Clardy's Corner - 9/19

In his latest column, Troy Clardy breaks down his keys for success this weekend. And, this week also marks the return of Clardy's Pac-10 Picks! Read on to see if you agree with his choices.

This time last week, most Stanford fans were approaching the San Jose State game with one of two emotions: cautious optimism ("I think we might be able to win this game") or desperate hope ("Dear God, please please please let us win this game!").

This despite the fact that the Spartans had already been knocked around by Arizona State and Kansas State, and their quarterback and star running back were already dinged up. This despite the fact that the Card had been declared the favorites by the geniuses in the gambling community.

Of course, there were good reasons for most Cardinalmaniacs to feel less than 100% confident about Stanford's chances against the Spartans last week. Against UCLA, the Card gained yardage but was somewhat inefficient in doing so. Meanwhile, the defense played with passion throughout the game, but at its most critical moments had more cracks than Bobby and Whitney.

And after all, these were the same San Jose State Spartans that had shocked the Card the year before, riding that win to a bowl game and sending Stanford Football 2006 on its express elevator to hell.

So, given those things, most Stanford Football fans looked at last week's matchup with some level of apprehension. As it turned out, we all needn't have worried quite so much.

Yes, it took 30 minutes of football, but the offense finally started finding the end zone. Bo McNally looked like Coy Wire on defense. Derek Belch had one the best days I've seen a Stanford kicker have.

Stanford didn't cave in when they were getting three points instead of six, leaving the door open for the Spartans. Even better, they slammed the door shut, showing a killer instinct in the second half.

Stanford now has a little confidence going into a tough stretch of football, as the next four opponents will pose huge tests for the Card. Oregon doesn't necessarily scare me a lot on defense, but that video-game offense frightens the hell out of me. Arizona State is playing the kind of ball they should have been playing consistently for the past couple of years. U$C is, well, U$C... and that game is in South Central this year. TCU has suffered a couple of bumps on the head (more on this later), but they're still a very dangerous team.

Clearly, the weeks ahead present a tall task for the Card. And even though I'm not a head coach, I sometimes play one on the internet. And I have my keys for Stanford's success during this stretch.

On defense, keep attacking. Good things happen for your defense when they keep attacking. Even better things happen for your defense when they start tackling. This area of the game was the most disappointing against UCLA. It was also the most improved area against San Jose State. Attacking and tackling will be critical, especially considering the explosive offenses Stanford will be facing over the next few weeks.

Stanford will need to be especially active this weekend against the Ducks. Last year, Stanford's passive three-man defensive line worked somewhat against the option but failed miserable everywhere else. This year, I think the Card must supplement their four-man line by bringing up a linebacker or two. They must be active instead of reactive. And even if Oregon gains a zillion yards this weekend, I'll be able to stomach it a little better if those yards are coming against a defense that's trying to force the issue.

On offense, I think Stanford's biggest key is to consistently win on first down. As we saw during the UCLA game, the Cardinal will not best be served by spending the day in second-and-long and third-and-long situations. Whether via the run or the pass, Stanford must get into manageable situations in the latter downs.

To that end, I think Stanford needs to have Richard Sherman, Mark Bradford, and Evan Moore on the field at all times. Especially with Toby Gerhart's status up in the air (damn), the Card need to have as many of their playmakers on the field at the same time as possible.

I also think that Stanford might be best served by featuring more misdirection plays, especially considering that every team Stanford will be facing from here on out will be faster than the Card. The best way to combat a defense's speed is to use it against them. Get them flowing in one direction, but send the ball in the other direction. Counters, bootlegs, reverses, all of those things.

Again, I'm not an offensive coordinator, but I play one on the internet, and these are the things I would try to do to help Stanford win the battle on first down. If you win on first down, second and third downs tend to take care of themselves.

We learned some things about this Stanford football squad last week. We're going to learn a lot more about this squad over the next four weeks. And by the time this stretch is over, we'll likely know whether to look at that Arizona game on October 20 with cautious optimism, desperate hope, or quiet confidence. 


I'm glad FSN Bay Area aired Stanford's video tribute to Bill Walsh. I wish I could say the same for ESPN, who had a chance to air the 49ers' halftime tribute to Walsh during the 49ers-Cardinals game a couple weeks ago, but instead aired a piece on the Women's World Cup. That was disappointing...

I gotta admit something... those Stanford commercials are growing on me. I didn't know what to make of the one with the toy bunny in the microwave at first. Then I saw the other two ads. I have to admit, they're good for a chuckle, and it does a better job of summing up the Stanford spirit than all the other cookie-cutter college commercials you see. What I get from those ads is this message: we do serious stuff at Stanford, but you don't take that serious stuff that seriously...

San Jose State head coach Dick Tomey is in the running for Quote of the Year. After his team's 37-0 loss to Stanford last week, he groused: "We are going to practice [Sunday] at 6:30 in the morning. Full gear. Anybody not there is cut and any coach not there is fired." I'd imagine that session was not too pleasant...

I gotta tell you... Arizona's not very physical, and they're not very disciplined. Their bench got called for a stupid unsportsmanlike conduct foul late in the first half with New Mexico driving for a potential field goal; instead, the Lobos got the go-ahead touchdown a few seconds later. Those points ended up being the difference. Costliest unsportsmanlike conduct foul I've seen since, well, I got called for one during our ESPN flag football league game this week. Why the hell did I have to kick that cone? Stupid...

Jake Locker is a dangerous, dangerous football player. Problem is, his style of play also makes him prone to injury. If he stays healthy, he'll be doing big things for the Huskies by season's end, easy...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... so TCU decides to put Texas on their schedule the week before they have a short turnaround to prepare for a road trip to Air Force. Silly. Not only do they lose at Texas, they also run out of gas against the Falcons. Why schedule an opponent like Texas the week before you have a short week and a road trip? The Horned Frogs did themselves no favors with that one...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... I think the Cleveland Browns just scored again...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... which 2-0 NFL teams are Contenders or Pretenders? I'll tell you. Your contenders are New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco. Your pretenders are Houston (unless they knock off the Colts this week), Denver, Washington, Detroit, and Green Bay...

Not a Pac-10 thought, but... while at the West Hartford Stop & Shop yesterday, I saw someone wearing an Amoeba Music T-shirt. Ahhhh, Amoeba. About the only good thing in Berkeley...

You know them, you love them, you laugh at them. They're my...


Once again, I'll be putting my reputation on the line and predicting Pac-10 games. Once again, I will not be picking games involving Stanford (this explains why you didn't see Pac-10 Picks in the first Corner of the year). Are you ready? Here we go...

Arizona @ cal. As I noted earlier in this column, I'm not impressed by Arizona. As I noted earlier this year, I'm very impressed by cal's speed. This shouldn't take long. I like cal by 26.

Washington State @ U$C. I have a confession to make: Washington State is the only Pac-10 team I have not seen yet. But somehow, I don't get the feeling I'm missing a whole lot here. U$C is just too much for the Cougs. I like U$C by 24.

Oregon State @ Arizona State. This could be the most intriguing game of the week, as Dennis Erickson's present team squares off against Dennis Erickson's past team. Expect a lot of penalties. And expect the team with the better quarterback(s) to win. I like Arizona State by 9.

Washington @ UCLA. I've got a funny feeling about this game. Funny enough to pick the road team? You bet! I like Washington by 5.

Last year: 21-15 (straight-up), 17-19 (ATS).

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 inbox (username: troyc) or at The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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