Clardy's Corner - 9/12

In his latest column, Troy tackles the issue of speed - and we don't mean the after-school-special kind of topic. Is there a new line being drawn on the turf? Where will the Cardinal stand in this picture? And what did Troy Clardy do in the Minneapolis airport???

Last Thursday I caught some glimpses of Oregon State's game against Cincinnati, and every time I looked up in the second half, the Bearcats' lead kept getting bigger and bigger. By the time I looked up and saw a 34-3 final score, I was shocked.

Then I saw that OSU QBs Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao had combined for six interceptions, and I wasn't shocked anymore. After all, it's tough to win ballgames when you keep throwing the ball to the other team.

Then I popped in the tape, watched the game, saw the real reason why Cincinnati beat Oregon State. The Bearcats were faster than the Beavers. Especially on defense. And I was shocked all over again.

Cincinnati defenders flew to the football all night. They used their quickness to penetrate and stop Yvenson Bernard from running inside, and they used their speed and pursuit to stop Bernard from running outside. Bernard finished with only 30 yards on 16 carries, and got popped by huge hits in the open field several times. Because the Bearcats were so quick and fast up front, they forced Oregon State to put the game in the hands of their young and inexperienced quarterbacks.

Canfield and Moevao don't fire three picks apiece if Cincinnati's defensive speed doesn't nullify Yvenson Bernard. Sure, those six interceptions (and one huge special-teams gaffe) didn't help, but the fast-flying Bearcats were the real reason why the Beavers got a bump on the head in Cincinnati.

That result was shocking, but it seems to be only part of a larger trend. In all of the football I've watched so far this year, college or NFL, there seems to be one constant: the faster team is far more likely to win the game. Speed has dominated football this year more so than I've ever noticed.

One of the most popular truisms in sport holds that "you can't coach speed." Some coaches have lived by that theory, figuring they can grab the fastest guy they can, then teach him how to play football. This all started when the Dallas Cowboys brought Olympic track star Bob Hayes on the field, put him at wide receiver, and hoped for the best.

The result: Hayes' speed created such an individual mismatch and frightened defenses so much, that somebody had to invent the zone defense to try to stop him. There was no turning back after that.

But it wasn't until two decades later that coaches started looking for blazing speed everywhere, and not just at the skill positions. That's when Bobby Bowden started dominating college football. That's also when the Miami Hurricanes started strutting onto the scene. For those teams, it wasn't just one fast guy that defenses (and offenses) had to worry about; the entire team, from the receivers and defensive backs to the linemen, had speed.

Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys of the early 1990s brought the concept of team speed to the NFL, easily making them the fastest teams in the league at that time. But the fastest team in football history may have been the 1999 St. Louis Rams, the team that ran a track meet all the way to a Vince Lombardi Trophy. All of those guys were fast. And all of those guys could score. And I'm not just talking about the skill positions, either. If the 22-man relay ever became an Olympic track event, that Rams team would have lapped the competition on their way to gold.

Fast-forward to now, where the biggest determining factor in football so far has been team speed. UCLA beat Stanford in large part because they had faster guys than the Cardinal did (I can still see Joe Cowan running... damn...). The Bears had faster guys than Colorado State and Tennessee; that's a huge reason why they're 2-0. LSU ran Virginia Tech all over the field last week.

Appalachian State beat Michigan with speed two weeks ago. You read that right. Appalachian State beat Michigan with speed. So in hindsight, we all should have seen the Wolverines' rout by the much-faster Oregon Ducks coming.

Speed has totally changed the way college football has been played this decade. It wasn't that long ago that everyone either ran a pro-style offense or the option. This meant that if your school didn't recruit that 300-pound kid every year to dominate the line of scrimmage and protect the quarterback on deep drops, your offense was in trouble.

But the moment pass-happy offensive schemes (like you see at Texas Tech) and spread-option attacks (like you see up in Oregon and especially throughout the Big XII) became the norm in college football, speed became more important than size. And the players who had size and speed became all the rage. Everybody used to covet that 300-pound kid. Now it's the kid with the 4.3 speed they're all after.

Speed is also a big reason why the perceived gap between the Pac-10 and the SEC is closing. For the first time maybe ever, the top teams in the Pac-10 have the speed to match the top teams in the SEC. By the way, that's just one of the reasons why a U$C-LSU title game is so sexy right now.

Of course, this isn't to say that once your coach grabs all the speedy kids he can, then all his team's problems are over. The players have to have some football talent. After all, for every Bob Hayes, there are a bunch of Renaldo Nehemiahs. But there's no question that coaches across the nation are feeling the need for speed, and those programs who satisfy those needs the most effectively are doing big things on Saturdays and Sundays.


RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Bootleg Recruiting Guru Matt Squeri said it perfectly on the BootBoard Plus, so I'll steal his line here: "In my view, the weekend was awfully exciting for me as a Pac-10 guy and awfully scary for me as a Stanford guy." Amen to that. Big, big wins for Oregon and Washington. Good gut-check win for UCLA. Pac-10 has been making some strides this year, but until the Card re-take the field this weekend, I can only hope that Stanford is keeping pace...

Am I the only one out there worried about cal's defense? They've started very, very slowly two weeks in a row, and they haven't exactly been the best tacklers. If they keep playing like this, don't be surprised if cal's defense lets them down at the most inopportune moment at some point before November 10...

Arizona State looked undisciplined in their win over Colorado. A Dennis Erickson-coached team looks undisciplined. Shocker, I know...

In the wake of his game against Michigan (that fake "Statue of Liberty" play is already one of the highlights of the season), some folks are trying to beat the drum for Dennis Dixon for Heisman. I'd like to tell those people to look at a tape of Oregon's shaky win over Houston and tell me if they still feel that way...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... I gotta hand it to my Dad... we were watching the Cardinals-49ers game together Monday night, and with the Cardinals ahead 17-13 with three minutes to go, I had declared a winner. I was headed for bed, when my Dad said, "Stick around, Troy... Arizona's gonna stop blitzing. They're gonna blow this one." Sure enough, they stopped blitzing. And they blew that one. Unbelievable...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... the Minneapolis airport keeps scoring points with me. From the terminal you can hop on a light-rail and be strolling down the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis in 20 minutes. If the weather's nice, it's a great way to kill a three-hour layover! The Metrodome is really, really ugly, by the way...


Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or anything else in general? Have a different set of expectations for Stanford Football this year? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!


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