With a game plan that ran early and often, and then shut down the pass completely once the game was "in hand," it's hard to rate Chris Lewis. There just wasn't much asked of him. 13 of 23 for 169 yards. Given that there were a handful of dropped passes, his completion percentage looks fair enough. Even though a gripe I have with CL is his softness of some of this throws, I would have liked to see a little more air on all three of his TD throws. Luke's TD would have been deflected easily had the corner back raised an arm, and Teyo had to reach back for his second TD. Ah, but I'm really and truly nitpicking here. Chris didn't throw any picks, and he executed his role of the offense well. Loved his two runs, which highlighted his hidden talent to take off with the ball. I say "hidden" because Chris has a heavy disposition to show that he's a pocket quarterback. He has a very ill-founded reputation among Booties for being immobile, which was disproven Saturday. Outstanding open field moves that made tacklers flat-out miss him. And I've seen him in practice show some serious wheels as well. Wish I could have rated Ryan Eklund, but the powers that be wouldn't stand for him to throw a pass in a blowout game...
Teyo gets an A+ for perhaps the most dominating performance I've ever seen by a Stanford receiver, even more impressive given how little passing was a part of the game. Teyo just abused his defenders on his two TD grabs, which now cement him as the most lethal receiving threat inside 35 yards in the Pac-10. Those two scores are where he got the highlights and stats, but his catch-and-runs in the field of play were what excited me the most. He shed tacklers like mosquitoes, and bulldozed for extra yards like Mark Bavaro. His open-field moves are helping to get him 10 yards before he even meets his first tackler. Right now, this guy is the complete package and an All-American weapon. Only blemish on his day was an awful dropped pass when he was clearly thinking about the move he was going to put on the defender right behind him. Just don't let it happen again, okay Teyo? :) The grade for this unit gets dragged down by a few drops and otherwise quiet game. A lot of receivers got on the field in the game, but Teyo still accounted for 8 of 11 catches by receivers. That's scary, in a bad way.
Brian Allen is truly earning the role Bill Diedrick is giving him, as the core of this offense. BA broke out for 143 yards on just 23 carries, and he had less than half of the carries for Stanford's offense in this game. Brian bounced off tacklers all game long, turning losses into gains, and short gains into first downs. Though he is small and lightning quick, BA doesn't get enough credit for his strength. In his own way, Brian is delivering Teyo-esque runs, shedding a surprising number of tacklers. But we're all sold on Brian, which left a lot of focus on Stanford's next generation of runners in Justin Faust and Kenny Tolon. The pair combined for 145 yards on 25 carries, though subtracting a somewhat flukish 71-yard run by Tolon yields just a 3.1 yard average. Hhmmm. Neither back showed even a hint of BA's speed, though they appear to have more breakaway potential than Kerry Carter. Faust shows more north-south propensity, while Tolon cuts back and forth more. Faust looks faster, and he was able to turn the corner Saturday while Tolon didn't. Still, the overall production this pair produced, in the midst of an ultra-conservative offense in the second half, is very heartening. We'll get more data points these next couple weeks, while Carter is out. By the way, Casey Moore threw some great blocks to help break Brian his big runs, and Casey made two catches in the game. Loved seeing him pull those balls down to regain any confidence shaken by the drop in Seattle - either on his part or that of Chris Lewis.
Brett Pierce was completely invisible in this game, and was on the sidelines a surprising amount of time. I almost wondered if he was hurt. The two times the ball was thrown to tight ends, Alex Smith couldn't come up with the ball. I noted the three tight end set again in the redzone, though Teyo was the recipient. Pretty fair blocking. All-in-all, a very average game.
Sorry the story is getting old, but there was domination up front again in this game. The beefcake plowed a path for 276 yards rushing, and gave up just one sack in 24 passing downs. The line of scrimmage was moved downfield two yards on just about every running play, and Chris got very good pass protection. The interesting note from this game is that Tom Kolich played most of the second half at center. He looked pretty fair to me, and the line's performance saw no notable drop-off. My one beef with the line in this game was a large number of penalties: false starts, holding and ineligibles downfield (I know, more often the QB's fault). Shore up the penalties to get an A+ next time, guys!
I know that all four starters were gone for this game, but the guys we saw largely have gotten a lot of play this year, with Drew Caylor at the end the one great exception. But individually, these guys got no push and were routinely stood up in single coverage. With Matt Leonard once again in street clothes on the sideline, I focused a lot on this unit. The story isn't improving at all, including the most highly anticipated player in the group, Amon Gordon. Amon honestly looks like he can't begin to get past his blocker, almost as if he's laying back to go into pass coverage or react to a running play. Either he has an incredible lack of technique and skill to rush the passer right now, or that isn't his order. Either way, Amon is effectively a starter in this defense, and is getting nothing done. This is a very good kid with a world of potential, so I mean no disrespect... but he is displaying the greatest gap between potential and performance on this team right now - bar none.
Fair but not great job stopping Clarence Farmer, and the pass coverage was abysmal. I can no longer support playing Matt Friedrichs in the nickel defense, and would like to see some more experimentation to see someone else in there with Coy. #51 just doesn't have the speed or quickness to cover anybody, or react like Coy can after the pass. However, Matt made his mark in this game with two crucial strips for two key fumbles. Coy got a highlight reel TD on one fumble return, though the play was as clear as day an incomplete pass (intentional grounding). These big plays went a long way to erase some of the problems I had with this unit's play.
I have more mixed emotions about this unit than any other. The good is the collection of standout individual plays I saw. When the game was won, in the first half, Ryan Fernandez made three huge individual plays, including the deflection that Tank picked off and a defended pass in the endzone that saved a TD. Brian Taylor, Colin Branch and Leigh Torrence all had very nice individual efforts to knock away passes. Colin made some good tackles, and Ruben made a couple great breakaway-saving tackles before he went down. Tank was his typical magnificent self, with a sack, INT, fumble recovery and touchdown. Sounds great, right? But there were countless 7-10 yard cushions given and horrid missed tackles in the zone defense that contributed greatly to over 400 yards in passing. I won't brush it all off as coming in that 4th quarter comeback, either, since the Mildcats had already reached 300 yards passing before they started their first comeback drive when down 51-16. #43 was easily the greatest liability on the field in this unit, and it was notable that #31 was beaten on back-to-back plays at the end of the game when Rattay was throwing for the endzone to close the margin to 7 points.
Special Teams: B
Mike Biselli delivered his best game since 1999, hitting all three of his field goals (including a 44-yarder that was a season-high) and all six PATs. But most impressive was Thunderfoot's resurgence in his kickoffs. He earned his nickname with his regular touchbacks in '99 (and a 50+ yard FG), which were on display again in Tucson. 7 of 10 kickoffs went for touchbacks, with a few of those going really deep into the endzone. There was zero wind on that day; Mike was just in a zone. The three kick returns allowed were modest, and the punt return coverage team did what little they needed, as well. Ryan Wells opened the game with a kickoff return across midfield, setting up the opening score. Sadly, the punt game again marred some otherwise very fine special teams play. Eric Johnson had two punt failures - one that he never got off, and another that was blocked/tipped. The long snapping from Drew Caylor deserves an equal portion of the blame, with a rather erratic day. But watching the tape of Johnson's punts, he simply takes too long. A stutter-step when he takes the snap, and then what appears to be two extra slow strides. Honestly, he was lucky that some of this other boots weren't blocked.
I will draw a lot of flak for this, but I was greatly dissatisfied with plenty by the time this game was done - more than I can fathom in a game where Stanford put up 51 points. From start to finish, Stanford's DBs were put in a soft zone defense, which Joe Johnson and John Rattay ate alive. If you want to argue that Stanford was aiming to eliminate the big play, you might be more satisfied, but the bend-don't-break defense bent like a crazy straw. Recognizing that there was zero pass rush, the Arizona QBs were limited only by their own mistakes in this defense. Stanford did a good job to create fumbles and help stymie some of those drives, but it is very unsettling to watch a defense predicated upon letting the offense beat itself. One nitpick in the choice of personnel on defense in the latter stages of the game: why in the world do you not get O.J. Atogwe on the field at safety? #43 was getting abused in the open field, which says that you have to get a look at O.J. Impossible for me to believe that he was one of just two players who traveled to the desert and did not merit time on the field other than special teams. Impossible.
Now, to the offense. The playcalls for Brian Allen and Teyo were just fine, and lifted Stanford to a winning margin. Really liked getting Tolon and Faust the amount of work they got, including a nice rotation starting in the first quarter with BA. However, the offense went into a shell after that final field goal to a fault. It's one thing to protect a lead, but it's an entire different effect when you practically hand the ball over as you watch the clock tick down. Regardless of how safe you felt about the lead late in the 4th quarter, Stanford was exposed to a very real chance of an all-time embarrassment. Rattay should have connected to Marshall on those final tosses, which would have put Arizona a mere onside kick away from a tied game. And frankly, when you have the punting "game" that Stanford has, the percentages of running 3 times right up the middle and punting, deep in your own territory, are NOT good. Letting Ryan throw on play action would have been a very reasonable thing to do, and likely would have given Stanford a better chance of not keeling over like they did. Heck, even running the ball outside would have mixed things up just a bit and given a real chance at a first down. Bad playcalling in that 4th quarter.
If you won't believe that the game could have been lost, I'll still maintain that Stanford football blew a golden opportunity with how it handled that lead. This is a program trying to assemble a more talented defense, and fighting tooth and nail to overcome the (fair) stereotype that Stanford can't play defense. Well, when your most dominating game of the year ended with just a 14-point margin against one of the conference patsies with a losing record - when that "domination" is tattooed with 578 yards and 37 points allowed entirely by your defense, you're sending a the wrong damned signal to the world. You're telling pollsters, BCS officials and recruits that your very best is really very mediocre. Is that the truth? I believe not, but that's a tale that elite teams tell be putting away and stomping on their weaker opponents. Look at what Florida, Nebraska, Texas and Miami do against their patsies. It's very difficult to turn a nation of doubters around in their view of Stanford until Stanford carries out this activity characteristic of elite teams. And this isn't just a personal desire I have; it's important for Stanford to move up in the polls and in the minds of BCS officials this month. It's important in the quest to get a BCS game, or to convince the Holiday Bowl officials that Stanford is a more exciting and impressive team than another 6-2 Pac-10 record holder. Don't take your foot off the throat in these games, Tyrone. Your players were also plenty disappointed with how that game finished. I was right there watching them walk off the field, and they looked like they had just lost. It's inconceivable that a team could look that melancholy after putting up 51 points on the road and clinching a bowl game. They were pissed off just like I was in the stands. You could even see it late in the game, when Chris Lewis went ballistic on the sidelines...
Finally, Ryan Eklund got zilch from that game. Don't give me any garbage about being exposed to a game atmosphere - he handed off like a trained chimp, and to that end, we might as well have put Amon Gordon in at QB. Not only would it have given the offense a chance to get a first down and wind that clock down, but a chance to throw would have given Ryan a feel for throwing in game pressure. Given that Randy is about to return, Ryan may not get this chance again this year. Nice going by TW and BD to put Eklund into his third year at Stanford without a toss. By the way, the perfect time to get Ryan in the game was after the fumble that led to Stanford's final field goal and points. I was screaming from the stands that Ryan should have been warming up on the sidelines, but the order wasn't given and Chris had to enter the game with the surprisingly early turnover. Ryan could have operated the offense in a normal fashion with that field position, with the staff not feeling the level of risk they might have felt when he was on his own 20 later. But they didn't have Ryan ready, despite a 32-point lead and every bit of momentum in the world.