Expert Analysis: Wide Receivers vs. Arizona

Continuing with our unprecedented series of "Expert Analysis" commentaries, we welcome this week current Detroit Lions WR & RS Troy Walters (1996-1999), the 1999 Biletnikoff Award winner and Stanford's all-time leading receiver. Fired up about the Cardinal's turnaround, Troy somehow managed to find time to view the film and comment on the performance of the Cardinal receiving corps vs. Arizona.

Bootleg Expert Analysis: Wide Receivers  vs. Arizona

First of all, let me congratulate the entire Stanford football team and coaches for their hard-fought 21-20 victory Saturday against Arizona. This was a great win and showed the positive direction of the program for several reasons. After a tough homecoming loss to TCU the team could have easily thrown in the towel and lost hope, but their outstanding effort against Arizona showed otherwise. Let me point out that to win a road game in the Pac-10 is not easy. I don't care whom you play - you have really got to have a road warrior's mentality to go into an opponent's stadium and beat them. Perception is that Arizona is not a good football team, but reality is that they almost beat a tough and talented USC team and they were playing at home which makes anybody dangerous. I played two games in Tucson (one time was an agonizing 22-28 loss in 1997, that cold and nasty night in which we suffered seven turnovers [Editor: eight fumbles, five lost, plus two INTs!] and the second time was when we dropped 50 on them during the Rose Bowl season of 1999). To me, it was one of the more difficult places to play because Arizona Stadium is small and gets extremely loud. Plus, you sometimes have to deal with the heat (or cold) of the desert! The team showed great heart and perseverance to be behind for most of the game and still find a will and a way to win.

Let me now offer my assessment of the wide receivers... 

There were several positives. Bottom line: When big plays had to be made by the wide receivers, they were made. #9 Richard Sherman ran a very nice "go" route, blazing past the cornerback and making a big 33-yard touchdown catch. It was smart play calling because early on in the game, the corners were "squatting" on the receivers' routes (i.e. they were not backing up much, instead playing all the short routes). They were clearly not expecting the deep route on which Sherman caught the TD. In the fourth quarter, on a second & seven at the Arizona 36, #89 Baldwin, had a key 11-yard catch against Arizona's best defensive back (Antoine Cason) , which kept alive the eventual game-winning touchdown. He made a nice catch while being hit. Later in that same drive, #8 Moore had a clutch six-yard catch on third & five which resulted in a huge first down and kept the Cardinal drive alive. He too made an outstanding catch while being hammered. I see a lot of playmaking ability from this group of receivers. They have shown the ability to catch short routes in traffic and deeper routes down the field. In the Pac-10 conference you have got to have receivers that can make plays because most defenses put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage and make it extremely difficult to run the football.

Now all in all, I thought the wide receivers played pretty well, but to be honest, I believe they can and should play a lot better! They had two drops and a fumble. #8 Evan Moore had one drop early in the second quarter that would have produced a first down and #4 Mark Bradford dropped a short slant in the third quarter that he will catch 99% of the time. With the hands I know these guys have, they shouldn't drop any balls. I've seen each of them make unbelievable catches so I don't expect any drop passes from them, period. With Stanford trailing 17-14  in the third quarter, #9 Sherman got careless and fumbled the ball which Arizona recovered. That led to an Arizona field goal - their final score. I could see that one coming because in the second quarter Sherman made a catch across the middle and carried it very loosely with one hand. Sooner or later, lack of ball security will catch up to you and bite you in the behind! I also believe our wide receivers could have been much more aggressive blocking on the perimeter. I don't think I saw a single Arizona defensive back on the ground as a result of a block during the entire game. Perimeter blocking by the wide receivers is so important because most long runs from the running backs are the result of aggressive downfield blocking by the receivers. 

I hope my brief analysis was informative - I have to run to get ready to play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field this Sunday. I can't wait for another big road victory from the Cardinal in Corvallis this weekend. 

Have a blessed week and GO STANFORD!

About the Author: Troy Walters [LSJU '01], is an eight-year NFL veteran wide receiver and return specialist currently in his first season with the Detroit Lions after playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, and Arizona Cardinals. A four-time letterman at Stanford from 1996 to 1999, Walters became one of the most beloved players in school history. In his senior season of 1999, he was named the Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a Consensus First Team All-American. He was clearly a big reason Stanford appeared in its first Rose Bowl appearance in 28 years. During that memorable 1999 campaign, the 5'7" 170-pound Walters caught 74 balls for a school- and Pac-10-record-shattering 1,456 yards and 10 TDs. He was also honored with the 1999 Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the nation's outstanding wide receiver. Subsequently, he was selected in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. During his outrageously productive Cardinal career, Walters caught 244 passes for 3,986 yards (in excess of 1,000 yards more than the second-place holder) with 26 touchdown receptions, second only to Ken Margerum's career total of 30. Walters is currently the school's career leader in receptions and receiving yardage, single-season receptions (86), single-season receiving yards (1,456), single-game receiving yards (278) and longest pass play (98). In addition, he was one of the most dangerous return men in school history, tied with Luke Powell for fifth place all-time with a punt return average of 10.6 yards. A future first-ballot inductee into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame. Oh, and let's not forget to mention that Walters was also a First-Team Academic All-American.  

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