Thoughts from the TCU game
We've come down after the Cardinal's opening win against Oregon State, and it's pretty clear now that this team is going to have to scratch and claw its way for every victory. Though the game was closer than the 31-14 final score indicated, TCU outclassed the boys in red from start to finish.
We were beaten in the trenches, unable to convert on fourth down. We were beaten by their efficient running attack; the Stanford defense didn't lie down but Andrew Dalton and Ryan Christian operated with ease most of the day. Heck, we were even beaten by their 185-pound running back, Justin Watts, who bulldozed the 225-pound Pat Maynor in a head-on collision near the goalline. Overall, Saturday's game showed that there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Reggie Bush in Red and White?
Not quite, but sophomore wideout Doug Baldwin might be the big-play guy the Cardinal has been missing in recent years. He finished his 38-yard reverse with a wiggle and shake that left TCU's defender looking foolish. Then, on the punt return for a touchdown that was called back after review, he made a move usually reserved for guys like DeSean Jackson or, well, Bush. Baldwin reversed half the field, backpedaling to his left before beating TCU to the corner. It was like watching a plodding center bank-in a 22-foot jumper he should only be shooting during warmups. ("No. What are you thinking? ... No, no, no. ... No. ... Yes! Nice shot! Yes, yes, yes!".)
In all seriousness though, Baldwin's return showed a bit of swagger – even if it didn't count. I'm excited to watch him for the next few years.
Troubles on offense?
We all saw what Toby Gerhart was capable of against Oregon State, but it's time for the Cardinal to get its act together in the passing game. Tavita Pritchard – God bless his soul for the rest of his career after the 24-23 final on October 6, 2007 – has been putting up numbers that are, well, less than impressive. Pritchard threw for less than 100 yards in the first two games and has one touchdown to three interceptions so far this year. Don't forget that one of those picks came at a critical juncture in the fourth quarter against TCU, which ended up being Stanford's last real chance to tie the game after Baldwin's impressive return.
What might be more disconcerting, though, is the simple fact that the Cardinal's most established playmaker hasn't been getting the ball.
Richard Sherman has five catches on the season. He may lead the team in that category, but that's obviously not enough. His only touchdown this year came on a blocked punt, not a reception. If he continues to get the ball at that rate, it's going to be a long season. I can't tell you whether Tavita or Richard is to blame for Sherman's lack of production, but either way, something has to change.
Kudos where they're due
While the offense and defense were outclassed against the Horned Frogs last Saturday, it was the special teams which kept the team in the game. Baldwin's return for a pseudo-touchdown, Mark Mueller's blocked punt (one of the cleanest blocks I've seen in a long time) and David Green's leg were all big against TCU.
And what about Green, the sophomore punter? He's done more than enough to replace Jay Ottovegio so far this year. It seems like every kick I watched of his was either a booming punt, downed inside the 20, or both. Aaron Zagory has also proved to be reliable thus far at placekicker, after taking over for Derek Belch.
Saturday's nightcap against the Spartans will be the team's first "official" home game, with a couple thousand newly-anointed freshman getting their first taste of Stanford football. By the looks of it, this is Stanford's most winnable game of the season. Even so, the Cardinal enter as less than 10-point favorites, so the Spartans should turn in a much better showing than last year's 37-0 debacle.
To put it short: despite the lackluster opponent, this game is big. If we're not going to beat San Jose State at home, who are we going to beat this season? And it's not going to be a cakewalk.
What ever happened to...
The Pac-10. I ended my last column on a positive note for the conference, but it's pretty clear that my optimism might have been a little misguided. Sure, we all know how good USC is, but, unfortunately for the Pac-10, it does feel like they're in a league of their own. Needless to say or recount, the conference went a mighty 0-4 against the Mountain West last week and also saw Cal lose to a Maryland team that lost to Middle Tennessee State. Let's not forget the Bruins' 59-0 game, which rang home for this native of Southern California.
Either way, the conference is definitely not second-best the way that I said it might be. The Big-12 has that covered. At this point, we're probably not even third-best, either: someone might as well give that title to the Mountain West.
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