As we all know, Stanford didn't just drop a game to the Sun Devils. They lost. Execution-style. 212 minutes of death. A slaughter the likes of which hadn't been seen since another hot September afternoon in the Southwest. And the man who has received the bulk of the slings and arrows is Buddy Teevens.
Buddy seemed to be making this clear when he walked into his weekly media luncheon on Tuesday, brandished a white handkerchief, wrapped it around his eyes and briefly stood at the wall like a man facing a firing squad. It was a nice bit of gallows humor that broke the ice, but it perfectly summed up last Saturday's events and how one man might be feeling the repercussions of those events more than anyone.
Many compared last Saturday's game to the 69-17 romp at Texas that greeted Stanford at the start of the 1999 season, but in many ways this game is more damning. It came after a bye week. It came against one of the supposedly weaker teams in the Pac-10. Arizona State had played four games while Stanford had played just two, which would seemingly give the Cardinal an advantage from a preparation standpoint.
But the most disheartening aspect of last Saturday's loss is that after the Cardinal gave us a glimpse at how good this team could be, they suddenly gave us a very unexpected glimpse at how poor this team could be. Stanford had played well despite the loss at Boston College, and they recovered in the second half to obliterate the Spartans two weeks ago. Those two games played to our highest and brightest hopes, but the Arizona State game played to our deepest and darkest fears about this team.
I think it's safe to say that perhaps Buddy Teevens got the least sleep of any of us on Saturday night. Given last week's result and this week's opponent, he and his team will be under the microscope this week like never before. And while Teevens will need to tax all of his skills, I think there is one trait in particular that will have to come to the forefront to get this team back on the right track.
It seems that in today's college football world, most head coaches have their specialties placed into three separate categories. Most are either great offensive minds (Pac-10 examples include Jeff Tedford and Bob Toledo), great recruiters (Mike Price, Dennis Erickson, and Rick Neuheisel…even if his tactics are, by some accounts, a bit shady), and great leaders (a past example would be Jimmy Johnson, while current examples would include Gary Barnett and that guy in South Bend right now).
Buddy Teevens' offensive credentials are impeccable, and we got a glimpse of his recruiting prowess last winter, when he was able to finish most of what the previous regime had started. But with the situation that the Card find themselves in right now, we get to see what Buddy has in the leadership department.
Ted Leland is fond of noting that anyone can coach when times are good; it's when times are not so good that coaches have to be at their best. To that end, I think the most important moment of the entire season may have taken place when Coach Teevens addressed the team in the locker room after the game. I don't know what he said, but I hope it went something like this: "All right, men. This wasn't our day, and we don't ever want to be in this position again. We learned some hard lessons about what we need to work on. But we still have eight shots to make this a great season and to do what we know this team can do. I know this team is capable of greatness, and you do too. We've all got a lot of work to do. Follow me. Let's go to work together."
(And no, I'm not working on a script to "Hoosiers 2.")
After a game like that is not the time for coaches to point fingers and assign blame. It is a time, I believe, for a coach to deliver the message that he is in control of this team and its fortunes this year, and that the kids need to believe in him if they want to be their best. It might be easy for a player to doubt himself and his coaches after a loss like that, but the coaches have to show no doubt in the players, no matter how badly they may have played.
Which makes the quarterback situation a critical one to watch. This time last week, the Stanford signal-caller situation was called "competitive." This week, it's a full-blown controversy. Obviously quarterback is the most visible position in football (unless you're in the Big Ten…are there any great QBs in that league at all?), and if there's trouble at that spot, then the fans and the media are going to blow it out of proportion. No team, especially a young one that is still learning about itself, welcomes a quarterback controversy.
It seemed somewhat odd when Kyle Matter relieved Chris Lewis in the second quarter last week. It seemed even more odd when Matter came back in to start the second half. Then it got downright puzzling when Lewis came back in to mop up in the fourth quarter. I feared that rotation had a very real potential to send a negative message to the team. If the coaches had no faith in the quarterbacks, especially one that was one of the unquestioned leaders of this team coming in, how can they have faith in the younger and less experienced players?
That's why, at a time when Stanford players might be questioning who their leaders are, the head coach has to step in and leave no doubt. That's also why I was hoping a starting quarterback would have been named by now, and as I type this it appears that Teevens will make his decision during the pregame.
Perhaps it's all a media ploy. Maybe the decision has already been made. Maybe it just hasn't been publicized because it does little good to give the Notre Dame coaches any advance notice of who will be under center for the Card at about 1:38p on Saturday afternoon. If that's the case, then it makes it what has been happening so far this week a bit more understandable. But as it is, Teevens and the Card have to undergo a full week of everyone asking questions about a potentially dangerous situation. If the coaches (and perhaps the players) already know who is starting, is it worth all the distractions that accompany a quarterback controversy?
There is no question that last Saturday puts the Card at a crossroads. What happens next? Do the Card reach the heights that surpass our expectations? Or does the season go down the drain and it all gets thrown away for the seniors and the others who busted their humps to get this program to where it is now? Whether Stanford takes the high road to a great season or the twisting road to 3-8 not only depends on what Teevens does now, but also how the team responds to his plan to get the Card back in the win column.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Take a wild guess who leads the Pac-10 in rushing. Nope, guess again. Nope. It's Stanford. Over 187 rushing yards per game. Who in the world would have thought that?
It's official: the Trojans have the Pac-10's best defense. Granted, Derek Anderson is no Jason Gesser (as the Trojans may find out this week), but that was still awesome to watch…
Speaking of Gesser, he cemented his status as the Pac-10's best quarterback right now. 431 yards and four TDs, all with a dislocated rib. Hope we have an answer for him next week…
A bad turn of events for Arizona: with Michael Jolivette out, Clarence Farmer looks questionable against Oregon. Not good news. John Mackovic even had to replace his punter this week (Ramey Peru quit the team because he needed to start his job search…good luck!). Looks like another tough year for the Wildcats…
One last note on the Stanford-Arizona State game (and I promise I'll never bring it up again!): ABC probably hasn't aired anything that painful since Drew Carey played Geppetto in that Pinocchio musical…
I'm already off to my worst ever start. But it's not how you start, it's how you finish!
cal @ Washington. Plenty of things have happened since November 7, 1976, but none of those things include a cal win over the Huskies. Only two cal players were alive the last time the Bears beat UW. While cal is fielding its most competitive team in a while, and I don't think they have quite enough to get over the hump this year. They'll certainly make it close, though. Expect another high-scoring, high-drama shootout that cal eventually loses. I like Washington by 4.
UCLA @ Oregon State. The ticked off Beavers will probably get to take out their frustrations on the mediocre Bruins. The key here is Steven Jackson. The Bruins are soft up front, and the OSU offensive line figures to take advantage. Derek Anderson isn't there yet (as was painfully proven last week), but it probably won't matter this week. Unless Bob Toledo has a secret weapon or two, it figures to be another long day for Cory Paus and the crew. I like OSU by 10.
U$C @ Washington State. Coming into the season, I thought this game would decide who sits in the Pac-10 driver's seat, and it still looks that way. With all the great matchups, this one should be a joy to watch. Jason Gesser against that great Trojan defense. Watch Carson Palmer and the $C speed guys. If they can take advantage of that banged-up Coug defense, they might be able to pull off the big win. But I'm sticking with my gut by saying that I like Washington State by 5.
Oregon @ Arizona. Duck QB Jason Fife is in the same boat as Beaver QB Derek Anderson; they both have plenty of potential, but they both also have a ways to go. But, much like Anderson, it shouldn't matter that much this week for Fife. Oregon is finally playing outside of the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, but they have too many weapons for a crippled Wildcat squad to contend with. Keenan Howry and Samie Parker against a secondary that's missing Michael Jolivette? Please. This shouldn't take long. I like Oregon by 14.
Last week (straight up & ATS): 1-2.
This year (straight up & ATS): 1-2.
Got a thought on Stanford sports? Have any random Pac-10 thoughts of your own? Any cool plans or stories to tell about the Notre Dame trip? E-mail me!
Troy Clardy hosts Stanford football postgame call-in shows, as well as Stanford football road pregame shows, Stanford basketball pregame shows, the Buddy Teevens Show, the Mike Montgomery Show, and the Stanford Profile on Stanford radio network flagship station KTCT ("The Ticket 1050") in San Francisco. The Stanford Profile airs every Thursday evening at 7:00p and the Buddy Teevens Show airs every Friday morning at 7:20a on KTCT.