It was tough to imagine that Randy could continue to live up to his 8 TD, 0 INT pace through the first two games, but he had some serious challenges. One INT when he threw back across the field from the sideline instead of getting out of bounds. Two fumbles and three sacks that showed a lack of presence and peripheral awareness. No passing yards in the 3rd quarter, and just 44 in the 4th quarter. He also could have more success with Luke on the long ball if he doesn't underthrow him. But Randy's big throws in the 1st half led to the 21 points that held up for the "W" in the end. He also made two very memorable and huge runs in the 4th quarter, including 21 yards on one of the best naked bootlegs you've ever seen. Statistically, he rushed for 60 yards in the game, which easily outpaced any Trojan player. Through it all, Randy was a winner.
Luke Powell deserves an A+, and pulls the entire group up with his incredible performance in this game. Fasani recognizes what Luke can do, and is willing to throw at "Cool Hand" Luke even without separation if there's single coverage. Why? Because Luke is using his body, timing and leaping ability to get balls against taller defenders that should be all rights be incomplete or maybe intercepted. I apologize for gushing here, but I'm watching Luke and seeing things we didn't get from Troy until his senior year. In addition to the big catches downfield, he made an incredible effort to get to that second quarter touchdown. Randy threw just as Luke broke from behind two defenders in the endzone, muscling his way past them for the grab. The only thing I'd like to see improved on this game is more catches. 4 for 124 is awfully nice, but a few more catches - even if for fewer yards per catch - helps get first downs and keep drives alive. (Though there might have been PI on a potential fifth catch in the 4th quarter in the endzone.) The other receiver with a solid afternoon was Teyo, who did a good job making himself an open target when Randy scrambled. Teyo was just a yard short of his own TD in the second quarter. He still carries the label of "uncoverable" in my book. The reason this unit was downgraded to an A- is the invisibility of the other receivers. They didn't get open enough during the game, which is a little troubling now that we are seeing more talented DBs. Randy and Diedrick still want to spread the ball around, and can't afford a two-option receiving game with just Luke and Teyo.
Stanford backs combined for 161 yards on 39 carries - just a bit above 4 yards per carry. Stanford's game plan was to exploit our advantage at the offensive line, eating up yardage and clock; wear down the $C defense and keep some of their explosive offensive players off the field. To that goal, the backs executed wonderfully. Kerry Carter got the lion's share of carries and consistently powered through tackles, picking up 3 to 5 yards every touch. Brian Allen surprised me with his success, and I'll openly admit it. I saw him having a difficult time breaking the runs to the outside against the $C defenders, as he had done so well against BC and ASU. Well, Brian went between the tackles all game long and picked up better than five yards per carry! He hit the holes (where KC can still improve) and most impressed me by running out of tackles. $C's linebackers swarmed to the ball and kept Stanford's runners from ever really breaking anything big (longest run by a back was Carter for 12 yards), but that wasn't what Stanford needed to win this game. We ran on the overwhelming majority of first downs, and we ran throughout the game. $C knew it, and still couldn't stop it. That was impressive, Booties. Only 6 yards lost on running plays all game, and 4 or 5 of that came on the botched handoff between Fasani and Carter. Casey Moore picked up almost five yards per carry himself, but made great contributions helping to open holes for his backfield mates.
The tight ends get their highest grade of the young season with superlative blocking and receiving. Brett Pierce led all Stanford targets with five - count 'em, five - receptions for 40 yards and a TD. Randy and Diedrick are increasingly comfortable in using Brett and the TEs not just as third options, but as first options on designed plays. We got a new twist with the TEs in the redzone when Pierce, Wright and Nacho all lined up at the two-yardline in the second quarter in one formation. The defense couldn't begin to cover them all, and that left Brett wide open in the back of the endzone for an easy six. The tight ends also deserve serious credit in the running game, with Matt Wright in particular pushing defenders backwards with regularity.
Three games now, these guys have put forward outstanding run blocking. Bill Diedrick is recognizing that to the point of gearing an entire gameplan around them. As the offense slowed (stalled?) in the third quarter, I remarked that the holes weren't there anymore, and we were remarkably appearing to get less effective up front. But at the close of the third quarter and throughout the fourth quarter, the domination returned and won the game. Also loved to see the penalties down - just two on the game (one Heitmann false start and one chop block). Eric can be seen pushing defenders five yards downfield like they're on ice, and setting up downfield blocking on pulls. I love it. The pass blocking was good enough, and gave Fasani some serious chunks of time. Just check out the protection on the Luke Powell TD.
Matt Leonard and Marcus Hoover both had tremendous games, which are not completely borne out in the stats. The starting front four combined for 14 tackles, but innumerable hurries on Carson Palmer. They also got into the backfield time after time to cut off running lanes for McCullough, forcing him to reverse his direction and get wrapped up by the linebackers or DBs. To highlight what was Hoover's best game to date at Stanford: 8 tackles, including 2 for losses of 18 yards and 1 sack. Austin Lee made a huge play way in the backfield when he intercepted the flea-flicker turned fumble. I am still somewhat disappointed that more of the hurries aren't converting to sacks (just two on the day, and only one from the d-line). But that hasn't negatively impacted games or the defensive push... yet. Still, they were huge in stuffing the run and forcing Palmer into some of his mistakes. They played a tremendous game. Now, to balance this enthusiasm, I am reminded that the $C o-line is remarkably poor this year... which means far tougher tests lie ahead.
Nowhere on the field is our improved defensive speed helping more than at LB. Coy Wire and Anthony Gabriel were flying around and pressuring $C in the backfield, while Matt Friedrichs plugged gaps and led the unit with 5 solo tackles, including 2 for losses. Gabriel made a great diving play for his one sack, and was the man to recover the fumble created by Austin Lee on the flea-flicker. Coy didn't record a lot of tackles, but he was in on a lot of big plays. As a unit, these guys were a big reason why no running plays broke long, even with Sultan McCullough's world class speed.
As much credit as $C's DBs might get for covering Stanford's receivers not named Luke, Stanford's DBs quietly played a helluva game. One of the best games I've seen at Stanford from a defensive backfield in the last decade. Ryan Fernandez, who I picked on in last week's Report Card-inal, was excellent. He broke up three passes, intercepted one pass, and made seven tackles. One of those tackles might have been the most important of the game, late in the second quarter. Charlie Landrigan ran with nothing but daylight toward the Stanford endzone for a sure TD and huge momentum boost for U$C with 2 minutes remaining in the half. After Ruben Carter whiffed on the tackle attempt near the line of scrimmage, Fernandez took off. From a standstill, he closed 10 yards in less than 40 and made a TD-saving tackle at the 11-yardline. On the next three plays, $C couldn't move the ball, and missed a field goal attempt wide right. Tank Williams was outstanding once again, both in the pass rush and in pass defense. He made yet another highlight reel athletic play for an INT, and was oh-so close on a diving effort to grabbing another. He put bigtime pressure on Palmer on safety blitzes, along with Simba Hodari, as well. The sack by Hoover started when Palmer was tripped by a diving Tank Williams on a blitz. Brian Taylor made a few big plays, though he blew what would have been a game-clinching INT right off his hands. $C still got too many passes in the middle of the defense, but this was a great, great performance.
Special Teams: C
Ugh. Special teams miscues made this game close and tense when it really shouldn't have been. One unsightly blocked punt and one killer blocked field goal returned for a TD stand out as the lowest of the low. The 47-yard punt return that set up $C's one offensive TD from the 8-yardline was pretty brutal, as well. Our return game went silent, and the punts Johnson did get off didn't ever pin the Trojenz back. Biselli registered another kickoff out of bounds, which is absolutely beyond me. He just isn't this erratic. A few signs of encouragement: Biselli's kickoffs in bounds were consistently between the five and goal line, with coverage that kept returns to the 19-yardline just about every time. Colin Branch made at least two special teams tackles I saw, including a great grab in pursuit from the backside. Alex Smith smartly covered their one trick kick. When Biselli's FG attempt was blocked and run back, Eric Johnson gave on helluva chase. Over that 60 yards, cornerback Kris Richard never pulled away one bit. We need to find a way to exploit that speed. Of course, EJ should have made the tackle 60 yards back.
Stanford passed two huge tests in this game - a win away from home, and a win in the face of heavy second half adversity. Credit both the preparation and leadership instilled by this staff. In sharp contrast with Pete Carroll, Tyrone maintained his composure throughout, which was followed by his players. TW has long said that a football team takes its cues from two leaders - the quarterback and head coach. Can't find a more vivid manifestation of this mantra than with what Stanford and $C are today, with their respective head men. Particularly note the timeout burned when Ryan Wells didn't know one formation, and a couple teammates started to get on him - TW put his hand up and smiled at all to settle the situation and recover... Bill Diedrick didn't call an exceptionally creative game, and that is difficult for fans to swallow, but he called a very effective game that played to Stanford's strengths and $C's weaknesses. Sure, we ran on just about every first down, but we did it and did it well. How refreshing is it to run when everyone in the stadium knows you'll run, and get to 2nd and 5? BD will hopefully review the calling in the 3rd quarter, though, to find out how he can better adjust in the future. Though the poor execution by his players played just as big a part in that failure. Loved the clock management to close out the 4th quarter, though... Kent Baer keyed on stopping the one player he thought could best break game-changing plays: Sultan McCullough. Baer's scheme held Sultan to a sickly 32 yards on 16 carries. The "D" shut everything down up front, and still didn't give up the long pass completion we maybe feared after ASU's aerial success.
The first half was flat-out awesome on both sides of the ball. The second half was heart-stopping, but not awful. Consider that the defense only gave up one offensive TD all game, and that came on just an 8-yard "drive" after a big punt return. Consider that the offense ate up clock like Keith Gilbertson at a lunch buffet on that crucial drive from the end of the 3rd quarter deep into the 4th quarter. 17 plays that brought them from their own 1-yardline to the $C 7-yardline, and consumed over 9 minutes. Huge stops at crucial moments, and big first downs when they were needed. The miscues were just too plentiful in the 2nd half. I expect better is yet to come. I also expect the offense won't again have a 3rd quarter with no first downs and no passing yards.
Up next is Wazzu, who is 4-0 and thinking big. While the Card has a bye week, the redhot Coug offense gets to host the Beavs next Saturday. With the River Rats reeling and Palouse pumped, it's not crazy to think that Homecoming could have a 5-0 ranked Wazzu in town. And I bet with their performances to date, those guys are thinking they could go 7-0 to start this season (they host Montana State after playing at Stanford) before facing the Ducks.
Booties should really start believing in this team relative to the rest of the Pac. UCLA has made a miracle turnaround on defense, apparently, but the "giants" of the Northwest in Seattle and Eugene played far too close for comfort with the likes of kal and Utah. These are not giant-killers.
$C has really fallen off the deep end, and this coaching change does not appear to the answer:
- Norm Chow was supposed to strike terror in us, but his offense was horrific. He's seriously limited by his offensive line, but he hasn't adjusted through four games, and isn't taking advantage of his talents. Pretty revealing stuff.
- Carson Palmer made one heckuva play when he hurdled his way to the first down marker on 4th and 10, but he otherwise is still making an awful lot of really bad decisions. Should Chow be expected to be able to coach that away? I honestly don't know.
- The flea-flicker from McCullough to Austin Lee was brilliant.
- Speaking of Sultan, have you ever seen a running back run for 150 yards... for just 32 yards? When he figures out the whole "north-south" instead of "east-west" thing...
- Still the shame of the Pac-10 in penalties. Creative in finding new ways to get those critically damaging penalties (see repetitive late hits by the O-line) - you've got to give them that. Actually, watching #77 for $C lead with his helmet to hit Coy Wire in the head after the play is dead pisses me off. These guys don't belong in collegiate athletics, and they sure as hell don't belong on the same field with Stanford men.
- They have hosted two Olympics in the Mausoleum, but $C can't keep time for a football game. Unreal.
- As I walked into the Mausoleum before the game, I was immediately struck by the coverage of seats by a myriad of tarps. Stanford's not alone. I don't remember seeing any of that when I last came down in '95, though. A sign of the times down in Compton...
- The boo-birds were out early and often. That speaks volumes about the fan base, as well as the state of the program on several levels.
- Carroll ripped into quite a few players during the game. Gesticulating and raving up and down the sidelines to anyone and everyone. In the post-game I listened to heading out of El Lay, he was awful. I don't have any gleaming of his locker room presence, but this guy does not sound or look equipped for this job. He needs a win in Seattle next week like a man crossing the desert needs water. Without that W, this could get really ugly.
- Perhaps the most interesting game of the Pac-10 season could be kal/$C. The most disappointing defense in the conference will meet perhaps the most disappointing offense.