There was no uneasiness for Chris Lewis in this game, nothing to remind of his first half tentativeness a week ago in Eugene. His start was just a bit bumpy, missing 3 of his first 4 passes - and they were misses. But Hollywood proceeded to nail a dozen after that, consecutively. Sure, a couple were less than ideal, including the errant ball that Ryan Wells snagged in front of Mat Ball, but they moved the ball down the field very efficiently. In fact, Stanford scored its first 28 points on the possessions encompassing that 12-completion streak, from the middle of the first through the end of the second quarters.. That's friggin' amazing. In fact, that's A+ material from this hard-ass grader. Especially when you consider the key scrambles (3 for 32 yards) he provided, and some very well executed play action. But CL's three interceptions very just awful, and have been eating at me since I walked out of the Stadium. All three of them showed both poor judgement and poor accuracy, and that concerns me greatly. I was happier seeing him throw balls away in those situations in Eugene. I'll be grilled for being a critic on what was otherwise outstanding day for a backup QB against arguably the top defense in the conference, but I tell it like I see it.
Ryan Wells steps up again, despite one bad wheel, to the tune of 103 yards in the air. Beyond the stats, he was the one receiver who consistently got open in the first half, and he made big plays. Also his second straight game with a catch over 50 yards. Teyo Johnson and Luke Powell each caught an outstanding touchdown, with Teyo's catch being one of the best of the year. He snagged the ball with one outstretched hand and got a foot in bounds just inches from the edge of the endzone. But Teyo bobbled a later ball (which was almost erroneously ruled a catch and fumble - the ball was down at his hip before contact was even made by the defender), and Luke did lose the ball after he was popped. Too much of a one-dimensional effort from a group capable of much more. Lowest grade of the team, with Ryan saving his unit from a C...
I'd love to give these guys an A or A+. When you look at 190 yards rushing and 84 yards receiving (including 9 receptions to the WRs' total of 8 receptions) with 3 touchdowns - against an outstanding Bruin defense - you get goosebumps. Brian Allen outrushed DeShaun Foster in both total yards and yards per carry, picking up big chunks of yardage and breaking tackle after tackle. Kerry Carter was the work-horse, carrying 29 times and picking up short yardage when needed. Kerry proved to be the bigger threat through the air, getting huge separation from the UCLA LBs. So what lunacy inspires me to deprive the backs of the highest grades? Brian Allen dropped an inexcusable drop to give UCLA their first touchdown, and didn't recognize the lateral situation until Ryan Nece was gonzo. Casey Moore put the ball on the carpet later to kill what looked to be Stanford's second straight TD drive in the first quarter. That's two turnovers too many, which provided a 14-point swing in my book.
Credit the TEs for helping significantly with the excellent blocking I discuss for the OL below. This was a day when blocking against a deadly UCLA front seven was more valuable than pass-catching. Still, Brett Pierce caught two passes for first downs, and Alex Smith continues his emergence as a rare athlete at the tight end position. Despite getting hit early (pass interference), he caught a 20-yard pass in the first quarter that would have set up the go-ahead Stanford score (if not for Casey's fumble). Nacho was put in motion late in the game as receiver, but I was disappointed to not see him get open. He is a great target and a great athlete, but he has to run crisper routes and create space.
I didn't see as many individual plays of pure domination in this game as I saw in Eugene, but I also said in last week's Report Card-inal that UCLA would be a far greater test, given their tremendous talent and depth in their defensive front seven. The result was absolutely dreamy. The line took UCLA's blitzes and attacks and gave up just one sack all day. They dominated as a unit, executing their schemes to seeming perfection, to allow for 213 yards of rushing. Chris Lewis looked like one of the least threatened QBs I've seen in Pac-10 play this year, getting great outside protection from Kwame Harris and Kirk Chambers. We've all been critical of the pass blocking from this unit, but it was the best I've seen this season. We've heard several comments about the job Kwame did on all-world Kenyon Coleman, but I'd like to sing the praises of Eric Heitmann (again, I know). On Brian Allen's 35-yard TD run in the 2nd quarter, Eric went out and leveled Robert Thomas, one of the best linebackers in America. That block allowed BA to get through the line untouched, and UCLA's secondary couldn't catch him once they reacted. There is little glamour or publicity for offensive linemen in football these days, but I'd encourage people to isolate these guys and watch them work. This is truly elite play that is keying this year's success. (Note: did anyone notice that Heitmann was on the sidelines, with Weinacht and Schindler as the guards, for CL's first INT?)
This was exciting stuff. I was borderline terrified of what a talented and deep UCLA O-line would do to Stanford's injury-decimated D-line, with DeShaun Foster running unencumbered to paydirt. Terrified. Then to lose Marcus Hoover, and see our defensive interior reserves gimpy enough to compell redshirt freshman Scott Scharff out of position (has worked at DE since arriving at the Farm)... well, the table was set for disaster. But Travis Pfiefer played like a man possessed (though a step slower than we need) and Craig Albrecht delivered the kind of impact Cardinalmaniacs™ having been hoping for since his transfer. They provided pretty good pressure up the middle, while Stanford's DBs primarily stayed back in coverage. When that coverage forced Paus or McEwan out of the pocket, Louis Hobson provided some outstanding hits that forced big plays. His speed to the point of attack and ferocity of his hits explain the Charles Haley comparisons we heard a couple years back. Austin Lee pounced on one key fumble that Anthony Gabriel forced, but I was absolutely incensed by Austin's failure to pick up another fumble in the game. He made the classic mistake of trying to pick it up while running - visions of touchdown glory. I can't believe someone would make that mistake on a Tyrone Willingham team, and I went ballistic. But aside from that vent, this unit was the surprise performer of the day.
Give this unit a ton of credit for getting to DeShaun Foster before he could get into the open field. Stanford just went up against the top individual player in the country (in my mind, and hence still the Heisman frontrunner), and held him to half his average. The starting trio is banged up, yet the insider LBs combined for 17 tackles (2 for losses), and Anthony Gabriel outside recorded a sack and two forced fumbles. Matt Friedrichs is still not finishing to my liking, and Coy Wire didn't wrap up as well as he normally can, but this unit was swarming on Saturday. That includes an improved game from Amon Gordon, who is getting more pressure of his drives. Big game all around for the LBs.
Sure, UCLA passed pretty well in the second half, but they had to given the deficit they were facing. Stanford defended the long ball well much more often than poorly, and didn't miss the tackles that breed the big play like in the past. Ryan Fernandez came up with a huge, though unjustly controversial, INT (no hand in the back - not even close). Ruben Carter made an even better play at the goalline later in the game to deny another TD ball. Tank Williams wrapped anybody and everybody up, deflected one pass and recovered a fumble. Credit Carter for taking UCLA's best receiver, Tabb Perry, out of the game, and credit Tank for doing just about everything. Case in point, with Tank out for one play when his shoe came off, Stanford gave up an easy TD throw straight down the middle of the field. I'm still concerned about the play of #45, though...
Special Teams: A-
This was a game where special teams slipped by for 60 minutes, completely unnoticed. But that's sweet music to hear for Stanford special teams, who has been easily the weakest unit this season. No significant return was given up, with 2 punts and 6 kickoffs returned for a total of just 122 yards. Not even a hint of a punt of kick blocked. Mike Biselli hit all his PATs (though one was hooked badly and another hit the upright) and nailed his only FG attempt of the day (30 yards). Cardinalmaniacs™ will hope that the ship has been righted, but it must be noted that there were very few special teams plays today. There frankly wasn't much exposure for problems with just 2 punts. Still, give the guys credit for solid coverage on returns and keeping it clean. On the flip side, Stanford didn't make anything happen on their own returns: 3 for 46 yards. The return teams also got little exposure, with UCLA hardly punting, and most kickoffs from Nate Fikse going deep for touchbacks (remember when Thunderfoot used to do that in the '99 Rose Bowl Run?...). So recognizing that Stanford didn't hurt the team with this unit, but also didn't help, an A- is a pretty generous grade. But in this big of a game, and with the context of what has been happening on special teams this year, you can't be more pleased.
Low penalties have been a trademark of Tyrone Willingham teams, but it has been very striking the last few weeks how much more penalized opponents have been. In a heated game, with many individual wars in the trenches and in the flat, Stanford was tagged for just one flag. That offensive holding set the Card back, but didn't keep the offense from putting up three points on the drive. In contrast, the Bruins were flagged throughout the game, on offense and defense, nine times for 86 large yards. I attribute much of the penalties of a team to the coaching staff, as they set the tone for discipline and attitude. This statistic is just one measure of the superlative job done on these dimensions by the Sheriff... Bill Diedrick called a masterful game through the first half, setting the tone with the run, but delivering knock-out punches on play action and throws to the backs. This was a gameplan Chris Lewis could execute at a high level... Kent Baer gets kudos for stuffing the best individual player Stanford will see all season. Credit Baer and DL coaches (Tip and Zachs) for keeping DeShaun Foster from running wild, in spite of playing a host of reserve linemen... And it's about time that someone gave thunderous applause to the job that the new OL coaches (McDonnell and Denbrock) are doing with the line and tight ends. Yes, there is some very high quality senior talent in Eric Heitmann and Zack Quaccia, but the tackles and tight ends are young. Blocking schemes are being executed masterfully, and this thin unit is staying healthy... My only real gripe with the staff is the inability to adjust to UCLA's offense in the second half when Scott McEwan came into the game at QB. A championship caliber team ought to be able to deliver a knock-out punch for once this year.
Youth Movement - There are plenty of Booties who have been screaming to see the fruits of Stanford's labor in the last three recruiting classes. The players in their third year are easy to spot: Brett Pierce as a fixture at TE and demonstrated offensive weapon; Chris Lewis picking up his first victory as a starter, and third victory over a top five team (Texas '00, Oregon '01 and UCLA '01); Louis Hobson coming on as the next great pass-rusher at DE; Luke Powell as gamebreaking threat at both flanker and punt returns; Kerry Carter racking up touchdowns like pink slips at a Berkeley AD function; and Jared Newberry getting big minutes as a blocking fullback, with a few offensive notches in his belt. But the greaters sign of encouragement is what we're now seeing from second-year players. Both Kwame Harris and Kirk Chambers are putting together all-conference seasons as the starting tackles on the best offensive line on the West Coast (if not in the country). Alex Smith is delivering his incredible athletic potential as a receiving tight end, and a playmaker on special teams. Amon Gordon is a fixture in the nickel defense and a cruise missle on special teams. Nick Sebes broke out early at WR, but has mysteriously faded into the woodwork. Scott Scharff played key downs at nose tackle this past Saturday. Leigh Torrence has gotten more and more time on special teams, both as a gunner and as a kick returner...