is for him to be ready to play in at least a limited capacity against the Irish.

“We’re feeling good about him at least being available for the game,” Shaw said. “We’ll see what kind of role he’ll play if he is available.”

QUESTIONABLE 

Christian McCaffrey

The official report is that McCaffrey “got banged up” against Washington State and was (rightfully) held out because it wasn’t worth it to expose him to a further injury risk on the losing end of a blowout. He isn’t practicing at the start of the week, but that’s nothing unusual. Shaw will make a decision regarding McCaffrey’s ability to play on either Friday or Saturday, though I’d be surprised if they took the chance.

“He already felt a little better yesterday, so that’ll be a late-week decision,” Shaw said. “He’s very mature and overly competitive, as we all know, but he also understands that if he can’t go out there and perform to help the team and potentially hurt himself further, then it makes sense.” 

UNLIKELY

Alijah Holder
Daniel Marx

Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE

Holder and Marx are “unlikely unless something drastic happens,” per Shaw.


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