Clardy's Corner - 10/18

There is a lot to talk about Stanford Football today for those of us in the business of covering the Cardinal. When you're Troy Clardy and you also talked about the Irish in last week's column, you have double duty with a super-sized email inbox. There is also Trent Edwards' season-ending injury, head-scratchers both college and pro in Arizona, plus Tyrone pimping pizza. But mostly it's about 0-7.

Number of first downs:  4

Number of total yards:  52

Number of times crossed midfield:  zero

Number of quarterbacks injured:  2

Many times in football, numbers lie.  But these numbers tell you everything you need to know about the sad story of last week's loss to Arizona.

Number of Stanford wins as of October 18, 2006:  zero

Chances of Stanford heading to a bowl game in 2006:  zero

Morale amongst Stanford football fans and followers:  less than zero

Those numbers tell you everything you need to know about the sad story of the 2006 Stanford Football season.

Is this rock bottom?  Granted, Cardinalmaniacs™ have had several chances to ask themselves that question since the 2002 season began.  2002 Big Game.  57-7.  2004 Big Game.  Last year against UC Davis.  Even with those low points, what this team and its followers are going through right now seems lower.  After all, at least Stanford crossed midfield in each of those games.

But this?  How do you explain it?  Arizona's defense is quick and physical, but they don't exactly have Tedy Bruschi, Rob Waldrop, and Brandon Sanders running around out there for them.  What possible explanations could there be for four first downs and 52 yards in an entire game?

Has the coaching been flawless for this team?  No.  Does the admissions policy help Stanford field the depth they need?  No.

Is it injuries?  Yes.  Although the injuries don't tell the whole story behind Stanford's putrid production on offense, it's a huge part of why we've seen what we've seen.  I'll put Nick Frank aside, because his spinal condition likely would have been diagnosed during the season anyway (and thankfully, it was).  But a healthy Trent Edwards, Evan Moore, and Mark Bradford alone mean at least three wins to Stanford right now.  Possibly four.

Moore and Bradford can consistently make the same reads as Trent does, get open and beat most Pac-10 cornerbacks.  This allows Trent to actually throw the ball and let them make the play.  But without those two, Stanford's passing attack consisted largely of Trent watching both of his receivers struggle to break free from coverage, then not have enough time before scrambling or getting sacked.

Right now, opposing defenses have no reason to play Stanford's passing game honest.  They know that Stanford's current receivers can't break free from man coverage, and are less likely to be on the same page with the quarterback in making reads at the line of scrimmage.  Since defenses don't have to worry about coverage, they can turn their attention towards run stoppage and pocket pressure.  Richard Sherman has a bright, bright future in this program, and Kelton Lynn is a good story, but right now, neither of them strike fear in defenses.  But if Moore and Bradford are on the field, it's a different story.

Heck, if center Tim Mattran is on the field, it's a different story.  But Mattran's leg injury has cost him the season.  Offensive guards Ismail Simpson and Josiah Vinson have missed three games each.  Running back Anthony Kimble has missed a game.  Tight end Matt Traverso has missed six games so far.

Take a look at Stanford's projected offensive starters at the beginning of the season.  As of right now, the Card have suffered injuries to their quarterback, fullback, running back, tight end, center, both receivers, and both guards.  That's nine of the 11 offensive positions!

Those nine guys have missed 34 starts so far this season, and they'll miss at least 20 more before the season is done.  At least four of those nine guys are done for the year.  The only offensive position that has remained healthy has been the offensive tackles, and even that position has undergone some upheaval.

I don't care what kind of talent and depth your team has, if nine of your offensive starters are on the sidelines in street clothes on gameday, you're not going to be able to compete up to your capabilities.  Injuries are part of the game.  Widespread injury epidemics that affect all of your key offensive personnel are not.

Stanford's lack of weapons in the passing game (and on the offensive line) is an explanation for what we saw last week.  But — and I want to make this clear for some of you — don't mistake explanations for excuses.  There is never, ever an excuse for earning just four first downs and 52 yards in an entire game (God, I wish those were misprints).  There is never, ever an excuse for producing an all-time bad afternoon on offense.

And now, because of that inexcusable performance, many folks are going to start finding excuses of their own.  As in, excuses not to show up on Saturdays.  Excuses not to help fill one of the crown jewels of Pac-10 stadiums.  Excuses not to put Cardinal Football as a higher priority in media coverage.  Excuses not to care for the rest of the season.  Maybe even, in some cases, excuses not to come back at all.


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Trent Edwards is a fine quarterback, a wonderful ambassador for this university and its program, and a great human being.  It's a shame that all of his efforts couldn't have been better represented in the win-loss column.  Trent, best of luck to you on the next level… I know you have a lot of fans there, too!

The Quote of Week comes courtesy of my buddy Ray, who said this after last week's game:  "T.C. Ostrander looked like Rocky did after Mickey died!"

Tough break for Isaiah Stanback and the Washington Huskies.  That was one of those injuries you knew wasn't good when you saw it.  I like Carl Bonnell, based on what I saw from him when he started in a losing effort against Stanford two years ago, and it's possible that the Huskies' offense might not skip too large of a beat.  But that's still a significant loss for that team…

Did I just see Tyrone Willingham in a commercial for DiGiorno pizza?  Seriously… did I just see that?  Wow…

I gotta give the Sun Devils credit.  They competed in the second half against U$C.  They didn't fold like I thought they would.  It also helped that John David Booty threw one of the worst pick-sixes I've ever seen…

Even so, Dirk Koetter made another head-scratching in-game decision.  The Sun Devils were down by seven points with 1:19 to go; they had two timeouts; and they faced 4th & 22 from their own 23.  But instead of going for it, Koetter sent out the punt team.  Yes, it was a long fourth down, but a lot of people (myself included) saw that as a give-up move.  Worse, because of the new timing rules, the clock started on the referee's signal, not on the snap of the ball.  That meant Arizona State had to use one of their two timeouts immediately after the punt.  All the Trojans had to do was run one play, let ASU call their final timeout, then kneel twice and hit the road…

On Sunday, Koetter looked back to that sequence and told reporters, "If I had it to do over again, I would have gone for it."  What?  Dirk Koetter second-guessing himself?  That never happens…

Nice bounce-back win for the Ducks, although I'm sure Mike Bellotti couldn't have been happy with how Oregon tried their best to keep UCLA in it in the final minutes…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… I don't know how the first day on the job went for you, but I'm sure it couldn't have been as rough as it was for Pete Garcia.  Who is Pete Garcia, you ask?  Last week, he was a senior associate athletic director for the Miami Hurricanes.  Now he's the new athletic director at Florida International.  His first day on the job was Monday.  What do you think that day was like?

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… maybe the lawyers out there can fill me in on this, but if you're swinging a football helmet at people and connecting, isn't that assault?

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… players throwing punches, players trying to stomp each other, and the police being called in to save the day.  Miami-Florida International?  Nope… Dartmouth-Holy Cross.  Yes, Dartmouth and Holy Cross brawled as well last Saturday.  Holy Cross got the 24-21 overtime win, and they celebrated by dancing on Dartmouth's logo at midfield.  Dartmouth players responded by throwing punches and kicking people.  Campus security and the Hanover (N.H.) police now say that the Dartmouth players who were responsible for the brawl may be arrested.  I find it interesting that the Miami-Florida International riot has dominated the headlines and the airwaves, while I guarantee you that no one outside of Hanover and Worcester even knows about the Dartmouth-Holy Cross brawl that happened on the same day…

Who is Dartmouth's head coach, anyway?  Oh, yeah… never mind…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… for this week's exhibit on the importance of calling aggressive plays and executing well in the red zone, see the Arizona Cardinals.  When they kept settling for threes instead of getting sixes in the first half, I knew they would be in trouble…


CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Lots of good e-mails this week. Let's start with Van from parts unknown, who checked in before the Bears headed to the Palouse last week:  "Glad to see that you had the guts to admit you were wrong about 'cal'.  If they win this week [against the Cougars], maybe you can start spelling them with a capital ‘C', even if it is a squeaker!  Go Bears!"

Yes, they got the win in the Palouse.  No, you won't see me giving the Bears the "Big C."  To me it will always be U$C, and it will always be cal.  Different strokes for different folks.  Dennis from parts unknown looks at Berkeley differently:  "Instead of ‘cal,' I write ‘ucb' when necessary."

Let me provide a little context for the next two e-mails. In last week's Corner, I wrote:

"If you've never been to Notre Dame on game day before, go.  Even if you hate Notre Dame and all the things their football program stands for, you can't deny how special that campus is on Saturday afternoons in the fall.  For better and for worse, Notre Dame is the poster child for what football can do for a university, and how powerful it can be in bringing alumni, students, and the community at large together.  It's a lesson I wish some folks in the Stanford community would learn…"

With that, Charlie in Tennessee writes:  "This paragraph is remarkable!  Who would ‘hate Notre Dame and all the things their football program stands for...?'  Thanks for the faint praise elsewhere, but what sort of person would ‘hate' like this?  What could they hate?  (Charlie proceeds to list 20 things that he seems to think the Notre Dame football program stands for… in the interest of brevity, I'll refrain from re-printing that list)

Is this the same sort of hate the Taliban had for the USA?  What is going on?  Do you know people like this?  Stanford fans?  Graduates?  I know lots of them and none ‘hate' like this!  Is this them who hate, or is it you?"

Along those lines, John in Garden City, New York also chimes in:  "That was an interesting article on the Stanford-Notre Dame game.  Just a question, what exactly do you mean if ‘you hate Notre Dame and all the things their football program stands for'?  Do you mean the football team's 95% graduation rate, the fact there are no athletic dorms, all football proceeds go the school's general fund, no advertisements in Notre Dame Stadium (let alone no Jumbotron)?  I'm sure the people at Notre Dame treated you well."

Good e-mails from both, although I think they're both missing the larger point of that paragraph.  Never mind the fact that I encouraged people to spend their time and their money to come to South Bend.  Never mind the fact that I called Notre Dame a perfect model for what the campus gameday experience should be.  Never mind the fact that, no matter how uneven the matchups may be, I always enjoy myself on that campus and at that stadium.  Maybe Charlie's definition of "faint praise" differs from mine, but I think those are lofty compliments.

As for the "hate" issue, don't kid yourselves.  Many people equate the Notre Dame Fighting Irish with the New York Yankees.  Both seem to have their own sets of rules on how they can operate and what they can achieve because they're both big, rich, powerful overdogs with national followings.  And when both miss their lofty goals, the reverberations can be felt throughout their respective sports.

A lot of people resent Notre Dame because, well, they're Notre Dame.  They have their own TV contract.  They have their own deal with the BCS.  They have fans everywhere you look.  They have more history than any other college program in the country (and their fans and the media will let you know all about it).  I'm sure there are more, but those are some of the reasons why some people can't stand Notre Dame football.

As for me personally, I don't hate the Notre Dame football program.  Heck, when I was flipping through the channels yesterday and came across Rudy, I put the remote down and I watched it again for the umpteenth time.  I do think their fans are prone to overreaction (as has just been proven to me again) and can be a bit unrealistic at times.  And I didn't like that school's clumsy firing of Tyrone Willingham.  But I respect the program for what it is.  Not everyone else does.

Also got a great e-mail from Scott from parts unknown, who is the godfather of one of the Stanford players.  I won't print the e-mail here, but I will say this to Scott:  thanks for the kind words.  I'm glad you enjoyed your experience at Notre Dame, and good luck to your godson… I just wish we saw him on the field more often!

Finally, from Derek in San Francisco"This is when the team needs you most.  This is our time to show unity.  This is when the real fans step up, not jump from the bandwagon.  ‘It's only after we've lost everything, that we're free to do anything.' -- Chuck Palahniuk"

Thanks as always.  Nice quote.  I just fear that now that the team's 0-7, Cardinalmaniacs™ may start feeling "free to do anything" except following the team!


PAC-10 PICKS

Washington @ cal.  As mentioned, I like Carl Bonnell.  I like Scott White and Sonny Shackelford, too.  But I like the Bears a whole lot more.  I like cal by 17.

Oregon @ Washington State.  Watch what happens when the Ducks have the ball, as Jonathan Stewart and Dennis Dixon will be going against that stout Wazzu defense.  That should be fun.  Watching the Cougars' offense struggle in the red zone will not be fun.  That's why I like Oregon by 9.

Oregon State @ Arizona.  An impressive win for the Beavers last week.  And, as much as I dislike their defense, they should have enough to deal with Kris Heavner and the Wildcats.  I like Oregon State by 6.

Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 11-4 (straight-up), 9-6 (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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