Every time I venture behind the Eucalyptus Curtain and step onto the Stanford campus, it feels like home. This was true even before I headed to New England, and it was certainly even more true when I came back to The Farm last week.
It was awesome to see old friends again, and even better to make new ones. It was cool to cheer the players on with Stanford great Mike Dotterer as we got the players ready during The Walk. Not only was it a pleasant surprise to chat briefly with Carlos McFall and Fred Campbell, it was an honor to be dragged away to meet a true Stanford legend, former Dallas Cowboys receiver Tony Hill. And it was a pleasure to meet the one, the only, flauntskc.
There were so many great things about last Saturday, but I can still boil it all down to my biggest impressions of the day, one on-field impression, and one from off the field.
From a fan's standpoint, the greatest part of the Stanford Football experience is tailgating. There's plenty of room to spread out, invite your buddies, throw the ball around, and do what you need to do. Whether you're at Chuck Taylor Grove (the place to see and be seen in the Stanford tailgating world) or smack in the middle of the Eucalyptus Curtain, you're almost guaranteed a great tailgate. Especially if someone brings bacon.
And what I saw last weekend took it to a whole new level. Maybe it was the win over U$C. It was probably because of Reunion Weekend. It was definitely because the students seem to be supporting football like I've never seen before (major, major props to the students, by the way... and keep it going November 3!). Whatever the case, my major off-field impression of last Saturday was that I have never seen so many Stanford people enjoying themselves before a football game like that before.
I had six tailgates to try to hit before kickoff, so I was all over the place. And everywhere I went, it was off the hook. That was Stanford tailgating taken to a whole new level. I will not argue about this: there is no better tailgating scene in the Pac-10 than Stanford's. Period.
And maybe, just maybe, therein lies part of the problem. The tailgates are so good, there's often little incentive for folks to be in their seats by the national anthem, if not before. I have a feeling that if everybody who was outside the stadium tailgating last week actually passed through the turnstiles and checked out the game, it would have been a standing-room only crowd. As it was, the game's actual attendance was the most disappointing aspect of the day, by far.
And here's the thing: great tailgates don't have to be sacrificed in order to pack the stadium. Head to Wisconsin for a perfect example of this. Tailgates in America's Dairyland surpass every other tailgate on the planet. Yet, no matter how good – or bad – the Packers and Badgers are, those stadiums are always packed and ready to go well before kickoff.
Again, I love tailgating at Stanford. There are few better places to spend a good part of a Saturday afternoon. And maybe this is something else that gets solved once the Cardinal produce a consistent winner. But I do think that the tailgates, on some level, take away from the gameday experience inside the stadium. Still won't stop me from crashing The Bootleg's tailgates every year!
Bottom line: throw that tri-tip on the grill, toss the football around, hoist a beverage or two (or six), and in general just have a fantastic time. Just make sure everyone is in their seats by the national anthem.
As for my impressions on the field, well, obviously it would have been nice to hold on to that 14-point third-quarter lead. I hope that TCU's fumbled kickoff that just fell out of Stanford's grasp doesn't end up becoming the key play of the season (two plays later, TCU scored on a 70-yard touchdown pass, giving them momentum they never lost).
But the biggest impression I got from the Card's performance was this: Tavita Pritchard is going to be the quarterback for this team for the rest of the year. Yes, he and the Stanford offense slowed down and couldn't find a knockout punch in the second half. But right now, Pritchard gives this offense three dimensions it didn't quite have before.
The first dimension is the most obvious: mobility from the quarterback position. Pritchard can get out of the pocket, buy time, and extend the play with his legs. This, of course, makes him harder to defend, and it allows different wrinkles to be installed into Stanford's offensive playbook. Before, defenses knew that T.C. Ostrander was either going to hand the ball off, do a three-step drop, do a five-step drop, or do a seven-step drop. Now, defenses also have to be aware of bootlegs, rollouts, quarterback draws, and unplanned scrambles.
I'll admit that I'll always have a soft spot for classic dropback passers, big lugs who stand in the pocket and strong-arm the ball all over the place. I caught a replay of the 1997 Apple Cup not too long ago and watched Ryan Leaf shred the Huskies. It was jaw-dropping to watch him at the peak of his powers.
But, given a choice, and all other things being equal, I'd have to go with the more mobile quarterback. It's like the 49ers back in the 1980s. Joe Montana made opposing defensive coordinators wary, but it was Steve Young who absolutely freaked them out. The difference was Steve's athleticism and mobility.
The second dimension Tavita Pritchard brings is a more consistent deep ball. Pritchard's 40-yard touchdown pass to Richard Sherman last week was a thing of beauty. A perfect floater placed where only Sherman could go get it. For the most part, when Pritchard has tried the long ball, that has been the rule rather than the exception, as he has shown more accurate placement and touch on his deep throws.
Which leads me to the third dimension: confidence. And not only in himself, but also in his teammates. Pritchard uncorked a couple of 15-yard outs on Saturday against TCU, and they were strong throws of a guy who seemed confident in his passes, and confident in his receivers. Pritchard has generally made the type of throws that allow his receivers to make the play. Those aren't the types of throws quarterbacks make when they're unsure of themselves and their receivers' abilities. In football, a little confidence goes a long way. And Pritchard seems to be the more confident quarterback for Stanford right now.
Those were the two of the big things I took away from last Saturday's events. But another big thing is this: I can't wait to come back to The Farm and do it all again soon.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
So Jim Rutter, Lars Ahlstrom, Tony Hill, Mike Dotterer, Dave Flemming, a bunch of my buddies, and I are all crouched around a radio in Chuck Taylor Grove after Stanford's game listening to the final moments of Oregon State-cal. It was like one of those old-school fireside chats. Except we weren't listening to FDR. We were listening to cal play-by-play announcer Joe Starkey. And Joe Starkey is no FDR. I don't know if I can do his call of the final play justice in written form, but I'll try: "If you're a Beaver, do you go all out with the rush or play it safe?... They're coming hard... he's gotta throw it... he's gotta throw it... HE'S NOT THROWING IT! WHAT IS HE THINKING??!?... HE DIDN'T THROW THE BALL!!!... HE DIDN'T THROW THE BALL! I DON'T BELIEVE HE DIDN'T THROW THE BALL!!!!... They can't do it, they need to awwwwwww, unbelievable... UNBELIEVABLE mistake... UNBELIEVABLE MISTAKE!!... UNBELIEVABLE MISTAKE BY KEVIN RILEY AT QUARTERBACK!!"
It took about a good 30 seconds before Starkey got around to telling us that the game was over and Oregon State had won. Until I saw the highlight of the play later that night, I thought Kevin Riley had been sacked way behind the line of scrimmage. Not so much. The cal folks should just feel lucky they had Ted Robinson on the TV call (like we should have for Stanford-U$C)...
Anyway, after we all figured out what had happened, and that cal had blown their shot to be number one, we all let up a pretty good cheer right there in the middle of Chuck Taylor Grove. Good times...
I was walking with my mom around San Francisco's Marina District on Sunday afternoon. We came across a guy wearing an Oregon State cap. I said, "Thanks for beating cal!" He gave the thumbs-up. Who says sports doesn't bring people together?
The polls may now reflect what some people have suspected for the past couple of weeks now: the best and most dangerous team in the Pac-10 is really the Oregon Ducks...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... if you had told me that South Florida would be the #2 team in the country at some point this year, I would have said you were crazier than Brooke from Real World Denver...
Not a Pac-10 thought, but... ESPN Radio's College GameDay is hosted by Scott Reiss, Stanford alum. Fox Sports Radio's college programming is anchored by Brian Webber, Stanford alum. Just thought I'd pass that along...
CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Matt in Atascadero checks in:
"I think this win [over U$C] is big for our history and tradition, and it puts us back in the national media, which might be good for recruiting in the short term... However, I don't think it means anything lasting for the team, the fans, or, really, for recruiting long-term. Success over time breeds fans and recruits, not one win against a team that probably isn't as great as everyone thinks (with no great skill players on offense, though there is plenty of talent at those positions) and who came out as if they were scrimmaging against the girls from Our Lady of South Central. To show that we "Bow to No One," we need to demonstrate that this wasn't just a fluke, or that Booty just doesn't suck booty by winning/being competitive for the rest of the season. I don't think this helps the players either, because confidence hasn't been their problem this year. Their problems this year have been typical of young teams – letdowns on "D," offensive sputtering, etc. They've always played hard this year, and they knew they could win games anyway. Now we need to prove that we can do it on a regular basis and that we aren't TOO confident. I don't know why we would be... after all, we're only 2-3. For now though, let's party!"
Good stuff. And you're right. And yes, Stanford couldn't get it done last week against TCU, but the opportunity is still there for the Card to be competitive the rest of the year. That, hopefully, is what Cardinalmaniacs will really be feeling proud about at season's end...
cal @ UCLA. Who will be taking snaps for either team in this one? What combination of Nate Longshore/Kevin Riley vs. Patrick Cowan/McLeod Bethel-Thompson will we see? Situations like this are why I don't like picking games on Wednesdays. But so far it's been pretty good, right? I like UCLA's defense, but I think their offense puts them in one hole too many. I'd like to pick UCLA here, but I just don't have the guts. I like cal by 10.
Oregon @ Washington. It's not how you start, it's how you finish. The poster children for that saying have been the Washington Huskies. And I don't mean that in a good way. Ducks roll here. I like Oregon by 27. Even without Jeremiah Johnson and Cameron Colvin.
Last week: 3-1 (straight-up), 3-1 (ATS).
This year: 11-3 (straight-up), 8-5-1 (ATS).
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 Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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