“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through”
Things have not reached the point where anybody is spitting on the Stanford Football team, but the disgust with Stanford’s offensive impotence reached a fever pitch as boos rained down from Stanford Stadium onto the field. Coach David Shaw was asked about said boos after the game and this is what he had to say about them:
“We have high expectations for this football program, and 4th and long, if you could see me on TV, I might have been the one booing. It was not good enough. Our fans deserve better. Our defense deserves better.”
The first towards addressing a problem is admitting that there is a problem, and there is no question that Coach Shaw acknowledged pretty clearly and decisively that Stanford’s offense is broken, if that exact word wasn’t exactly used. More from Coach:
“Offensively we've got to score more than three points. Ended up with five, got to score more than three. It's as simple as that...our personnel doesn't reflect our production, and all the fingers point to me. That's on me. That's my responsibility to get the most out of the players that we have.”
Stanford’s players after the game were all at a loss for pinpointing the cause for the gap between what the Cardinal can do to be the team Coach Shaw tells us they are during the week:
“We close our practices; you guys can't see practices. Last two weeks of practice offensively, outstanding. Outstanding. You know, even last week without Christian, this past week with Christian coming in and out to try to see if he's healthy, we practiced really, really well. Now, we have to get that translated to game day. We have to. And that's the charge for me and the coaching staff, to find a way to help our guys, because that's what coaches are here to do. We're not putting it on the players, we're putting it on how do we get our guys to do what they're naturally given to do, as hard as they work, to put them in position to be successful on game day.”
Coach Shaw is anything if not a man immune to knee jerk reactions. He has evolved over the past months in his reflections post-game, and when he says things are going to change, there’s no reason to doubt him. When he says the offense is performing against a defense as capable of Stanford’s, it may raise some eyebrows, but he’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt. That leaves us with what can change, as we move forward this week, and that’s the discussion topic here. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…….
“Bottom line, we need more production from the quarterback position. We're not going to have that conversation here about who's going to start, who's not going to start, who's going to play and how much. You can ask the question, we're not going to have that conversation here. We're going to go back and evaluate the film again, and we're going to find out the best way possible to move forward.”
For the second consecutive week, Coach Shaw used essentially the same words when describing the quarterback position. Of everything that can be changed, this is the component in which I am absolutely confident change is coming. Ryan Burns is not giving the Cardinal what they need on a down-to-down basis, and Keller Chryst seems at best the answer to the question “What would happen if Toby Gerhart was a quarterback and was never allowed to throw the ball?” That leaves K.J. Costello. At the start of the season, I would have given less than zero odds he’d be in the mix in anything but an emergency in-game situation, but now it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he’s going to get a shot to contribute. When you look at who’s coming down the pipeline, this seems like it may in fact be Costello’s chance. I don’t expect him to suddenly be handed the starting job, but it seems clear all options are at least up for discussion. Coach Shaw wouldn’t speak as explicitly as he did then come back to practice this week and say that the status quo at quarterback is still the best choice in his mind.
Q. How much would you say the reshuffling with the offensive line you've had to do because of injuries has impacted the way you guys have been running the ball?
DAVID SHAW: I mean, that's a good question. It's hard for me to give you a specific answer other than you start off by saying, you know, it's a brand new offensive line for the most part at the beginning of the year. We have to change it after a few games. We have to change it after three games because of injury. We have to change it again after five games. That's just what we've had.
Now, that's not an excuse because we believe in all of our guys. We coach them all. We push them all. We have to continue to evaluate once again what those guys do well, you know, and with David Bright coming back hopefully this next week, we'll see. We'll see does he go back into the mix as a guard, does he go back into the mix as a tackle. But if David Bright is healthy, there will be some competition to see who's going to start in the starting five.
I asked Coach Shaw if he’d consider changes to the offensive line after the Washington debacle, and he felt pretty confident in the group of five who started that game (Hall, Bright, Burkett, Caspers, Tucker). As Coach noted, injuries have forced a reconsideration of that, and now with the emergence of Brandon Fanaika at left guard (a development I maintain the coaches were waiting for all along), it seems that Coach is open to once more reshuffling on the offensive line. Bright was certainly missed last Saturday by a Cardinal offense who produced 2.8 yards per carry for the game and in the second and third quarters managed 12 yards on 14 carries.
My best guess at how this shakes out: Bright will start somewhere, and either Tucker or A.T. Hall will likely have to concede a starting spot. Injuries have denied the team the chance to put five guys out there and establish some cohesion. As Coach Shaw said, though, that’s hardly an adequate excuse for a group who has struggled significantly all year.
What else can Stanford do? Twitter had no shortage of suggestions during the game, and there is validity to much of what was discussed. Personally, I’d advocate increased use of McCaffrey and Bryce Love as receivers, and a bigger commitment to taking vertical shots down the field with tight ends and running backs rather than receivers.
“And that's the charge for me and the coaching staff, to find a way to help our guys, because that's what coaches are here to do. We're not putting it on the players, we're putting it on how do we get our guys to do what they're naturally given to do, as hard as they work, to put them in position to be successful on game day.”
With Coach Shaw clearly distinguishing between what goes on in practice and what goes on in the games, I looked at how Stanford’s coaches work on game days. Shaw, Offensive Coordinator Mike Bloomgren, and Running Backs Coach Lance Taylor are on the field, with Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers Coach Tavita Pritchard and Tight Ends Coach Morgan Turner up in the booth. While it’s highly unlikely that the actual positions of the coaches change, there are two final thoughts I have.
First, Between Mike Bloomgren’s responsibilities as Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach, and Coach Pritchard’s role as Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers coach, Stanford has two guys doing four jobs. It’s fair to ask if Stanford might not be better off re-apportioning these duties and/or adding to the staff. Again, this isn’t something that’s gonna get addressed this year, but it’s worth talking about.
What is fixable is Stanford’s dynamic for getting plays called. Even in productive seasons, the Cardinal perpetually struggles to get plays in. Colorado’s DB’s disclosed after the game they knew exactly what Stanford would be running on the game-ending interception, and Washington’s defensive backs talked about how easily they picked up Stanford’s plays based on what they’d seen on film. Stanford’s coaches do need to watch the extent to which they are being personnel and formation predictable, which was a major problem in 2014.
There is only so much Stanford can do to alter its performance in one week, but these are the areas to track as the week progresses towards a Halloween-Eve-Eve game against Arizona that follows one of the more nightmarish months in recent Stanford football history.