Time to get the hype machine cranking - "Fasani for Heisman" is no pipe dream, Booties. Randy looked more accurate on Saturday than against BC, and the stats bare that out - better than 65% completions (17 of 26) for 295 yards. The stat that is catching everybody's attention, and boosting his QB rating, is the 4 TDs and 0 INTs - for the second straight game. That's a premier statistic for a pure pocket quarterback, but is all the more impressive with how Randy has had to throw on the run against these blitzing defenses. I'm holding back on a A+ largely because of the three sacks and the near-INT he threw while he was in the grasp. Fasani is smarter than that, but could deal a serious blow to the team with that kind of decision in the future. Besides, this offense shouldn't feel that threatened by a 2nd and 18. One final concern with Randy was that he didn't "feel" the blindside blitz, which is going to lead to fumbles and risk of injury. Chris Lewis got quite a bit of work in the game, and picked himself up after two incompletions. He proceeded to hit his next five receivers for a total of 30 yards. Given that Stanford was trying to run out the clock and pull in the reins, you can't expect Chris to get the green light to go downfield for much more. But the reps and experience were good. Anyone notice that Lewis went to Sebes on three straight passes? The chemistry they've been building in the #2 offense in practices is paying off.
"Cool Hand" Luke Powell was just en fuego, picking up huge chunks of yardage just shy of a 24-yard-per-reception click (6 for 143). Luke made some bigtime plays and efforts for high balls that Randy threw him in tight coverage on the sideline. I swear I'm looking at Troy with how Luke times the ball and uses his body against bigger defenders. And that flanker screen?... just swelled my heart. The only disappointment was that Luke didn't get in the endzone, and that showed after the game with his comments in talking with Murph. Diedrick and Randy need to get "Skywalker" in the endzone - he surely deserves it. Want to know the most encouraging sign of all in the group? For a unit with question marks, now without DeRonnie Pitts, the youth movement is strong. The three top receivers by yardage on Saturday night for Stanford were all first or second year players by eligibility. Powell is just a redshirt sophomore, and both Nick Sebes (4 for 55, 1 TD) and Teyo Johnson (3 for 42, 1 TD) are redshirt freshmen in just their second collegiate games. All three of these guys made impact plays in this game that reflected on the performances and rave reviews I've offered from seeing them develop in practices. There is a lot to be excited about with this unit - especially with what they are doing in the open field after the catch. Sebes and Powell are putting big league moves on defenders, and picking up a lot of extra yards (and TDs) from it. Teyo hasn't had to really dazzle us yet on his TD catches, but it's plain as day that he isn't even mildly threatened by so-called "defenders." All this on a day when Wells and McCullum were relatively quiet, which won't continue to be the case. It's time to officially remove the "question mark" that was attached to this unit.
KC impressed in game one, and now BA got to shine in game two. And boy did he shine. 13 carries for 134 yards - a career high and his third career game over the century mark. The advantage he offers over all the other backs on this team is his gamebreaking speed. Whether running between the tackles or outside, Brian seriously impressed this Bootie throughout the game. And it's not just straight-line speed - Allen is making moves in the open field to best take advantage of that speed. The highlight of course was his 47-yard TD run to close out the third quarter, and all scoring for the game. Somewhat overshadowed was the strong performance of Kerry Carter, who picked up 4 yards per carry himself. Though he didn't break anything long, he continues to impress me. He ran very hard and strong through some tackles that would have stopped him in previous years. I can see a lot of merit to this two-RB rotation, given how well both backs are playing... and a lot of pain for DCs to prepare for this pair. Casey Moore had his big chance in the flat, and was at least as crushed to drop the pass as any of us. Still, that has to register in Diedrick's and Fasani's consciousness going forward. Kudos to Jared Newberry, who opted to walk on at Stanford when Amon Gordon accepted the putative final LB scholarship in 2000. Jared scored from 19 yards to the right side in the first quarter, the first of three running TDs on the day.
I thought the blocking across the board from the TEs was solid, and did a good job in helping to pick up the blitz. With guys like Pierce, Nacho and Alex Smith on the roster, though, you want to see involvement and production in the receiving game. 3 total catches, including one touchdown, sure is a start in the right direction. Brett Pierce caught a 25 yarder at the goal line in full extension. The best blocker in this group was the one to pull in 2 catches for 17 yards, though, as Matt "Do" Wright helped move the offense deep into ASU territory on a third quarter scoring drive. Great to see Nacho in action again, even though no passes came his way this week.
The run blocking was once again excellent, as evidenced by the 223 yards picked up on the ground. The line is pushing guys around and creating holes consistently. Witness the mere 6 yards lost on running plays through the first three quarters, when the 1st string OL was in the game. Pass protection still has its problems, putting Randy on the run and on his backside for three sacks. Equally troubling were the five penalties on the line - 1 false start (may have been Pierce, though), 1 ineligible downfield (called back a key completion to Wells), and 3 holding penalties. Until we can prove we can protect Randy, we'll continue to see this blitzing pressure. The optimist would say that this offense is still scorching defenses, and perhaps the man-coverage we get when they blitz is worth it. We shall see. One important extenuating circumstance was the loss of Greg Schlindler in the second quarter, which called Paul Weinacht into duty. It seemed to me that the protection and performance of the line actually get stronger as the game went on, which was a very encouraging sign. OL play of the day easily goes to Eric Heitmann, when he just leveled a defender some 10-15 yards downfield blocking for a long Luke Powell run. Go get 'em, Eric!
Jekyll and Hyde on the line Saturday night. Against the run, they (with the help of the LBs) were outstanding. ASU averaged less than 3 yards per carry on the ground, which provides confirmation of what we saw two weeks ago against BC. But the pass rush was pretty disappointing, resulting in very few rushes and zero sacks. The important detail to remember in judging the pass rush is that they got little LB support on an evening when Kent Baer decided to hold back the blitz. Still, one on one, I want to see more from Matt Leonard on a consistent basis, and the DEs have to get in the backfield. Credit Marcus Hoover for a lionheart effort, playing through an injury to his knee (again). Trey Freeman put a HUGE lick on Krohn at one point, but was silent most of the evening. ASU's OL is supposed to be one of their real strengths this year, with a lot of experience. The question is whether their ability to protect the QB against Stanford's pass rush is representative of what we'll see in the rest of the conference, or maybe a little ahead of the curve.
I'm going to give more of the credit in stuffing the run to this unit, with Coy Wire picking up a game-high 12 tackles. He showed exactly what we love about him - absolutely flying all over the field and wrapping up his tackle attempts. You just don't see a ball-carrier meet with Coy, and then break away. Matt Friedrichs got in the backfield once to put some pressure on Krohn, but it was apparent he was unable to begin to run him down. When we start blitzing more (i.e. at Compton), Coy is going to be the man to make a difference.
Sure, ASU threw everything at Stanford on Saturday night, and given Stanford's margin throughout, they were expected to keep throwing deep. But I saw for the second time in two games this season Stanford DBs getting burned by opposing WRs. The difference between ASU and BC is that the Solar Satans had a QB that could hit 'em when they were open. The result was 418 yards passing given up and too many painful long plays. We can rationalize this away by saying that ASU took risks by going long all game, but I can't see why other OCs aren't going to do the same. We're stuffing the run, but giving big cushions on the short ball and losing receivers on the long ball. Without rehashing some of the low moments of the evening, I'll just say that #7, #42 and #45 all need to do better than they did. I thought it particularly telling that Krohn increasingly picked on #7 in the second and third quarters, including one throw into triple coverage that was #7's man. Very notable that Garry Cobb get some reps, and was solid. Leigh Torrence got in the game when it was still in question, which was a mild and pleasant surprise. LT did get beaten pretty well on one play, but I hope we'll continue to see him and Stanley Wilson get their chances. Kudos to Stanley for his excellent leaping interception, the first of his Cardinal career. Finally, Tank Williams was a star. He made big hits, tackles all over the field (11 total), and an outstanding INT of his own. What stood out on his pick, as well as a couple other near-picks, was his timing and athleticism. He honestly looks like someone headed for an impact career in the NFL.
Special Teams: B+
Up front with this unit is of course the punting game, which was arguably improved. One 20-yarder came when either Eric Johnson may have been hit as he was punting, but the kicks were not really damaging. He placed one beauty on the 2-yardline, without the need for a Stanford player to even down it. The best stat for Eric has to be just 3 punts out of 8 that had any return, and less than 5 yards per return for those. Biselli missed a PAT and is struggling to put his kickoffs deep at all. I'm discouraged on the kickoffs, as I had assumed that without punting duties, he could return to the performances he showed in '99. Not so, from the first two games. His one field goal attempt was picture perfect, though. The return game was excellent, with Luke busting 51 yards on one punt and Brian Allen averaging 31 yards per return on kickoffs - including one for 59 yards. Ryan Wells had a 39-yard runback as well. I love these three guys at these positions, as they have the speed and instincts to break things big. Most important for Wells and BA on kick returns is that they are getting to top speed before they hit the wedge, as opposed to the side-stepping and waiting you see from so many unsuccessful kick returners today.
I was pleased in just about every way with the coaching during and in preparation of this game. Tyrone had a difficult proposition in getting the boys back into football mode after the events of September 11, and it was well known that practices were challenging in the past couple of weeks. But the team made fewer mistakes than in the BC game, and overall executed quite well. Kent Baer put a system into place that best dealt (given the challenges in prep) with a very aggressive and risk-taking ASU offense. We as fans would love to have seen more blitzing, but that would have given an opportunistic offense chances to really break some big plays. On offense, I thought Bill Diedrick called one of his best games at Stanford. Outstanding balance of the run and the pass, and a great mix of formations that kept the ASU defense guessing - and guessing poorly. The ball was moved around well, keeping ASU from keying on any one player. The fact that Luke Powell was seeing single coverage in the midst of a 143-yard game was indicative of how off-balance that defense was. I was very excited to see the staff take advantage of opportunities to get a lot of younger players into the game. On the defensive side, we saw Atogwe, Wilson, Torrence, Cobb and Asomugha all get action in the secondary; Covault and Gaffney at LB; and Blackhurst, Svitek and Scharff up front. On offense, the whole line was replaced; Faust and Tolon got carries; Landry got in at FB; and a Camarillo got to line up at WR (including his first catch at Stanford). What was more interesting to me was the fact that while the game was in doubt, the staff put Drew Caylor in at LT for Kirk Chambers. Given how thin we are on the line, I am very heartened by both the courage to get him action so soon after the switch from the defensive line, and also what that says about his rapid progress. Other notables who got in the game before wholesale 4th quarter substitutions included Covault, Torrence, Cobb, Nacho, Alex Smith and of course Chris Lewis. An outstanding in-game decision involved the OL positions after Schindler's injury. Weinacht replaced Greg at right guard, but later swapped with Eric Heitmann, putting Eric back at his old position at right guard. I can't be sure that this move was solely responsible, but it sure did track with improving performance on the line as the game moved on.
This offense is showing more diverse weaponry at its disposal than the '99 team, and maybe any team in the last decade. Despite the blown coverages in the secondary against an admittedly aggressive offense, this defense is much improved as well. A lot of plays never got a chance to develop into anything big because of the sure tackling from the front seven. The return component of special teams put on a show. We look really good right now. We have yet to be tested away from home or trailing late into the game, which are important to the Pasadena Prize all seek this season. Still, there is much reason to be very legitimately excited about this team. I'm not afraid to get my hopes up.