Expert Analysis: Quarterbacks vs. TCU

In his first career start as a member of's growing stable of "Expert Analysts", former Stanford QB Todd Husak (1996-1999) evaluates Stanford's QB play in the disappointing, but offensively encouraging 36-38 loss to TCU last Saturday. Todd shares what he likes about the Harbaugh/Shaw offense and highlights a few plays that have him bullish on both Pritchard and the Cardinal overall.

Bootleg Expert Analysis: Quarterback

Let me start off by saying that that the win over USC was the best Stanford football moment I have had since I left school in 2000. Watching those YouTube clips of the Stanford fans and students greeting the players when they stepped off the bus gave me chills. I would have given a toe to have experienced that as a player (ok, maybe just the little toe). The phone calls and emails I received from friends and former teammates were awesome, and we all talked about how winning the conference championship in 1999 didn't get this much attention. It was a great moment. However, I was really looking forward to seeing if the team could keep the momentum going and follow up the huge win over the boys of Troy with a beat-down of the Horned Frogs. Unfortunately, Stanford let one get away and now the road to a bowl is much tougher to navigate. Before I break down the QB play against TCU, a few random thoughts:

  • I love this offense. Stanford simply does not have the power to line up and beat people, but we have some playmakers and it takes creativity to produce match-ups that favor the offense. Trust me, the personnel changes, the shifts, the motions, the formations, and the protections all are light years ahead of what Stanford has done the last couple of years. No two consecutive plays are the same and that means game-planning against the Cardinal is a chore. We dictate the style and pace rather than react to what the defense is doing. Stanford is a threat to win every game simply because we can score points, and that alone should get more people into the stands. 
  • The play calling is not only creative, but there is a plan. Plays are called with a purpose. They not only exploit a current weakness, but they are called to set up plays later in the game, and that is exciting to see. 
  • If Stanford wins at least five, the coaching staff should seriously be considered for Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. The schemes are better, the players have improved technique, and they are playing with a confidence that was lacking earlier in their careers. Very few miscommunications and blown assignments on offense. Steps must be taken to ensure some continuity among the staff because they have done an excellent job. 
  • Assuming we can get them healthy, Kimble, Stewart, and Gerhart are going to be a very, very good trio of backs. Pair them with the tough lead blocking of Marecic, and the future of the backfield is looking bright. 
  • For those of you who are worried about Fletcher turning pro, you can stop. A good player, but still a long way to go. Stanford is going to need him next year to anchor that offensive line because there are going to be some young guys needing direction next season. 
  • The simple audible system was used at least three times against TCU, and it one of the easiest rules for an offense. If a pass is called and two safeties are deep, a quick check to a run play will give the offense the numbers advantage. If a run play is called and there is one high safety, that means the defense in going to outnumber the offense in the run check to a quick pass. Pretty basic stuff. The audibles all resulted in big positive gains for the offense, and it illustrates another way this staff is putting the team in a favorable situation. 
  • Anyway, on to the game....

    My thoughts about Tavita Pritchard before watching this game were that he is an erratic passer with some athleticism that will allow him to get out of pressure situations. After watching the tape, a few things really stood out: 1) He is a very good decision-maker. I thought he made his reads a little too quickly early in the game, but once he settled down, he made the right decisions on nearly every play. Whom to throw to, when to run, when to throw it away, when to hang tough; making those decisions quickly and correctly is a trait every good QB must have. 2) He missed a couple of passes early on in the game, mainly because of shaky footwork, but his precision on the TD passes was impeccable. 3) I thought his ability to feel the rush and quietly avoid it to buy an extra second or two was impressive. All the time spent doing footwork drills doesn't mean much if you can't feel when or where those defenders are coming from, and he used that ability a few times to create big plays. It's "feel" rather that "see" because if you see the defenders, that means the QB stops looking downfield. 4) He made some really nice plays down the stretch. Tavita's next big step is going to come with improved accuracy and the ability to hit guys in stride. It will be amazing how many more yards show up in the box score when you give the WRs a chance to run with it after the catch. Specific plays from my notes:

    • In the first quarter, I thought Tavita was making his decisions too quickly. He scans the field well, but he needs to let things develop for another half count. However, he made the right decisions on when to scramble and showed some the ability to escape and get outside when TCU had a guy come unblocked. On the deep corner route to Sherman, Tavita chopped his feet and never really got set. The ball was wobbly, but right on target. Good scheme on that play with Evan Moore taking the safeties out and the TE in the flat kept the CB honest. Better feet would have helped velocity on the toss. On the TD throw to Moore, perfect placement on the back shoulder by Tavita. This play should be unstoppable with a WR like #8.
    • T.C.'s lone series featured a really nice play when he felt the pressure, stepped up and found the WR on the run. He paid the price with a big hit. The two sacks were tough because the blockers got beat and there was no one to throw to on either play. Both were downfield routes and TCU had the right coverages called. Sidenote: I have a tremendous amount of respect for T.C. and I admire the way he is handling this difficult situation. I know how painful it is to be in his position, and not too many young men would be able to put aside their personal frustrations and support the team like he is doing (see J.P. Losman and the Trent Edwards situation). He is showing why he was voted team captain.
    • In second quarter action, the TD to Sherman was perfect execution and the reason I love football. Tavita had some pressure in the pocket but hung tough, pumped, and launched a ball to Sherman who was running a stop-n-go on the outside. The trick about this and every other deep sideline route is to leave some room on the outside where the QB can throw it and create some separation horizontally if the WR doesn't win vertically. It was great to see Sherman run by the CB, make the perfect over-the-shoulder catch, and score standing up. Despite the good coverage, a perfectly executed offense wins. Also, a great call against the defense TCU was playing.
    • The next drive in the second quarter was probably the one that opened my eyes to Tavita's growth. A wide open TD to Bradford, but he underthrew the post route. On this play, an excellent job stepping up in the pocket and creating the extra second, but he failed to reset his feet and get enough body behind the throw, and that left it four yards short. Pass interference fortunately created a first down. On the next play, Tavita avoids a sack and throws downfield to get another P.I. call. A QB sweep was followed by an audible because TCU was crowding the box, and that led to a slant and completion to Moore. I refuse to believe he didn't score on the play, but excellent decision-making, patience, athleticism, and accuracy shown by Tavita on this drive. QBs can get frustrated by throwing it away, but minimizing negative plays allows consistent offensive production, and that is what the Cardinal showed on this drive. Sidenote: Stanford got the ball inside their own 30, with a lead, and :25 left in the half, and Harbaugh decided to go with a two-minute offense! I love that attacking style and it almost paid off because they got past midfield before the drive stalled.
    • In the third quarter, Tavita made his most impressive play of the season on a 3rd & 12. He hung tough in the pocket (good protection made that possible), bought a second with two quick sidesteps, and drilled Evan Moore for 14 yards and a first down. Excellent play and this showed what Tavita can do when he gathers his feet and has a rhythm in his movements. He needs to do this more to be an effective passer. Stanford was stalling late in the quarter because of their inability to gain any yardage on first downs. It created passing situations on longer downs, and that was when TCU was successful with their blitz packages. First downs are crucial in play calling and getting defenses out of their wheel house pressure downs. On third down inside the red zone, a TCU blitz beat the protection and produced a sack. If Tavita had another second he could have found a wide open Bradford on a shallow cross who could have back-pedaled into the end zone. Knowing the check-downs better is a result of more reps and it will come, but they blew a chance for a TD.
    • The fourth quarter had a few more missed opportunities. Bradford beat the CB on a post, but Tavita threw the ball a little too far down the field instead of across it (away from the trailing CB), allowing the defender to make a nice play. On another post route, Sherman beat the defenders, but the ball was a little underthrown and caused Richard to slow down and fall. That play left a lot of yards on the field. Again, these throws come with hundreds of reps, and that is where Tavita needs the work. On the last drive, there were some excellent plays in pressure filled situations. Tavita hitting Sherman on a roll-out to the right was a good throw and a great catch. Two scrambles also showed what he can do when given the chance to run with it. Unfortunately, the game ended with two sacks given up by the TE who was forced to block the DE. A tough match-up that I am sure the coaches wish they had back if given the chance.

    After watching the film, I am still stunned that Stanford was unable to finish off the Horned Frogs. That is another area in which this team needs to grow…stepping on the opponent's throat when they have the chance. I think this team still has the ability to make a postseason run because they can score and can create turnovers and big plays on defense. I will be at the Arizona game working for FOX (trying not to be too much of a homer, but it is tough) and I hope to have a great view of Stanford bringing home a much needed victory and taking another step back towards the top of the conference.

    About the Author: Todd Husak (LSJU '00), currently works for leading real estate brokerage CB Richard Ellis in San Jose, CA. A four-time letterman at Stanford (1996-99), Husak led Stanford to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 28 years during his senior campaign as the smokin' Cardinal offense set school records for points scored (409), scoring average (37.2), most touchdowns (52) and most yards in total offense (5,138). He was named First Team All Pac-10 in 1999 and became a sixth round pick of the Washington Redskins in the 2000 NFL Draft. After a five-year career in the NFL with the Redskins (2000), Denver Broncos (2001), Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe (2002), New York Jets (2002-03) and Cleveland Browns (2004), Husak returned to The Farm in January 2005 as a Graduate Assistant coach, working with tight ends. During his outstanding Cardinal career, Husak threw for 6,564 yards and 41 touchdowns while starting at quarterback in 1998 & 1999. He is currently the school's No. 5 all-time leading passer and No. 5 in career touchdown passes. Husak is a frequent football commentator for Fox Sports Network (FSN) and even more impressively is a regular featured guest on the incomparable Your Sports Night Cap, a unique and rather lively sports talk show that airs on campus radio station KZSU 90.1 on Tuesday nights from 9:00-11:00 p.m. (Pacific). 

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