Kibbles & Bits

Sometimes you just have so many ideas, tidbits and factoids on Stanford Football running around in your head that you have to find an outlet. That's the tradition of Kibbles & Bits here on The Bootleg, and it's back. In this installment, we have schedule talk, punting pontification, an Evan Moore update, bowling shoes, a broadcast rebirth, and more...

  • With Stanford's win over Arizona State last weekend, all of a sudden the talk about home/away win/loss record has disappeared.  Reporters (and fans) leading up to last Saturday could not talk enough about the quirky but meaningless statistic.  Notre Dame also had a perfect road record (4-0) and winless home showing (0-2) before they pasted BYU.  What did it mean that Stanford was 0-2 at home before the beat Arizona State?  Next to nothing.  They played six quarters of terrible football that happened to come at home - that's all.
  • As we move closer to the end of the 2005 season, more eyes are looking ahead to the 2006 schedule.  Next fall will be the first in Pac-10 history where teams play nine conference games, as the NCAA moves to a permanent 12-game schedule.  This is a move I have long advocated because of the fairness of a complete round-robin schedule in conference play.  Remember he moaning and wailing of Oregon fans on the BootBoard in 1999 when the Cardinal missed them on the schedule and "ducked" into the Rose Bowl?  Oregon and UCLA miss each other this year, which is a decided advantage for both of them, while Stanford laments missing the woeful Washington Huskies.  The Cardinal have now for three straight years missed playing the worst team in the conference (UW in '05; Arizona in '04 and '03).  Is that dumb luck?  To an extent, yes, but given the current and historical strengths of teams in various geographies in the Pac-10, you can expect on average that Stanford is disadvantaged relative to the average team in the conference by current scheduling rules.  Stanford has always been scheduled to play USC, UCLA and Cal, who are ranked this week #1, #8 and #21 in the nation, respectively.  When you play those programs every year and rotate missing schools in Arizona, Washington and Oregon, you are on average destined for one of the tougher conference schedules.  Looked at another way, if you are going to play USC every year, you like everybody else in the conference to do so, too.  The playing field for Pac-10 play will finally be leveled starting in 2006 (although then the moaning will commence for the play of four/five home/away games in alternating years)...
  • After the Arizona State game, Stanford defensive coordinator Tom Hayes told me that the breakout performance (nine tackles, three sacks) by fifth-year senior Babatunde Oshinowo was not the result of some novel scheme or machination.  Instead, it was Oshinowo's innate ability coming to the surface, no longer hindered by the two injured ankles with which he had been playing this season.  If that is true, and if a healthy "Baba" repeats this type of performance again, it can only mean good things for the Cardinal.  A one-man wrecking crew, he changed the game and was a driving force in that 45-7 lead Stanford built over Arizona State.  Performances like that can turn losses into wins... But they also turn into dollars for Oshinowo.  The film of that ASU game will undoubtedly elevate Oshinowo's draft stock next spring.  As people in the football business like to say, "He made himself some money with that game."
  • Stanford's seven sacks against Arizona State was much celebrated this past weekend, notching a new high for the Cardinal defense this year.  That jubilation might be tempered when you remember that last year's Card also recorded their season-high sack total (six) against the same Sun Devils...  By the way, the seven sacks last Saturday was the most for a Stanford team since [drum roll] the UCLA Bruins' last trip to Stanford Stadium in 2003, when the Card crushed for eight sacks...  If you are wondering who else on the schedule might be susceptible to a Stanford sack attack, there is one Pac-10 team who ranks worse than Arizona State in sacks allowed this year: Oregon State.
  • Over the past two seasons, I can think of three opponents who have rolled out this screwy punt protection scheme of three deep protectors: BYU (2004), Oregon (2005) and Arizona State (2005).  Stanford blocked punts against all three.  That protection package looks flawed from that perspective... or special teams coordinator Tom Quinn uniquely knows how to beat it.  Also worth noting: Stanford's two punt blocks last Saturday against the Sun Devils were the most since... two at ASU last November.
  • On the other side of the coin, Stanford and Jay Ottovegio have yet to allow any punt in 2005 to be blocked.  Give some of the credit to Ottovegio for a quick motion, some to the protection and some to the near-flawless snapping of Brent Newhouse.  We are interested to see how Ottovegio is faring with his punts this fall, once they do safely leave his boot.  As a redshirt freshman, Stanford's punter registered a 41.3-yard average.  Thus far as a redshirt sophomore, he has the same average.  Is there no improvement?  A closer look reveals that Ottovegio hit for a 39.1 average in his first four games in 2004 but finished his last seven games at a 42.2 average.  Thus far in 2005, he recorded a 38.8-yard average in his first three games but in his last three owns a 43.8-yard average.  We will watch to see if the upward trend continues the remainder of this fall.  Also important to note is that Ottovegio's improved hangtime has netted 10 fair catches of his punts through six games this fall, which matches his entire season total in 2004.
  • Another Ottovegio item: a lot of eyes will be on his punting against UCLA's Maurice Drew, who is ranked #1 in the nation with a 30.85-yard return average.  Three of Drew's 13 returns have gone for touchdowns this year, though just as gripping is the fact that only 13 times in seven games this year has an opponent allowed Drew to return a punt.  Everyone expects Stanofrd to punt away from this lethal return threat on Saturday, but directional punting is not something I have hardly ever seen Ottovegio do in practices the last three years.  Can you remember a coffin corner or any intentional punt out of bounds from Ottovegio in the 17 games he has punted at Stanford?  That is something to keep in mind...
  • Stanford has named fifth-year senior Michael Craven as a special teams captain for the UCLA game, coming on the heels of his punt block against ASU, which set up a Stanford touchdown.  Craven is a reserve outside linebacker on defense, as is the case for classmate Timi Wusu, but they are two of the most important players to watch this weekend.  Following again on the Drew Danger theme, special teams playmakers will be a necessity and not just a luxury on Saturday.
  • Forgotten during the season are the freshmen and young players on the scout team, who work anonymously and thanklessly to simulate the offense and defense of each opponent each week.  Here are some of the notable UCLA players being simulated in practices by Stanford scout team performers this week: Ray Jones as running back Maurice Drew; James Dray as tight end Marcedes Lewis; Charlie Hazlehurst as wide receiver Marcus Everett; Tom McAndrew as inside linebacker Spencer Havner; Clinton Snyder as inside linebacker Justin London; and Bo McNally as safety Jarrad Page.
  • Stanford's +1.17/game turnover margin ranks second in the Pac-10 and has proved to be a real strength in recent weeks.  The Cardinal have not turned the ball over in their last three games - all wins - while forcing their opponents into eight turnovers.  Why does turnover margin matter?  Turnovers create shorter fields and lead to easier points; thus, a positive margin helps your offense as well as your defense.  Don't hold your breath hoping this Saturday will necessarily continue Stanford's strength, however.  UCLA is the one team ranked ahead of the Cardinal in the conference, with a +1.43/game turnover margin.
  • Redshirt junior quarterback Trent Edwards led Stanford in rushing in both the Washington State and Arizona games, despite negative sack yardage in those totals.  The slinger's scrambling abilities have taken some Cardinalmaniacs™ by surprise, but we reported a marked improvement in Edwards' running ability a year ago.  Following a quadricep hematoma he suffered in the 2003 Big Game when he was hit in the thigh by a Cal defender after a throw, the quarterback had heavy rehabilitation needed for his leg.  Edwards came back with a stronger lower body as a result, which we first saw during 2004 spring practices.  That was the start of all this...  When did fans get their first glimpse of the quarterback's lethal legs?  If you look back at the tape of the Navy game, it was Edwards who ran as a blocker ahead of receiver and Stanford sprinter Gerren Crochet on that 46-yard touchdown reverse.
  • If you are keeping score at home, that nasty hit Edwards took late in the first quarter against Arizona State was delivered by safety Maurice London.  The official play-by-play incorrectly cited cornerback Keno Walter-White.  Some published game stgories reported that defensive tackle Quency Darley was the offender.  While Darley did help on the play and did dive late at Edwards, his tackle was innocuous compared to the helmet-to-helmet contact London laid on Stanford's signal caller.
  • I was one of the people coming into this year who said that the Cardinal should savor the players they have on defense while the still have them, given the big hits Stanford will suffer from senior graduation this spring (e.g. Oshinowo, Alston, Rushing).  One area where we can now breathe a little easier for the 2006 defense is inside linebacker, after watching the emergence of redshirt junior Mike Silva.  Since Michael Okwo's ankle sprain in the Oregon game, Silva has recorded eight, nine, seven and nine tackles.  As we look ahead to next fall, Silva's now apparent playmaking ability gives a meaningful boost to the Cardinal's defensive prospects.
  • Silva, by the way, has now played 282 snaps on defense this year to Okwo's 215...  Another interesting play count on defense: last Saturday Trevor Hooper logged more plays (51) off the bench than starting free safety David Lofton (39).
  • One frustration felt by fans during this three-game winning streak has been the television blackout.  Various factors have conspired to keep the Cardinal off live TV their last five games.  That is now changing, with the likelihood of their next five games being broadcast on TV.  Saturday's game against UCLA is being carried nationally on Fox Sports Net, and the following game at USC will also be nationally televised - on TBS.  Stanford's final two games of the regular season, at home against Cal and Notre Dame, will both be carried on ABC.  That leaves just the November 12 game in Corvallis, which looks probable for television.  The decision is in the hands of Oregon State, but they are leaning toward setting the game time to 3:30 PM (Pacific) for broadcast on the Beaver Sports Network.  If that comes to fruition, Fox Sports Bay Area would then also be able to broadcast the game.
  • His second MRI is still to come (in a matter of days), but we spotted Evan Moore playing a little catch with teammates during early warm-up drills Wednesday at practice.  Later in the afternoon, he caught a series of passes at close range from a ball machine.  The junior wide receiver, who dislocated his hip in the season opener at Navy, could start a return to practices next month.  Moore has spoken openly about the added enticement to return to the playing field on Saturdays late in the season if the Cardinal have a bowl game on the line.  When Stanford was 1-2 and licking their wounds, it was nearly unthinkable that Moore would have that incentive in November.  With each win the Cardinal racked up the last three weeks, a new calculus has emerged.  Fans have their own ideas of whether Evan Moore should or should not play again this year, with 2005 versus 2007 considerations, as well as NFL Draft musings.  The debate that matters is the one raging in Moore's head, and it has to be getting louder and louder as the Cardinal and their offense heat up.  We will try to talk to Moore next week to get his latest on this hot topic.
  • Moore is not the only Cardinal with a close eye on a bowl game and the implications for his return to action.  When redshirt freshman defensive end Pannel Egboh broke his leg late in the Washington State win, I heard that his timeline was "out for eight weeks."  He could conceivably return for December practices and the bowl game.  If you are asking the question of whether Egboh should simply take a medical redshirt, keep in mind that he played in four games - beyond the point of no return for a medical redshirt.  Similarly, fifth-year senior Casey Carroll is rehabilitating his knee after tearing his ACL in August during training camp, and there is talk that he could play in a bowl game if the Cardinal can get there.  These possible returns add extra incentive to Carroll's and Egboh's teammates as they drive toward six wins...  And just for a moment, let yourself dream of the team that Stanford could put on the field in the postseason if the current defense were allowed to add these two talented defensive linemen...
  • Just in case you tuned out, the Navy has rallied since their 0-2 start to the season, including the loss against Stanford.  The Mids have ripped off four straight wins and now stand at 4-2.  If they can beat Rutgers this weekend, they would be on pace for an 8-3 record (assuming a loss at Notre Dame).  Why should you care?  Navy would become the first opponent Stanford has defeated to still finish with a winning record since 2001.  Additionally, if the Cardinal should claim two or more wins in this regular season and clinch a bowl game, fans will start scrutinizing strength of schedule to stack up Stanford against other bowl-bound teams in the conference and abroad...
  • We can talk about this every week, but it bears repeating.  That loss to UC Davis is just a killer for the Cardinal right now.  As you scan the remaining five games on Stanford's schedule, any win will be difficult.  The gap in probability between one win and two wins, which today is the gap between a bowl game and staying home for the holidays, is significant.  If Stanford should finish this year 5-6, the gnashing of teeth toward the Davis debacle will be all-consuming...  On the other side of the coin, observers have asked the question of what Stanford must achieve this year in order to mostly erase the Davis defeat from our scarred souls.  The answer: win two more games.  Any two more games.  Once Stanford reaches six wins and becomes bowl eligible, the loss to Davis will leave a much lesser legacy on the season.  Bowl bids are determined by Pac-10 record, and a six-win Stanford (likely 5-3 in conference) will receive a bowl berth unaffected by the outcome of the non-conference UC Davis game...  As another metric, you would imagine that a six-win and bowl-bound Stanford squad will net Walt Harris the Pac-10 Coach of the Year honor, which would overshadow the loss to the Aggies.
  • Tight end Dan McLennan, who walked on as a sophomore in the spring, has hung up his cleats and left the team.

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