As most of you know, my day job is at the ESPN Radio Network. One of my tasks during the week is to book coaches for Mike Tirico's college football show on ESPN Radio, and last week, I hooked Mike up with cal's Jeff Tedford and Florida State's Bobby Bowden.
Coach Bowden spent much of his chat with Tirico wondering about his team's identity. Sure, they had just jackstomped BYU in Provo. But they had also struggled at home the week before against Jacksonville State. Not the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville State.
Given those results, Bowden wondered aloud to Tirico who his Seminoles really were. After losing at home to South Florida, I'm sure Bowden is wondering even more about his team's identity now.
I don't remember Jeff Tedford talking about team identity during his interview, but he might be wondering about it now. The Bears' game against Oregon got out of hand more quickly than a street fight with Ron Burgundy. And as I watched most of the preconceived notions I had about cal come crashing down at Autzen, a simple question about the Bears popped into my head, classic-rock style. "Whoooooo are you? Who who? Who who?"
Fortunately, we Cardinalmaniacs don't have to ponder that question for too long. Not about the Bears, because, well, that's not our problem. And identity certainly isn't an issue for Stanford. The Cardinal know who they are, and they're playing like it. They are becoming known as a squad with an emerging (though still learning) quarterback, devastatingly explosive special teams, and a brutally physical running game.
Others in the know are becoming comfortable with Stanford's identity as well. I bumped into Rece Davis in the office cafeteria on Friday, and because I can be a bit of a basket case 24 hours before big Stanford games, I fretted to him about the Huskies. Rece's response? "Troy, you've got Toby Gerhart. You've got Andrew Luck. You've got the number-one return man in the country. Stop worrying!"
As it turns out, he was right. But the main reason I was concerned was the Stanford defense. The same unit that had struggled at times during the opener in Pullman and collapsed in Winston-Salem was now facing the most dangerous individual quarterback in the Pac-10.
Before the Washington game, to me, the identity of Stanford's defense was one that seemed too reactive, one that seemed too content to let the other team dictate the tempo, and one that seemed ill-equipped to contain Jake Locker. Yes, the Cardinal defense looked like the 1976 Steelers against San Jose State, but that didn't stop the visions of Marques Tuiasosopo from dancing in my head.
That previous vision of the Stanford defense wasn't the same one I saw against the Huskies this time around. Erik Lorig, Sione Fua, Chase Thomas, and Thomas Keiser won the line of scrimmage, and they dominated the Husky backfield as well. The linebackers were active and aggressive, unlike against Wake Forest. Delano Howell's two interceptions made it a fine day for the secondary. With results like that, the Cardinal defense has hopefully started to find the identity that will define it for the rest of the season.
Identity is a good thing to have as a team, but it can only take one game to be completely stripped away and redefined, often for the worse. For instance, take cal. Please. (sorry…couldn't resist!) Before last Saturday, they were known as the sixth-best team in the country. They were also starting to be known as potentially the Pac-10's best team.
Now whooooo are they? (Who who? Who who?) They could still be Pac-10 contenders. Or, as was the case two years ago, they could just be pretenders. Right now, no one knows for sure. But I think the Bears got exposed in Eugene for what they really are: a one-man team.
Granted, all of the coaches in America would be tripping over themselves to have that one man on his team. But if you stop Jahvid Best, who else on the Bears can beat you? (Who who? Who who?)
cal has an identity right now that it would rather not have. On the whole though, it's probably better than not having an identity at all. Which brings us to the team cal is facing this week: U$C.
The Trojans have been known over the past few years for their swagger. So far this year? Not so much. That swagger has dissipated somewhat on defense, and seems to have disappeared almost completely from view on offense. The killer instinct that had become a Trojan trademark has been missing, too.
Graduation and NFL defections didn't help them. Neither have injuries to QB Matt Barkley, S Taylor Mays, and now RB Stafon Johnson. But even when all three of those players were healthy, it was clear that these aren't quite the same Trojans we've come to know and loathe.
For the first time in Clardy's Corner history, I don't quite know what U$C's team identity is right now. I don't think the Trojans quite know, either. But I know this: a Trojan team that is sure of itself doesn't come away empty from inside the five-yard line. Against Washington State. Twice. In the same game. That just doesn't happen.
Speaking of Washington State, their identity is clear: they are the worst team in the Pac-10. It's not even close. I know it. You know it. They know it, too. But behind freshman QB Jeff Tuel, they somehow outplayed U$C in the fourth quarter last week. Tuel didn't do anything flashy, didn't show a big arm or game-changing mobility, He simply made good decisions and moved the ball. And above all else, his teammates responded to him.
The Cougars were the team that seemed to rediscover itself and take true steps towards establishing an identity, not the Trojans. The Cougars showed the guts that the Trojans seemed to be lacking. Everyone expected Washington State to lose that game. No one expected them to win a little self-confidence in South Central.
At some point each season, every team has to figure out the answer to the simple question: "who are you?" (Who who? Who who?) When teams are secure and comfortable with who they are, they tend to play like it. Not surprisingly, those teams likely have a leg up on the other teams that are still trying to figure it all out as we head into October.
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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
The ESPN College GameDay crew obviously won't be coming to Berkeley this week. Instead, they'll be coming to Palo Alto to do a piece on Stanford's special teams (double ouch for the Weenies). Toby Gerhart is starting to get some national notice. Even Mel Kiper asked me how to properly pronounce Owen Marecic's last name so he could give him a shout-out on national radio. Is the balance of Bay Area college football media power starting to shift to Palo Alto?
I've long thought that a good special teams unit can win you at least one game every year, but what we've seen from Stanford this year is stunning. And it might be the single-most critical development for the Cardinal this year. Kick it to Chris Owusu, and he takes it back for six. Don't kick it to him, and Stanford gets the ball in favorable field position. It's much easier to put points on the board when you only need two or three first downs to get in scoring range. Who knows how many more points per game that's potentially worth to Stanford?
Heck, after the way their season started, and how they've played the last two weeks (especially on defense), I think it's fair to ask the Oregon Ducks, "whoooooo are you?" (Who who? Who who?)…
I can't believe I'm actually rooting for Washington to go into South Bend and hammer Notre Dame…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… interesting column by CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel, who compares Urban Meyer's decision to play a concussed Tim Tebow next week to Mike Bellotti's ill-fated decision to let Dennis Dixon play with a torn ACL in 2007…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… Baylor's Robert Griffin is probably the most exciting QB you haven't seen yet. Unfortunately, thanks to a torn ACL, you won't see him anymore this season. Tough break for one of the more intriguing players in college football…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… our Stat of the Week actually comes from the NFL: against the Jets on Sunday, Titans QB Kerry Collins finished the game by throwing 13 straight incompletions…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… uh-oh, the New Orleans Saints can win by running the ball, too. That's not good news for the rest of the NFL…
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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Not off to the best start now, are we? I'm kinda feeling like the Tennessee Titans right now. Except I've actually won a game this year.
Oregon State @ Arizona State. Against real competition, Oregon State's defense has been a real disappointment. Arizona State hasn't shown much on offense, but then again, neither had Arizona. I like Arizona State by 14.
Washington State @ Oregon. I think you could make the case that aside from Stanford's special teams, Oregon's defense may be playing better than any other single unit in the Pac-10 right now. Wazzu comes into this game with a little confidence. It won't be enough. I like Oregon by 31.
U$C @ cal. It really all comes down to this: I believe in U$C's defense more than I believe in any of the other units on the field. Unless the Bears do a much better job of involving Jahvid Best than they did last week, I like U$C by 10.
Last week: 1-2 (straight-up), 1-2 (ATS).
This year: 1-3 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
Last year: 30-6 (straight-up), 24-12 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30 p.m. on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com and on iTunes.
Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
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