"View From The Press Box": TCU
Pregame: Estimated attendance 27,000. Expected announcement: 38,000. (4:28pm edit: 37,777. Dang, I'm good! Dow's going to be up eight percent in November, in case you're wondering. Oh, and buy Google.) Beautiful, cloudless day for college football, after a dreary, rainy Friday. Stanford's receiving and will move right to left.
2:05pm: The rap on TCU is that they're plenty strong (with a strength and conditioning program that puts many BCS schools' to shame) but they're just not quick enough to compete with the big boys. We see that's the case on Anthony Kimble's second-down run off-tackle right - he beats Frog linebackers to the corner for a 14-yard gain, and a 15-yard late hit to boot. Stanford's now at the TCU 40 -an opening score would be huge to preserve last week's momentum.
2:07pm: Stanford's forced to punt as Pritchard's slightly behind Sherman on a six-yard dump over the middle out of an empty backfield on 3rd & 12. Good playcall - both in the attempt to set up a makeable fourth down at the TCU 35, and in spreading the field to give Pritchard room to find a man.
2:11pm: The worry is that TCU's run game is strong and sound enough to run it right down Stanford's young front seven's throats. Sure enough, they're gashing gains up the middle, which is causing Stanford to send the linebackers in run support and hang the secondary back the coverage. Unfortunately, this leaves the short flares and bubble screens to the receivers wide open, and the Frogs are taking eight-yard bubble screen after eight-yard bubble screen through the air. They're at the Card 26 with a first down and making it look easy.
2:16pm: Ha! Jinxed them. A misfire on a first-down screen right and a bit of a fumbled handoff on second puts TCU in third and long, allowing Clinton Snyder to pin his ears back and commit to the blitz. Snyder finishes off another huge sack and TCU punts from Stanford's 35 for 15 yards. Are you kidding me, Gary Patterson? How about a basic understanding of game theory?
2:18pm: An important thought as Stanford goes "three & out": the better conditioned team is going to have a huge advantage because this game is running along (four different possessions already) with no TV timeouts. TCU's conditioning gets the national hype, but several Stanford players have told me they're confident they are the best-conditioned team in the country. The pace of this game puts that much more pressure on offenses to eat up clock and buy their "D" some rest (and for defenses to hold on third downs and get off the field). Will be interesting to see if the defense turns in a second-half USC or second-half Oregon effort.
2:21pm: After another TCU "three & out" puts Stanford at its own 16 (props to the linebackers, Snyder especially for stuffing out first- and second-down runs outside, and Bo McNally for knocking away Andy Dalton's third-down floater, we finally have our first timeout of the day. The teams look pretty evenly matched right now, I think Stanford's homefield advantage could be a key.
2:23pm: A two-yard Stewart run on first down confirms my initial impressions. The player is one of the most physically gifted on our roster, but he needs to improve his vision. He just seems to be running into the crowd instead of away from it. But, hey, a nice run on second, then a key dive on third from Stewart moves the chains at the Cardinal 27. Then Stewart goes another seven and then 12 up the middle, shaking a safety in the process. What a drive Stewart's putting together. Seven carries for 34 yards on the game, and he is solely responsible for every one of Stanford's 30 yards this drive.
2:27pm: No longer. Great, great instincts by Tavita Pritchard to sprint out of a collapsing pocket (and I mean sprint, he looked like a tailback) on 2nd & 7 for five yards. 3rd & 11 versus 3rd & 1 - Pritchard's legs are worth their weight in gold.
2:30pm: After a media timeout, it's Stewart for five and another first. Where's Kimble? Pritchard takes a bootleg for five - two thoughts: 1. Stanford's just wearing down TCU this drive, every yard has come on the ground. 2. I was watching old Michigan highlights on YouTube, and with his fearlessness running, penchant for the dramatic (and non-Elway-esque arm strength), Pritchard plays a lot like Jim Harbaugh.
2:34pm: Absolutely the right call: statistical analysis shows that it is worth going for literally every fourth & under four, no matter field position, and that balloons up to 4th & 10 in the "dead zone" - around an opponent's 35. So Stanford's going for it on 4th & seven from the Frog 37, and given how well they've run that's absolutely right, no matter what happens here. And the statistics Gods wanted to prove a point - Sherman's wide open, so even though the ball floats a little (an aspect of Pritchard's game that needs improving), it's an easy catch for Sherman and a first & goal at the TCU nine.
2:37pm: Two plays later, the game provides us a great contrast. When TCU had it on Stanford's 35, Patterson punted, and most Division I-A coaches were with him in spirit. When Stanford had it at about the same position, Harbaugh went for it - and Pritchard rewarded him by finding Sherman, and then two plays later, finding Moore on the left sideline of the end zone in double coverage. Great toeing of the sideline and great hands from Moore - but give Harbaugh's playcalls credit for giving his team the best odds of victory. Right now, it's why Stanford has seven and TCU has none. Stanford 7, TCU 0, 1:16 left in the first, 14 plays (season-high), 84 yards, 6:52 on the drive.
2:41pm: Might we have declothed the emperor? Arizona 13, USC 10 - midway through the third. I think USC wins, but they have just 124 yards midway through the third against a 2-4 team that's allowed at least 20 points every game this season. After Stanford's upset, USC won't get the benefit of the doubt anymore in narrow-escape Ws. Here, it's 7-0 after one quarter, and it looks like both teams are having their way with it on the ground.
2:45pm: Gotta love Stanford football fans. Text from my friend in the student section, turned 21 two days ago, just in time for our senior-year Homecoming: "They're killing us on the counters!" He's absolutely right (our DL is selling out and slanting hard to try to stop the TCU ground machine), but he should not be in any shape to send me anything coherent.
2:48pm: Eee. After a illegal formation on third down takes away a TCU touchdown, Snyder loses contain one too many times (lost it on a third down in the first quarter, but McNally bailed him out with the tip), and Dalton scoots around him to his right and dives into the end zone, knocking the ball into the inside of the pylon. Clear touchdown, the review seems superfluous. Yup, quickly confirmed. 7-7, 13:28 to go in the half. Drive: eight plays, 69 yards, 2:42. Stanford's rush defense was porous that drive. But hey, we have a relevant, competitive football team and a half-full stadium on Homecoming. For the first time in years, this feels like college football.
2:52pm: Nice kick return by freshman wide receiver Baldwin to the TCU 35, just one play away from busting a big one. Speaking of which, and I'm going to try to look at some numbers to support this for a Daily piece, but I think a big part of the defense's resurgence is that they're stopping the big play. Last year's 70-yard, 80-yard touchdown runs are by and large 30-yarders this year, with Osaisai, McNally or another DB getting a last-second ankle tackle or shove out of bounds. On TCU's touchdown drive, McNally had a last-second touchdown-saving tackle, and though the Frogs scored this particular drive, it's plays like those that are making the difference.
2:53pm: Ostrander into the game for this drive, which I disagree with. (Just got an angry call from an alum who's a sports editor at a major newspaper: "What the heck is Harbaugh doing?") Pritchard was doing great, so this must have been a premeditated decision to give Ostrander playing time. But your goal should be to do everything in your power to win the ball game, and if you think Pritchard's the guy best able to do that (and you must, otherwise why did you start him), then why is Ostrander in? Grumble, grumble. Insert your cliché here about two quarterbacks, no quarterbacks.
2:58pm: Ostrander makes a nice play on the second down of the final series of the drive, avoiding pressure to find Kimble on a dump-off that goes for 13. But the lack of mobility and pocket awareness is a major factor - he's sacked on both first and third downs, as a promising Stanford drive stalls near midfield. If this game ends up a narrow Stanford loss, plenty of folks are going to be second-guessing this drive.
3:03pm: TCU shoots themselves in the foot, fumbling on first, dropping a slant on second, and throwing a short out high on third. They're punting from their 11, so Stanford looks in good position to reclaim the lead and enter the locker room 30 minutes from .500. Arizona 13, USC 10 after three. Would they make the tee-shirt in Tucson: Second biggest upset ever? I really hope Arizona does it here - USC has incredible, incredible momentum, and so two shockers like this are going to be what's needed to derail all the recruiting momentum and positive press they've received since Carroll arrived. Sanchez: 90 passing yards and two picks, USC: 70 rushing yards on 28 carries. Ouch. Just a silver of doubt about Carroll, just a few fans starting to question the direction of the program… those things can snowball in a hurry. Will the clock strike midnight? Oh goodness, I can hope.
3:07pm: With seven minutes left in the half, a long Stanford drive would…. nevermind! Pritchard is making it really hard to bench him anymore, hitting Sherman perfectly in stride down the left sideline, and Sherman's half-step was all he needed. The snap was at the TCU 40, Sherman caught it at perhaps the seven, dragged his defender a few steps and fell forward into the end zone. 14-7 Stanford, two plays, 42 yards, 49 seconds on the drive. 6:49 to go in the half. Is it just me or does the band sound much, much louder today? They're taking up nearly an entire section - must be all those alums.
3:10pm: TCU starts at their 16 after a hold on the return (in an otherwise clean game). The TCU back gets to the left sideline for a first, and Snyder adds insult to injury with a really late hit. He's another guy that has great physical potential but needs to work on sticking to his assignments.
3:13pm: Really, really ugly drive for the D, capped by three guys diving and missing TCU's Joseph Turner on a 17-yard handoff up the middle. Stanford has no timeouts left in the half, they otherwise might have wanted to use one just to reset - after gains of five, 20 (plus 15 penalty yards), 27 and then 17 on the drive, it was shades of 2006. 14-14 after a four-play, 84-yard drive in just 1:10. Hopefully the offense can run out most of the remaining 5:39 of the half, and the defense can regroup in the locker room.
3:16pm: Doug Baldwin with another nice return, this one to the 34. Pritchard's under center again, TCU's in the 5-2 they've shown much of the day, and Kimble runs off-tackle left for 10. Both offensive lines have to be very proud of their first halves.
3:17pm: Mark "pass interference" Bradford does it again. He had several yards on his DB, but Pritchard (good job on stepping up to avoid the pressure) underthrows it by a few yards, only to get bailed out by the 15-yard flag. As I've written in this space before, Bradford's pass-interference-to-receiving ratio is as high as any receiver's.
3:18pm: This next play was Pritchard's finest as a Stanford QB. (Yeah, a few fourth downs were more dramatic, but from a purely physical standpoint, this takes the cake.) He was dead to rights in the face of the TCU rush, but somehow, somehow found Ladner for a short gain, throwing backward across his falling body. TCU's whistled for pass interference on the catch, and it's a fresh set of downs for the Cardinal instead of a 2nd & 17. Great stutter move by Stewart running off-tackle right sets up a 3rd & 2 with 4:30 left in the half.
Great drive, but will it leave TCU too much time? Take the play clock down to zero every snap we have here, Harbaugh. The four-minute drill is just as important as his more popular two-minute brother when it comes to game management.
3:22pm: Pritchard moves the sticks on that 3rd & 2 on a four-yard keeper. His mobility is like power windows on a car: it's a luxury at first, but you can quickly come to depend upon it. Only problem, why aren't we running more clock between plays this drive? First down at the 14, 3:06 to go in the half, on a Kimble gash up the middle.
3:24pm: Wow, that's a great throw. Pritchard sidearms it slightly, I think to avoid a DT's outstretched arms, and hits Moore right on the "8" on his jersey. Moore dives for the endzone, but replay confirms that he's an eighth of an inch short. Fans boo, but if we can drain another 30 seconds here, it's probably a good thing for the D. Instead, we snap with 11 seconds left on the clock and Kimble takes it in to his left. We probably could have burnt an additional 45 seconds that drive, just by waiting longer between plays. Hopefully, it doesn't make a difference here. Eight plays, 66 yards, 3:24 on the drive. 2:17 to go in the half, 21-14 Stanford.
3:29pm: Dalton scrambles (not by design, I don't think) to his left for 11 and a first at the Frog 41, and after a hook and then a lob to the left sideline, TCU's to the Cardinal 34. Boo to the offense for leaving this time on the clock, but boo to the defense for sitting back (it sure looks like it, honestly, the game's moving too fast for me to be 100 per cent sure) as teams tend to do at the ends of halves. Next two plays though, Stanford rushes six and then five, and TCU misfires both times.
Darned if you sit back, darned if you blitz: TCU screens for 24 to the right side the next play, and it's first and goal at the 10 with just over a minute left. Boy, would burning those 45 seconds have been useful. Nick Sanchez makes a great second down stuff just inside the left sideline, and TCU burns its second timeout. Third down, Stanford flushes out Dalton to his left, and, with any potential pass across his body and no man open, he has no choice but to throw it away. Great recovery by the defense, and after the 25-yard field goal, it is 21-17 Stanford. 10 plays, 62 yards, 1:25 on the drive. Stanford's run 48 offensive snaps, and TCU 40 already. Teams run about 70 in a typical game, so that is a ton, and I hope Stanford tries to run a few more before halftime and punch in another score. Pritchard's 6-of-11 with two touchdowns, Ostrander 3-of-3. Pass more - it's working!
3:38pm: Things just got really interesting. Pritchard got absolutely clocked helmet-to-helmet well after running out-of-bounds to avoid the pressure. He popped right back up though - so quickly as if to show everyone he's just fine. Another good sign: Moore and Sherman have his back and were in TCU players' faces. For the record, it was linebacker Jason Phillips, #39, on the hit. Fans are cheering "out, out, out." Sherman can't get to the sideline or to the sticks after Pritchard hits him for eight on the next play (great one-handed catch from the sophomore though), and so the half just expires before Stanford can spike it.
Great first half, the team just feels different than it did a few weeks ago. Could be the new quarterback, could be that TCU is not as good as UCLA, Oregon or ASU, could be the confidence after the USC shocker - I think it's all of the above. 21-17, great first half from Stanford.
Halftime: Wow, talk about ask and you shall receive. Over the course of this season, I've written in this space that I loved how Gonzaga played "Zombie Nation" out of halftimes, that the press box needs to leave a few of their seven plasma TVs on competitive games, and that we need more music and scores over the stadium PA. So we have "Zombie Nation" blaring out of the few timeouts we have in this game, the whole student section (and one misplaced soul up in the press box) dancing to "Soulja Boy" as we go to halftime, the PA announcer just announced that USC hung on against Arizona, and I'm watching the final snaps of regulation in a tied LSU-Kentucky game as this second half kicks off. A big thanks to whoever up on high is reading this. Others might have found it kitschy, but I also liked showing last week's highlights at halftime - I'll bet the majority of students hadn't seen Pritchard-to-Bradford. The product on the field is improving as quickly as the stuff behind the scenes. Since I appear to have your ear, AD, tell Harbaugh to run more clock between plays when we're ahead. Could just be enough to earn us a Christmas in Vegas. Oh, and for next home game's press box, exotic dancers?
4:06pm: What a way to start a half. TCU starts right-to-left, McNally (who else?) pressuring Dalton and Snyder (who else?) redefining the word takeaway - snatching away the football about a millisecond after Dalton drops it. (Question for the cognoscenti: On a play like this, a fumble that an opponent snatched before it actually hit the ground - do we call that an interception?) [Editor: Has to have been a pass to be an INT]. Snyder still takes too shallow of an angle on his pass rush, but let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good - these two are having career games (and seasons). Someone smarter than me should comment: I wonder how much of their playmaking is schematic (the D designed such that they're in position to make big plays, as is the case whenever Snyder's sent on a blitz) and how much is sheer individual effort. Two plays later, it's Kimble for a touchdown up the middle as Stanford's O-Line looks to be winning the conditioning war and is just wearing out the TCU front seven. Haven't written a phrase like that for far too long. Kimble makes a few nice cuts, but the 15-yard touchdown is on the backs of Alex Fletcher and Tim Mattran (Kimble split their men on his initial cut) and friends. Stanford 28, TCU 17 with 12:58 to go in the third. Drive: two plays, 29 yards, 31 seconds.
4:26pm: Okay, with the switching from sentences to paragraphs somewhere, I got a little behind here. TCU punts after picking up two first downs - a Dalton fumble puts them in a 2nd & 21 hole they can't climb out of. Stanford takes it back and marches 53 yards in 14 plays (tying the first-half march for the longest drive play-wise of the season). Kimble, Stewart and Pritchard each have multiple carries on the drive, a 14-yard slant to Evan Moore keeps the drive alive, and a Pritchard sack sends on the special teams. The drive runs 6:05 of clock which, again, could have been eight minutes if we just ran the playclock down fully up 11 in the mid-third. Not that crazy. But the drive's positives, again, were Kimble and corps seeing huge holes and the OL asserting its will on the Frogs. After a 37-yard Belch field goal, it's Stanford 31, TCU 17 with 3:54 left in the third.
4:34pm: TCU needs something this drive to stay in it, and they deliver in a big way. Dalton hits Jimmy Young for a 25-yarder, but it goes for 70 as McNally has Young wrapped up but whiffs on the tackle. Spoke too soon about not allowing those big plays on defensive breakdowns, I guess. Stanford 31, TCU 24 with 3:17 left in the third. Two plays, 81 yards, 37 seconds.
4:36pm: After a first-down dive into the line goes nowhere, Pritchard's pressured and throws it away on second and third down. He had nothing on second, but might have had a man on third had he reset his feet after scrambling (which it looks like he needs to work on). The Frogs are pinned back at their 16 after their return man slipped almost immediately after fielding Jay Ottevegio's 54-yard punt. But Kris Evans is whistled for a block in the back and TCU accepts the yardage and re-kick. Harbaugh and several assistants are on the field, looking not as much upset as curious for an explanation. Guess Evans redeems himself, as he wraps up immediately at the 31 after a 49-yard punt. Clutch play from Ottovegio and the punt unit given Stanford's narrow lead.
4:40pm: First downs: Stanford 22, TCU 21. Yards: TCU 366, Stanford 291. Aaron Brown adds another 15 to the TCU tally running right, as Snyder is either badly blocked or stunting out of a lane that opens up in a big way. Next play, Young runs a stop and Dalton throws a fade, so Osaisai had three seconds to move two yards for an easy pick, but never saw the ball. Still, a one-yard gain next play sets up a huge third-and-nine. Personally, I bring Snyder, but just make sure he stays wide.
4:42pm: TCU screens right, away from the blitz, for a seven-yard gain, setting up a big 4th and 1 at the Card 35 to start the fourth. Patterson won't humor us with another punt, will he? In Lexington, LSU and Kentucky are tied at 37 and heading to triple OT.
4:44pm: Great calls from TCU: the screen in the face of a third-down blitz, and then a play-action flag to the tight end, knowing that Stanford would bite hard on the fourth-and-short run fake. Coaches can't execute though, and TCU's tight end has a step on Sanchez, but drops a pretty good pass (slightly wobbly, but hits him in the hands.) Huge break for the Cardinal, who wisely go for the throat the next play. Pritchard goes deep for Bradford, but the ball's just off his fingertips too.
4:47pm: Pritchard avoids one guy, but is dropped by the second on third down. He's 8-of-17 for 120 and two scores after three: Stanford's run 38 times for 148 yards and two scores, and has put up similar passing numbers (143 yards and two scores) on about half the passing attempts (20). We're getting too creative on offense here, just play to our strengths and air it out.
4:49pm: Okay, 13:38 to go and I'm off to cheer and watch us try to win my senior-year Homecoming game closer to the action. Whatever does happen here, no one's been perfect, but the players and coaches have performed really well through three quarters here. It's great to finally have a football team on this campus.
Update: Unfortunately, it didn't happen. The Cardinal surrendered the lead late, as annoyingly-good Frog running back Aaron Brown scored with 4:13 left. Behind 38-34, the Card did get the ball back a final time following an intentional safety, but with only seconds left had to resort to a rugby-style lateral-fest. TCU 38, Stanford 36. Tough, disappointing loss, but hardly embarrassing.
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