Clardy's Corner - 10/4

Troy talks this week about how the Stanford defense recently reminded him of a title fight he watched in Vegas once. Comparing the 2006 Cardinal "D" with boxing probably evokes an obvious picture, and it isn't a pretty one. But Troy tell us he saw something surprising. We have to next ask: "Why?" and "Will it continue?" Also numerous observations around the Pac-10, emails, predictions and more.

If you had told me before last Saturday's game that UCLA would beat Stanford 31-0, well, I would have believed you.  If you had predicted that Stanford's offense would continue its struggles to move the ball downfield and keep Trent Edwards upright, well, I would have gone right along with you.  If you had foreseen Ben Olson shredding Stanford's secondary and Chris Markey running with ease, well, I wouldn't have argued.

But only two of those things actually happened.  Yes, everyone looked at the Rose Bowl scoreboard at game's end and saw "UCLA 31, Stanford 0".  Bruce Davis and the Bruin defensive line lived in Stanford's backfield.  But the Stanford defense, for the first time this year, actually put up a fight and played honorably.

A few years ago I was in Las Vegas watching John Ruiz try to defend his heavyweight title against Roy Jones, Jr.  Ruiz did nothing the whole fight.  Absolutely nothing.  Not a thing.  The crowd was booing Ruiz by the fifth round.

Sitting directly behind us in the stands were Dallas Cowboys linebacker Kevin Hardy and New York Jets cornerback Aaron Beasley.  By the eighth round, Beasley had had enough of Ruiz wasting everyone's evening.  He stood up and yelled out, "C'mon, John! At some point you just gotta say [forget] it and start swinging!"  John Ruiz didn't heed those words that night, and Roy Jones won an easy decision.

(I'm sure you've figured out by now that Beasley didn't really use the word "forget."  I'm sure you've also figured out by now which word Beasley really used.)

Maybe last week, Stanford defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff finally said [forget] it and started swinging.

I was very unhappy with Stanford's defensive scheme the first few weeks of the season.  As I noted a few Corners ago, the scheme seemed to be "reactive" instead of actively trying to dictate the tempo and predetermine their opponent's playcalling.  That finally seemed to change last week.

On opening day, I watched Stanford's defense give up more yards than a carpeteria to the Oregon Ducks.  Later that night, I watched Ben Olson put on a quarterbacking clinic against Utah, one of the best performances I've ever seen by any quarterback on any level.  After witnessing all that, I immediately crossed UCLA off the list of Stanford's winnable games.

Coming into the Stanford-UCLA game last week, I visualized Ben Olson taking the snap, dropping back, looking off all five of his receivers, singing UCLA's fight song (or is it cal's fight song? I can never remember), eating a sandwich, then finally hitting his receiver in stride for the score.  And I visualized it happening again, and again, and again.

But what I saw from last week's game may have indicated a welcome change in the defensive scheme.  I finally saw our defense shifting and moving around before the snap.  I saw our guys blitzing.  I saw our guys zone-blitzing.  I saw our guys faking blitzes.  I saw our safeties making frequent trips into UCLA's backfield.  I saw Michael Okwo making big stops.  I saw Tim Sims do very well in coverage.  I even saw our guys (gasp!) hitting people, pressuring the quarterback, and forcing turnovers.

Ben Olson barely had time to do UCLA's 8-clap (why do they call it that, anyway?), much less sing the fight song they sampled from Berkeley.  I couldn't believe my eyes, but I liked it.

Why the change?  Maybe it's due to matchups.  Even though Oregon and Navy execute their option attacks in very different ways, maybe both of those schemes by their very nature force defenses to be reactive.  Stanford never really got a chance to pressure San Jose State's quarterback because the Spartans were too busy running it down the Card's throat.

But because UCLA's offense is a true pro-style attack that revolves around the quarterback, it becomes more vulnerable to pressure and blitzing.  And like UCLA, Notre Dame runs a pro-style attack, only better.  I would imagine that Stanford would continue to do all it can to harass and confuse Brady Quinn.

So maybe it's a case of Stanford's defense adapting to its opponent's style.  I hope that's not the case, because I'd rather see Stanford's defense be active no matter what their opponent is doing.  But it might explain what we (unfortunately) saw the first few weeks of the season.

Whatever the case, the Stanford defense finally went into a game determined to force the issue, and for 50 minutes, they did.  Heck, take away a blocked punt, an interception returned into Stanford territory and a garbage-time fumble recovery, and UCLA's offense was responsible for only 10 of their 31 points.

This is exactly why the defense needs to continue its new-found aggressive streak.  And it's also why Stanford's offense must find ways to sustain drives and capitalize on opportunities.  And it's also why the Stanford special teams must give the Card better field position.

Against UCLA, the Cardinal defense was on the field for virtually the whole game, and they were clearly tiring late in the third quarter.  Not coincidentally, that's when the dam started to break.  If Stanford's offense had moved the chains and cashed in on their scoring chances on the Bruins, we're talking about a different result right now.

Down at the Rose Bowl last week, the Stanford defense bent, but it didn't break.  And even though I'm not a fan of "bend-but-don't-break" defenses, it's a huge step up from the "broken" defense the Cardinal have become infamous for so far this season.


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Ben Olson looked fantastic in the season opener, but since then he's looked ragged at times.  This tells me one thing: give Ben Olson six weeks to prepare for an opponent, and he's unbeatable…

Of course, Olson hasn't been helped out by his coaching staff and their poor play-calling in the red-zone.  A toss-sweep on fourth-and-goal from the two yard-line?  It never made sense to me to run laterally in short yardage…

Looking forward to getting on the plane Saturday morning, landing at O'Hare, making the drive to South Bend and being there at Notre Dame for the game.  For those of you who are making your first trip to South Bend on gameday, you're in for a real treat…

Is it me, or does U$C not necessarily strike fear in their opponents anymore?  Washington State sure didn't look intimidated by the Trojans.  And maybe the posterboy for the Cougs' courage was Darryl Blunt, who took exception to some Trojan players who were loitering on the Cougars logo at midfield during pregame warm-ups.  Blunt confronted the Trojan players, and even had to be held back by some of his own teammates.  Did I mention that Blunt is the Cougars' punter?  I mean, if you can't even intimidate the punter, then maybe you're not as invincible as you'd like to think…

Still, even though they're not as dominant or intimidating as they've been in the past, the Trojans are still the best team in the Pac-10 until further notice…

Great game by Steve Smith.  Not a great game by Patrick Turner.  An even worse game for Chris McFoy, who injured a shoulder and might be gone for up to six weeks.  Unless Dwayne Jarrett comes back soon, Smith may have to be the focal point of U$C's passing attack for the foreseeable future…

Stat of the Week… Rudy Carpenter's line against the Ducks: 6-of-19 for 33 yards.  For the entire game.  Yuck.  Oh well, at least they've got Sam Keller… oh… oops…

Uh oh… the Wildcats conducted the dreaded "players-only" meeting down in Tucson this week…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… shorter kicking tees were supposed to lead to fewer touchbacks in college football this year.  In 2005, kickoffs ended in touchbacks 39% of the time.  Entering last weekend, kickoffs in 2006 ended in touchbacks—do you believe this?—39% of the time.  So far, the shorter tees have had exactly zero effect on the game…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… quick, name the second best football team in the Bay Area.  Nope, guess again.  Would you believe that the Bay Area's second best football team is San Jose State?  Believe it.  They're 3-1 and off to their best start since 1987…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… their starting quarterback, starting tailback, and starting left tackle are all gone due to injuries.  Yet, there's Wake Forest at 5-0.  Further proof that the ACC is awful?  Perhaps.  But 5-0 is still 5-0…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… here's what we know about the AFC East: the Dolphins are much worse than we all thought, the Bills are better than we all thought, the Jets are better than we all thought, and the Patriots (despite our attempts to try to bury them) are right where they have been all along…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Raiders-Niners this weekend?  Ugh.  Unless the A's are in Game 5 mode on Sunday, go check out the Blue Angels instead…


CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Once again, Santa Barbara is representing in the Inbox!  Matt in Santa Barbara writes:  "Great column [last week]. I liked the O'Leary muse... and I think you're correct.  But what you didn't mention is that, while Willingham would likely have been gone by '03, Teevens also probably would never have come to Stanford.  To me, that's the biggest ‘what if'... because even though he was a nice guy, he lost the team and sent us into a tailspin that we have yet to right.

"Finally, I've seen every Stanford game this year... I'm no expert, but I have gone to Stanford games for 33 years, since I was a toddler, and I did coach high school ball... so I know a little bit...  The quick kick on 3rd down [against Washington State] looks bad from a distance, but it really was a brilliant move at the time -- we couldn't even get two yards on the first two downs and the kick did go 60 yards…"

Solid point on Teevens.  Nice guy, good human being, but as a football coach and a leader he left a lot to be desired.  Not sold on the quick kick, though, even though Stanford did it again against UCLA.  It just seems like a "give-up" move to me, you know?

Uh oh, I got a note from the principal… our own Jim "Emeritus" Rutter checks in:  "Yo Troy...  How could you make a reference to Soul Man without drawing attention to the critical support role of ‘Leon' played by one of the all-time Stanford basketball greats?  Lieutenant Wolfe Perry, Jr.!  Get your game on, son!"

I had no idea a Stanford guy was in that movie.  Now that's something you can't learn from imdb.com!  I gotta admit the basketball scene in Soul Man was pretty funny. The rest of it is pretty cringe-inducing, though. Seriously, has anyone seen either Rae Dawn Chong or C. Thomas Howell since that flick?


PAC-10 PICKS

Washington @ U$C.  Washington's been on a roll lately, with a comeback win against UCLA and a dominating win at Arizona under their belts.  As good a story as the Huskies have been so far this year, there's only two ways I see this game going: either the Trojans eke one out, or they win big.  I'll take door number one.  I like U$C by 9.

Arizona @ UCLA.  Bruce Davis, meet Willie TuitamaI like UCLA by 12.

Washington State @ Oregon State.  The Cougs are still looking for a win against a quality opponent.  They won't get the quality opponent this weekend, but they'll get the win.  I like Wazzu by 14.

Oregon @ cal.  As much as I like cal's offense, I think Oregon's attack can beat you in more ways than cal's can.  And even though the Ducks' d-line has been hit with several injuries, something tells me that Oregon's defense will make the key plays that cal's defense won't.  Call it a hunch, but I like Oregon by 15.

Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 3-1 (ATS).
This year: 5-2 (straight-up), 4-3 (ATS).
Last year: 22-10 (straight-up), 15-17 (ATS).

Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general?  Drop me a line at troyc@thebootleg.com and the best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!


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