Expert Analysis: Quarterbacks vs. OSU

Never one to shy away from confronting reality, former Stanford QB (1996-1999), current FSN color commentator and resident Bootleg Expert Analyst Todd Husak provides another astute evaluation of Stanford's QB play in the Card's frustratingly futile effort vs. a very solid Oregon St. defense last Saturday. Read on to hear some of his suggestions for improved productivity from the Cardinal offense.

Bootleg Expert Analysis: Quarterback vs. OSU

A tough loss last weekend for the Cardinal in Corvallis. A quick look at the stats reveals just how much the Stanford offense struggled: just one for 13 on third-down conversions, only 23 minutes in time of possession, four turnovers, and net rushing yards of minus eight (51 positive yards, but 59 yards lost). The game film revealed why the Beavs were able to "dam" up the Cardinal attack, but before I get into that I will throw out some random thoughts on the last couple of weeks.

  • In my view, sophomore safety Bo McNally has the ability to be all conference before his career is over. He has solid physical talents, but his instincts and ability to read plays are what make him a special player. When watching Bo as a freshman, I remember thinking he reminded me of fellow converted-QB Tim Smith with regard to always being around the ball, sure tackling, and the knack for coming up with big plays. Bo makes a lot more tackles behind the line of scrimmage than Tim did, but the two possess similar skill sets and intensity. 
  • Richard Sherman is a playmaker who is a threat to break one every time he gets his hands on it, but the biggest obstacle keeping him from being elite is consistency. I know I was spoiled with Troy Walters and DeRonnie Pitts, but those guys were models of practicing the right way and having it translate into catching almost every single ball they should have (and many they shouldn't... thanks again fellas!). Once Richard can eliminate the occasional drop, he can take that next step. 
  • Stanford has to run the ball to be effective. I know that comes from the "no-crap file", but they had waaaay too many second- and third & long situations because they weren't able to move the ball on the ground on first and second, and the team is simply not explosive enough to make the long distances consistently. I can't remember a team having four RBs out for a game, but with Kimble and Gerhardt healthy, the offense would obviously be much more dangerous. 
  • I really like some of the younger players. Marecic, Baldwin, and Stewart all play older than they are and I am looking forward to watching those guys grow up and contribute in big ways over the next three years. 
  • Great win in the desert at Arizona. That is a game the Wildcats could have easily won by three touchdowns. Stanford hung tough, made plays when they needed to on offense, had some big run plays in the redzone (whereas Arizona themselves couldn't punch it in), and the defense stepped up huge in the third quarter and kept points off the board after some bad turnovers. I thought this game was a big step in learning how to win and making some big crunch time plays. 
  • I would really like to see some no huddle offense. I think it is one of Tavita's strengths and would minimize the blitz packages defenses can utilize. Stanford also has the WRs to rotate in so everyone stays fresh.

OSU Overview: 

The Beavers have a very good defense that uses speed, strength, and constant blitzes and line stunts to create advantages. The front seven confused the Stanford blocking schemes early on in the game, physically beat players at times to collapse the pocket, and created pressure on Tavita from the first snap and didn't let up. The CBs were fast and physical and blanketed the WRs all day long by jamming them and playing man coverage. The DEs and DTs constantly looped through the open holes and beat the zone blocking schemes by the OL, which often lead to Tavita flushing out or getting sacked. The LBs were fast, sure tacklers, and were effective pass rushers when they blitzed. In other words, this was an impressive defense and could be the best in the conference. Sometimes a poor offensive performance is a result of horrible offensive execution, but I would categorize the OSU game as a great defensive unit playing at a very high level. Enough about them, onto the QB play.

1st Quarter:

As I had noted against TCU, Tavita came out a little jittery and made his decisions too quickly. On the opening play when he scrambled for a few yards, if he had gone through his progression, he had the TE open for about 10 yards. Nice job on the scramble, though. The offensive plan was obviously short, quick passes as the team started out with three of them, two of them being slants. Moore should be unstoppable on these plays and the coaches do a nice job of isolating him and giving him a chance. Not much to talk about as the first four drives gain a total of 10 yards, but the defense put pressure on Tavita and gave him little room to step into any of his throws. A big opportunity on a deep ball when Sherman had the CB beat and left a lot of room on the outside for the QB to throw the ball, but Tavita threw it much too flat and didn't give his WR a chance. Putting more arc on the ball and letting the WRs run under it or at least make a play on a jump ball is always better than a line drive attempt to hit the WR in stride because the percentages of a positive play (either a catch or a pass interference) are so much higher. I became a much better passer when I learned to throw a higher deep ball (see Oregon State '98) and the WRs appreciate the opportunity to make a play on the ball rather than run 50 yards and get overthrown. The deep ball has been one of Tavita's strengths so far this season, but this was a bad miss. He did make a couple of nice plays with his legs and a good decision to throw the ball out of bounds on a scramble.

2nd Quarter: 

The second quarter featured more of the same with QB pressure and little-to-no run game. Tavita made a very nice play when he bought some time, rolled to his left and lobbed a great ball to the streaking Richard Sherman, who was unfortunately unable to hold on (see above). Tavita's throwing mechanics when on the run are very strong and he does a good job aligning his upper and lower body and turning his shoulders to square up to the target. I can tell he has had some good coaching in this area. There was tight coverage all game long from the Beaver DBs, but I thought they got away with two big-time Pass Interference calls, including one on a third down in the OSU redzone in the second quarter. Stanford also gave up a big sack on the two-minute drive, but it was a result of excellent plays by the defensive ends who were able to jump over the OT cut blocks. This was another example of the athletic defense making a big play. One of Tavita's best throws of the day occurred after the sack when he was given some time to step into the throw and he connected with Sherman on a 15-yard in-breaking route, and Richard was able to break a tackle and make the first down.

3rd Quarter:

The big halftime adjustment was to ditch the run game and start taking shots down the field, which yielded some results. Pritchard made a very nice back-shoulder throw to Moore up the sideline and gave the big target a chance to muscle up and make the play. I would under-throw every deep ball to Moore and Bradford because they are more physical WRs (as opposed to speedy ones) who are much better at jumping up and making the catch in traffic than running by CBs. I was surprised at how little Bradford was used and thrown to during this game. It is a shame that he has had to battle a knee injury because the team really needs his abilities. I really think Mark is a player Stanford has to get involved early in the game because it gets him going and also will open up other WRs. Tavita threw another very nice deep ball to Sherman up the sideline, and I couldn't tell whether or not the DB got a hand on it, but I do think Richard could have made the catch. Another missed chance to put some points up and create a little momentum. A couple of plays later, a deep ball to Sherman was thrown with more arc which gave him a chance to make the play, but this was a bad no-call from the refs on the P.I. On the next drive, Tavita missed Ladner in the flat when he threw the ball high and wide, and this was a result of him rushing the throw and not setting his feet properly. The key to #14's play is his ability to set his feet and step into the throw, and OSU did a great job of not allowing him to do that. Late in the quarter, Tavita throws another deep ball to Sherman who makes a great play on the underthrown pass for a big gain. One of the few times all day where protection held up and the QB was able to play catch with the WR.

4th Quarter: 

Not much to talk about here as the four drives consisted of 10 plays, 14 yards, and four, yes four turnovers. The first interception was just an overthrow of Bradford and good coverage by the DB. Again, especially with Bradford and Moore, I would throw moon balls as opposed to liners because they have made the majority of their big plays on back-shoulder passes and jump balls. Tavita does throw a nice ball to Moore on the slant and Evan really does a nice job of finishing the run strong and bowling over the DB. The last INT was a tipped pass and good pressure from the Beaver front four.

Let's hope Stanford can take a page out of the Wildcat playbook and rack up some serious yards and points against the Huskies on Saturday. I think this is a very big game for both teams and I could see both the winner and the loser of this weekend finish the season in the same direction. The run game will determine how effective Stanford's offense will be and the defense needs to make some big plays in order to give the offense some momentum. I will be in the broadcast booth the next two weekends, and I look forward to having a great view of a couple of big Cardinal wins.

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), Todd 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), Todd returned to the Farm in January of 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. Todd 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 9:00-11:00PM PST. 

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