Stanford had beaten San Jose State 43-3. They had looked pretty good in doing it, too. Evan Moore had made a couple of highlight-reel catches. Kenny Tolon had run tough in less than a full half of work. The defense had kept the opponent out of the end zone, barely avoiding their first regular-season shutout in 30 years.
So why did I drive home after the game and freak out about Trent Edwards' chances of surviving this season?
Whenever a team wins a game by 40 points, complaints and nitpicks are usually few and far between. Usually. But not if that game is the first one of the season. Coaches, players, and fans usually agree on one thing in the immediate aftermath of the first game of the season: their team has a lot of work to do if they want to get better.
If you're Colorado State, you know you need to work on game management. If you're Oklahoma State, you know that you're going to need a passing game at some point during the season. If you're Oregon State, well, you know what needs to be worked on there. If you're Washington, all you know is that it's going to be a long season.
Purdue mauled Syracuse, 51-0. Wasn't even close. QB Kyle Orton had a career day. The Purdue defense was all over the place. You'd think there would be no complaints coming from West Lafayette, right? Well, not from Boilermaker defensive end Ray Edwards, who flatly stated after the game, "we played well… but there are still going to be things for us to work on in practice."
Purdue offensive lineman Tyler Moore was even more nitpicky. "We had some technical errors in the footwork and stuff, and I don't know that we were at zero percent mental errors." Ah, the relentless pursuit of perfection claims another victim.
While the first game of the season doesn't come close to providing a complete picture of a team's attributes and characteristics, it does provide some pieces to the puzzle. All the talk, all the hope, all the anticipation during spring ball and fall drills means little. It's all speculation. But once a team plays an actual, real live game, some facts start to present themselves. The proof is there, for all of us to see and rewind on TiVo.
Which brings me back to the reason for my sleepless Saturday night. Entering the season, I discounted those who maintained that Stanford's offensive line was too young to be competitive. Sure, a lot of those guys aren't too far removed from being the target of "Branner sucks!" chants, but many of them had seen some considerable playing time last season. Plus, wasn't this virtually the same unit that had jelled beautifully in the shocker against UCLA and in the rain against Arizona State?
I still think this unit has the experience and the talent to be one of the better offensive lines in the Pac-10 this year. But based on how things went for most of Saturday's game, I can see where some folks had a right to be concerned.
To be sure, both offensive lines (the second-stringers had taken over by the fourth quarter) performed better as the game went on, as Tolon had some holes to run through, and T.C. Ostrander had time to throw throughout an impressive stint. But the running game had some initial problems despite some basic run-blocking schemes. And poor Trent Edwards was on the run several times, and took some wicked shots along the way.
In the interest of fairness, Trent didn't need to take some of those hits. He'll learn that there is no shame in throwing the ball away. Hopefully that light bulb came on after his bruising touchdown run.
I just hope that Trent doesn't get his lights turned out while he's learning all this. Ostrander looked good on Saturday. He looked good from what I saw of Tuesday's practice, including a gorgeous line-drive throw down the middle of the field between two defenders). But this season's success largely rests on the survival and growth of Trent Edwards. That can't happen if Trent is spending his Saturdays on the sidelines getting parts of his body iced down, as he was against San Jose State.
And it only gets tougher from here. U$C might have one of the best front sevens in the country. On the heels of their heroic performance last week, Oregon State's defense is getting the nationwide respect it deserves. BYU can bring the heat big-time. Stanford's offensive line needs to be ready, and it needs to start this week.
So that's why I was a bit unsettled as I tried to get some sleep last Saturday night (plus the fact that it was at least 400 degrees in my apartment). There are other things that need to be tightened up for the Card, but I think the offensive line is top priority.
And everyone else in college football is in the same boat right now. There's always something to work on, always something that needs to be improved. While it's great to look good in September, it's much more important to look good in November.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I may have to take down the two-page photo spread of Teyo Johnson's one-handed grab against UCLA three years ago and replace it with a picture of Evan Moore's eye-popping one-handed snare against the Spartans…
Anyone else see the play when O.J. Atogwe chased a Spartan running back from one sideline to the other and brought him down? Impressive. You'll be seeing that play on ESPN's highlight package when they talk about Atogwe on draft day…
UCLA looked good on offense, but absolutely atrocious on defense. Get used to it, Bruin fans…
Only two things stopped Oklahoma State running backs last Saturday: the goal lines and the clock…
Um, I'll just put it like this: it's going to be a long, long, long season for Washington…
Washington plays UCLA next week. The way those two teams started, that might be a "head coach elimination" game…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but…how bad are the 49ers going to be?
Radio programming note…this Saturday will mark the debut of "College Football Today" on KNBR 1050 here in San Francisco, hosted by yours truly. The show will start up after Michigan beats down Notre Dame, and we'll take it up to 4:45p, when Boston College hosts Penn State. We'll have a couple of interviews, but more importantly, we'll also take phone calls as well. It'll be great to take college football phone calls again! Can't wait…
Quote of the week, from a Fresno State rooter to a Dawg fan who had spent most of the game yelling at the Bulldog bench about their inability to win the WAC: "Didn't you guys lose to Nevada? You can't even beat anyone in the WAC!"
After last week's column, I knew MizzouCard had to surface: "What's up? I thought I had the "schlocky, sentimental slop" beat around here!"
I hereby abdicate the "schlocky, sentimental slop" beat back to the king. J
-- Got a thought on this column or on Stanford sports? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org! The ones I like best will end up in next week's E-Mailbag.
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 on Fox Sports Bay Area. Clardy also hosts Cardinal men's basketball pregame shows on Stanford radio network flagship station KNEW in San Francisco, and "College Football Today" on KNBR 1050 in San Francisco.
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