A few notes at the top:
- I am going to cut a little slack to new guys playing in their first game, though not much.
- I am certainly understanding of the thin depth at positions and the effects of injuries.
- It is very difficult to say right now what Stanford was matching up against on Saturday. As you get deeper into the season, you know with greater certainty what are the greatest strengths of your opponents, and thus you can calibrate your performances against those spots on the field. My impression coming into this game was that BC's greatest strengths were its OL and DL. Four starters back on the O-line, which has historically been a tremendous area of strength already for Boston College teams. The D-line and tackle Doug Goodwin in particular were singled out by Buddy Teevens in his press conference this past week, calling Goodwin "as good a football player as [he has] seen in a while." Goodwin is not big but he did look like a monster out there, and I do think that is an absolute observation and not just a relative one with Stanford's line
Kyle Matter did well more than you could ask of him or expec,t given that he had zero collegiate snaps under his belt and a horrendous pass rush in his face through much of the game. At his best, he hit for 196 yards on 9 of 14 passing in the first half - a very precise and productive showing. I do wonder what he and the offense could have done with everyone still healthy in the second half. Kyle still possesses the weakest of the five quarterback arms on this team, which hurts a Mike Sanford offense that really wants to stretch the field, but check out the long throws he completed perfectly to Teyo Johnson and Luke Powell. I was surprised. If I am going to pick a few nits on Matter, it will be these: missing Grant Mason in the first quarter near the goalline was the difference between a touchdown and a field goal; a couple other balls were in tough spots for his targets.
Running Backs: C
Kerry Carter was a big disappointment here (11 carries for 17 yards), even in the first half with a healthy line. The speed I've seen in practice was not manifest in any of his runs. And the run blocking was still pretty solid for this line, even after the Schindler injury. JR Lemon only got two carries, but showed nothing. The grade for this unit was singularly saved by Casey Moore, who picked up 58 yards on 10 carries in the game, including some tough sledding in the second half. Casey also logged two receptions. But this grade slips to a C because of two killer fumbles, and a couple missed blocking assignments by the backs. By the way, anyone think fullback recruit Emeka Nnoli was licking his chops with the one-back sets and load of work for Casey Moore in this game?...
Wide Receivers: B
Teyo Johnson was the unstoppable beast we have all anticipated in the first half, with four receptions for 117 yards. And that 80-yard catch and run was one of the great highlight performances you will ever see. Who knows what could have been in the second half if Matter had time to throw. Big play for Luke Powell, and some key catches for Ryan Wells. A couple throws were high or behind receivers, but this group has the overall talent to make the tough catches and I did not see that. When you have to dip to a rookie QB, and then he faces the big heat in the kitchen, his receivers have to make it easier on him and I did not see that in the second half. I don't know what defensive coverage adjustments BC made at half time, but this receiving group struggled to get open. I think they are much better than this and have to go back and take more to heart the sharpness of routes that David Kelly preaches. When Kyle Matter has just 2 or 3 seconds to throw, receivers need quick separation on their cuts and comebacks; rounding off routes makes it nearly impossible to get open in such a short period of time. Minor though it may seem, the holding penalty by Teyo Johnson was a killer, turning first and goal inside the one yardline into first and long out on the sixteen. I still think the jury is overall out on this group, including how the depth can perform. The rotation was tight in the first half, but when other guys got on the field in the second half, Kyle Matter was too often staring at the sky from his backside. We have yet to see what Sebes, Crochet and Camarillo can do.
Tight Ends: N/A
I find it impossible to grade this area under the circumstances. Stanford gets one series of Brett Pierce and is pretty well forced to use Alex Smith solo the rest of the way. No good chance to use two-TE sets, and Smith could scarcely be allowed to take part in the receiving game in the second half when OG Greg Schindler was out (though I'm not sure I agree with that strategy completely). If Pierce can't go against Sannizay, then I will put Smith and Matt Traverso closer under the microscope, but Saturday was crisis management more than anything else. You sure did have to love the two total grabs for Pierce and Smith, though... what I've seen in practice is no fluke, folks.
Offensive Line: C
Maybe I need to toughen up so that I can give the D grade that this game felt like, but I think the hellfire and brimstone second half for this line was a victim of circumstances. Stanford lost unequivocally its best interior lineman to injury during the second quarter, forcing a redshirt freshman and first-time starter in Brian Head and Tom Kolich, respectively, to handle possibly the toughest defensive tackle they will see this year. And I have told people this about Brian Head for months - remember that he is scarcely more experienced than the true freshmen linemen here, given that he spent last fall on crutches. The big disappointment might come from Stanford's purported star tackles, who looked average or worse too often on Saturday. Kwame dominates when engaged with any lineman or linebacker, but he can face difficulties with a rusher coming at him in the open field. BC did that by splitting its rush end out wide and succeeded. Kwame and Steve Morton have to hit the practice field on that this week. The penalties are also unacceptable, with far too many false starts and holding calls. And by Murphy's Law, those penalties always seemed to come at the most inopportune momentum-killing times.
Defensive Line: D
These guys may also have gone up against a very tough opponent, with the O-line likely the greatest asset on the entire BC team, but Stanford had a fully healthy complement of rushers, and rotated them liberally for fresh legs. The result was one sack and far too few hurries. I have sung his praises long enough that I feel fine singling him out for this bad game, but where in the heck was Matt Leonard? Sure he was double-teamed at times, but Stanford employed plenty of stunts and still could not put someone into St. Pierre's midsection. I'll rip into the LBs below a little, but the d-line gets some blame for allowing BC to run the ball in the second half. Julian Jenkins had some flashes on the field, and I thought Babatunde Oshinowo and Amon Gordon had some pressure. But nobody made a good dent in this game, despite a wealth of starting and playing experience.
There were some bright spots, mostly coming from Michael Craven and David Bergeron. Craven had a pick and score in his first ever college game, and was racing all over the field. I don't know if it came through on television, but with a front seven that was liberally rotated for Stanford, Craven stayed on the field for almost the entire game. More impressive than his INT and return in my mind was probably his first tackle, coming on the first offensive series of the game for BC. He came around from the other side of the field and tackled the running back from behind after the hand off for a loss. Incredible. Bergeron was probably the greatest positive surprise in this entire game outside of punter Eric Johnson. As he has shown in practice, David had a great knack for sniffing out plays and closing and finishing, resulting in a sack and additional tackle for a loss. The overall speed for Stanford's top six LBs was encouraging, but I really hope that Derrick Knight has a huge year for BC. This running back came off the bench and picked up over a hundred yards at a five-per-carry clip, with his first run not coming until the second quarter. Worse yet, he made Stanford's speed look slow at times out there, beating guys regularly to the corner and making them miss open field tackles. I really hate pointing fingers, especially to new starters, but Jared Newberry was the one guy who I was really surprised in his inability to get the BC runners in the open field. The other concern was the pass coverage of these LBs, despite a lot of work they do with Tom Williams on that in practice drills. Brian Gaffney got beaten in two straight plays by the tight end for the first BC score, and not in an attractive fashion. Jake Covault quietly put together a team-leading nine tackles, and did a solid job plugging the middle. Kudos to Jon Alston for coming back and playing tough even after jacking up his elbow early.
Defensive Backs: A-
Brian St. Pierre is not a very good quarterback, regardless of what the mindless zombies on the East Coast might think, but he was not as bad as last year. The reason he didn't torch Stanford last year was his inability to hit some open and lethal receivers; this year he did not ever get a look at those chances. I watched the coverage in the secondary closely, and for four new starters it was a helluva job. St. Pierre looked downfield, particularly in the first half before Dana Bible made some adjustments, and was forced to hit his safety valve several times simply because the coverage was a blanket. I did see a lapse in the coverage and help assignments on one first half play that produced an open receiver and put BC down inside the ten yardline, but few faults could be had thereafter. Toss in two picks for Leigh Torrence and one forced fumble for Colin Branch, and I'm tickled pink. The DBs miss out on a straight A, though, with some problems tackling.
Special Teams: C+
This one is a hybrid grade of A- kicking and D- coverage. Eric Johnson and Michael Sgroi did a helluva job putting toe to leather. Johnson hit his punts superbly for length on the day, averaging better than 49 yards per punt until he was asked for a 'coffin corner' job late in the fourth which failed out of bounds for just 25 yards, dragging his average down to a still solid 45.2 yards. If the punting game can keep up what they did in this opener, that is a huge relief for this team... just need to work on the directional punting now. Sgroi was asked to hit two field goals, and he hit both, the first of his Stanford career. He also did a good job with kickoffs, mixing in some deep and some with high hang time. The miserable part of special teams was the coverage in my opinion. No, no touchdowns were given up, but Boston College received shorter fields to work with than they should have - the 56-yard return was the real killer. This was an abject failure in my opinion given the depth of talent Stanford is now able to give to special teams (versus past years) and how much work has been directed in practices. Johnson and Sgroi both gave good hang time that should have given ample time for Stanford to put a helmet on the returner in a hurry. Instead we saw missed tackles and open field running. I also was disappointed to see a couple Ryan Wells KO returns: a kneel-down on the final return with 30 seconds left in the game, and a bobbled catch on the best returnable kickoff of the day (a line-drive), forcing him to take a knee.
I thought the defense did an overall very admirable job given the vast inexperience out there, and I have to credit that to the coaching for schemes and preparation. BC is supposed to have a heck of an offense this year, and they were shut down to 17 points through three quarters against the supposed Stanford Sieve. And some of BC's scoring was really set up with turnovers and special teams, which is not the defense's fault. Buddy Teevens and the offensive coaches had no magic wand to wave with the ridiculous offensive line non-depth that was left in the wake of Tyrone's hasty departure, and I don't know how much better they could have executed the offense in the second half without Greg Schinder, Brett Pierce and Chris Lewis. I will still dock some points for not coming up with something in the face of that pass rush. If you admit certain failure then, well, we may have to expect certain failure again when more injuries come, and that is not acceptable. Maybe some screens and play-action should have been used, and I certainly would have released Alex Smith from the line on occasion to find some holes in the middle of the defense - he was not getting anything done in pass protection anyway. When the offense was there and healthy, I did take great pleasure in the playcalling of the first scoring drive. Stretched the field hitting Luke Powell on a stop-and-go, and utilized a gaggle of players in the run and pass. Plays went to Kerry Carter, Casey Moore, Grant Mason, Teyo Johnson, Luke Powell and Alex Smith on that drive. I thought that was the best series showcasing what BuddyBall is supposed to do, albeit still a little conservatively sans Chris Lewis. We need to see in these next two games when Teevens and Sanford will use the greater deception and misdirection in this offense that I have seen in practice. I am not sure if it will be unleashed against Sannizay, though. The only razzle-dazzle I saw was the naked bootleg for Kyle Matter (which was beautiful) and the end-around to Luke Powell, which was turned in early for a seven yard gain. One area to watch is the defensive substitutions. I saw a lot of chaos with players and packages running on and off the field in this game, which at one point necessitated a defensive timeout with ten men on the field. Was this a first game hiccup, or is there inherent chaos with two DCs - one by air and one by land?...
Et cetera rant
The reason Stanford fans were not more outraged last year with the abject lack of offensive line depth was that incredible good fortune smiled on the health of the starting five. Do you realize that Haley's Comet may come again before you see the starting O-line plus tight end go every start in a twelve game season? That depth was a scary situation last year, but without the injuries it never had occasion to rear its ugly head. Now lightning strikes early and a veritable massacre occurs. Light the torches and grab your pitchforks to march on South Bend on October 5th when we next pay a visit to Tyrone Willingham. Not only did his lassez-faire approach to recruiting give Stanford zero margin for error with the o-line recruiting, but he also mucked around with some miserable coaching hires on that line that further ensured top beefcake would steer clear of Palo Alto until those coaches were booted. Tyrone eventually gave them the boot, but his two fatal shortcomings produced today's depth chart with zero sophomore-eligible linemen, and just one redshirt freshman lineman. Friggin' ridiculous.