Quick Takes: TCU 31, Stanford 14

While there were a few bright spots in a 31-14 loss to talented TCU on Saturday, especially the Cardinal's stellar Special Teams play, there remain grave concerns about the sad state of the Stanford offense and its inability to generate consistent production. With San Jose State next up, the Cardinal braintrust has a big decision looming. Business as usual is not getting it done. Your move, Coach.

Here is a quick review of Saturday's dissatisfying 31-14 loss to the inhospitable Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. (Ever notice how is takes us a lot longer to get a recap up after a demoralizing loss? Hey, we are human)

The Good (always best to start off in a positive way): 

  • Special teams. Coach DJ Durkin should be very proud of his units. We looked very well-coached. 
  • Punt coverage was exceptional. Fifth-year senior and local product Nate Wilcox-Fogel (#85) contributed not one, but two fine efforts that forced TCU to start inside their own five-yard line on each occasion. 
  • Sophomore WR Doug Baldwin's sensational 49-yard return would have tied the score at 21-21 (assuming a successful PAT) had he not stepped on the sideline at the 13 (which was correctly called after a video review).  
  • Cornerback Mark Mueller (#37) ran in untouched and blocked a TCU punt that was recovered by junior WR Richard Sherman and taken in for a game-tying TD, a runback that demonstrated remarkably spry athleticism for a guy we thought last week might have been lost for the season to a knee injury.
  • Who would have predicted a stellar return by defensive end/tight end Tom McAndrew (#41)?  McAndrew, one of our very favorite guys on the squad, caught TCU napping and showed a surprising burst on a eyebrow-raising 26-yard kick return past midfield, which the Stanford offense unfortunately failed to take advantage of by going three & out.
  • Sophomore punter David Green has certainly been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2008 campaign, although we hate being forced to hold that up as a badge of merit for this year's team through its first three games.
  • The Cardinal offense was again painfully predictable, however the one notable attempt at using misdirection resulted in a spectacular 38-yard end-around for a TD by Baldwin, who clearly delivered his biggest performance in a Cardinal uniform to date. Considering that the bold young Baldwin had publicly questioned the level of TCU's previous competition before the game and had heard his named being playfully chanted by the Horned Frogs, it must have been sweet to deliver in the clutch. Defensive back Rafael Priest is probably still crawling around on the field looking for his jock! We would be remiss if we didn't point out a textbook "seal" by WR Ryan Whalen, which clearly helped Baldwin reach the end zone.
  • We threw short passes to Gerhart a couple of times, with clear success. We see no reason why this should not be continued. (This is almost verbatim the same sentence from last week's post-game report) On one memorable occasion, Toby carried three of four TCU players forward for a few additional yards. That kid is tough as nails! 
  • Senior corner Wopamo Osaisai (#6) celebrated his birthday Saturday with another outstanding game, with several nice break-ups and more aggressive tackling than we have seen from him in a while. He is turning into a very solid player, not just "our fast guy".
  • In his first game action, redshirt freshman back-up free safety Sean Wiser (#32) logged quite a bit of playing time on Saturday and it looks like he's quite willing to hit people, which is encouraging.
  • Linebacker Nick Macaluso (#50) got a surprise start and at one point made a heck of a tackle for a loss. 
  • Junior linebacker Clint Snyder (#20) was looking a little more like his former self, making several fine plays. 
  • We did not have any kicks blocked (hey, we are desperately grasping for any signs of hope here!). Of course we didn't attempt any field goals, which might have been a challenge with gusting winds. 
  • We did not seem to suffer any other major injuries.

The Strange:

  • TCU fittingly had a player with the last name of "Frosch" which in German means "frog". Coincidence or cult conspiracy?
  • It was oddly reassuring to see that there are actually other college teams that sometimes have to play in a half-empty, fancy, renovated stadium, even if it took a hurricane warning to keep the local fans home in this instance.

The Bad (Warning - the list is pretty long this week):

  • TCU ran 89 plays to our 50...ouch! 
  • First downs: TCU 24, Stanford 10. And it was 14 to 4 at the half! Double ouch!
  • Turnover margin: -3. Enough said. Can't win games if you give them away.
  • Time of possession was totally dominated by TCU. It was 30:39 to 14:21 through the first three quarters. That Stanford was still in the game was pretty remarkable. The '85 Chicago Bears would not have been at their best had they been forced to be on the field for that many minutes. By the fourth quarter, our guys were clearly exhausted. 
  • We know the game was moved up six hours, but there is still no excuse for our agonizingly slow start on offense, which saw our "attack" produce a grand total of  44 yards during the Cardinal's first four drives. Actually, those should be more correctly referred to as  "possessions", as opposed to "drives". Sorry, but unproductive offense makes us a little bitter. It almost hurts more than losing.
  • Not that we need to state the obvious, but 11 completions is not going to get it done. Before Ryan Whalen caught a pass with 21 seconds left in the game, we had completed exactly two passes to our wide receivers. Two.
  • Two first downs by rushing, when we have a back of the caliber of Toby Gerhart, is almost impossible to comprehend. With a more balanced offense, he would be averaging more than six yards per carry. 
  • 29 passing yards in the first half. Nothing more to say there. Hard to watch.
  • Observation: Sophomore Chike Amajoyi (#43) is a fine player, but he is not a middle linebacker. 
  • No sacks generated, but this was admittedly a pretty tough offense against which to apply pressure.
  • Poor Anthony Kimble. It just isn't working. AK needs to switch back to wide receiver where we can take better advantage of his talent and let him help us out a position of dire need. Giving his carries at running back to Jeremy Stewart is not going to hurt us and might help

The Ugly:

  • In what proved to be the key play of the entire game, QB Tavita Pritchard's "punt-like", "up-for-grabs" toss into the end zone was intercepted, killing the Cardinal's momentum and essentially eliminating any chance of winning the game, a game which, in all honesty, we did not deserve to win in the first place. It is painful for us to critique a terrific, likeable young guy like Tavita, but his current lack of consistency and production is making it nearly impossible for the Cardinal to win football games. We seem to miss on every big play in the passing game. Our lack of accuracy at the QB position is robbing us of the big plays we need to stay competitive against high-scoring teams. There is so much pressure on him, it isn't really fair. Obviously, our offensive struggles are not all his fault, but the fact remains that we need considerably better quarterback play than we are getting currently - what else can one say? He has had ten career starts and it doesn't appear to be working, at least not with the current supporting cast. We don't have too many cards to play, but we have to do something to change our... Luck.
  • Opening 0 for 8 and finishing 2 of 12 on third-down conversions is the most telltale sign of our offensive doldrums. Not acceptable. Something HAS to change. Harbaugh and Shaw have to take a hard look at why we are struggling so mightily and consider the options available. There are some difficult decisions ahead...with no guarantees.
  • But fellas- please, please don't call a "blast" for Toby out of a seven-yard-deep I-formation on a critical fourth and inches. A useful play in general, but far too much of a risk to lose yardage in such a scenario. It is easy to Sunday morning quarterback, but in this case I literally screamed out loud against that call when I saw us line up in that formation!
  • Ekom! We can't jump offside on a 3 & 7. Ever. That allowed TCU to get an easier conversion of a third & two and could have led to a halftime lead for our opponent! That is now two weeks in a row that a silly penalty has helped the bad guys out right before the half - luckily it did not cost us this time.
  • Stanford's pass yards per attempt was again well under six, which is...not going to lead to success.
  • TCU's mascot, logo, etc. must rank among the worst in the country, but hey, it seems to be working for them.
  • The Frogs played without their talented running back Aaron Brown, who had given us fits last year, but we still lost by 17 and it could have been a lot worse. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

The Bottom Line: 

Early start, cruddy weather, high winds, unfamiliar stadium, whatever. We are now 1-2, but the record itself is not at all surprising and is not as disturbing as the manner in which we have lost these past two games. Offensively, we are near the bottom of several Bowl Subdivision offensive categories and the defense isn't faring much better. The staff has got to do something dramatic to keep from going down a path similar to the hideous 2006 season. This team is much better. This team deserves better. Make the change. Now. 

Suddenly, the previously routine game against San Jose State next Saturday has become critical to the 2008 season. Win next Saturday, and we are 2-2 and still solidly in bowl contention (assuming we can find a way to stop our offense from flat-lining).  We simply must come through with a confidence-building rebound game, preferably with Gerhart getting 20+ carries and going for 150 yards. It could happen, should happen....and will. Go Cardinal! Beat the Spartans. 

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