"The 2009 Report Card-inal": First-1/3 Grades

Stanford is one-third of the way through the 2009 campaign. Any fair-minded fan would have to say 'so far so good'. The Cardinal sits at 3-1 for the season and is in first place in the Pac-10. They are undefeated at home, 2-0 in the Pac-10, and halfway to earning that elusive post-season bowl bid that they so desperately crave. Time to review the performances of the Stanford Cardinal thus far.

"The 2009 Report Card-inal": First-Third Grades

Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire and commitment.  

Stanford is one third of the way through the season. Any fair-minded fan would have to say 'so far so good'. The Cardinal sits at 3-1 for the season and is in first place in the Pac-10. They are undefeated at home, 2-0 in the Pac-10, and halfway to earning that elusive post-season bowl bid that they crave.

As the Stanford Football team prepares for UCLA and yet another huge Pac-10 game, it is time to pause and rewind and breakdown the performances of the Stanford Cardinal for the first third of the season.

The overall theme is just what a team wants: Pretty good start and getting better every game.


Anyone who is overly critical of the way Andrew Luck is playing has clearly forgotten that he is just a redshirt freshman. Luck has opened his Stanford career 50-83 for 742 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions (and that awkward pass/lateral to Jim Dray that the Huskies returned for a touchdown). Luck has also shown an ability to scramble with the ball and has a touchdown on the ground. Furthermore, he has managed the team "flawlessly" as Coach Harbaugh pointed out. There have been no delay-of-game penalties, the team is crisp getting in and out of the huddle, he is making the correct calls at the line of scrimmage. For the most part he has done everything that the team has asked of him. In the last two games, that has not been too much to review as the running game has been dominant. But Luck showed in the first two games that he has the "tools" and he has shown in the last two games that he has the leadership abilities to run this team even when the ball is being handed off. The future for Luck certainly looks bright. That is good, because as teams try to crank down on Toby Gerhart, the passing game will be needed to pick up the slack.


This is an obvious one. Toby Gerhart set a career-high with 200 yards rushing against Washington . He now leads the Pac-10 with 129 yards per game. His only game under 100 yards was the loss at Wake Forest when the offense just was not on the field enough in the second half. Gerhart has been just as advertised, a human battering ram with deceptive speed. As one fan noted watching how slow Gerhart was getting up against the Huskies, "he gets up slow, but he goes down more slowly." No single person can bring Gerhart down, it seems, and often it takes three or four tacklers.

Backing up Gerhart has been Jeremy Stewart. He has been impressive. He appears to be running much harder and faster than last year. There has not been much of a drop-off when Gerhart goes out. Stewart has rushed for 107 yards and is averaging over six yards per carry. After that there are true freshmen Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor. Each has looked sharp and has played well. Especially against Washington, when 'Patch' Stewart went down with an injury.

Owen Marecic continues to impress at fullback. Coach Harbaugh declared him the best fullback in college football this week. And when it comes to making contact he said, "he does not just like it, he loves it!" Marecic has taken his game to another level, getting into the passing game with four receptions for 72 yards.  Back-up nJosh Catron has been a very underrated member of the blocking scheme, providing some nice holes when he is filling in for Marecic.


At this point the grade is dropped mostly due to lack of opportunity. Against Washington , the wide receivers only had one reception. Sophomore Ryan Whalen was shut out in the game. With only 12 pass attempts, that will happen. The week before, against San Jose State , the run game took center stage, limiting Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen to three catches each. But against WSU and Wake Forest , each starting receiver provided a big game. While the receiving stats may not be glorious on a team that is dominating the running game, it would be a huge gaffe to not mention the fabulous downfield blocking by the Stanford receivers. On Gerhart's 60-yard run against Washington , there was Ryan Whalen, making a key block in the end zone to spring Gerhart the final few yards. Delano Howell, in at receiver, was also making a key block at the 20-yard line. The receivers have done a great job of contributing wherever they can, whenever they can. If you want to go negative, there have been a couple of dropped balls that need to be cleaned up, but fewer than in years past. From what we have seen, when Stanford is forced to open up the offense, the receiving corps is very good and will be ready to help.


Senior Jim Dray has struggled in the passing game. He had two drops at Wake Forest and of course he was a part of "the lateral" against the Huskies that went for seven points in the other direction, although in fairness, it wasn't Dray's fault on that particular play. Coby Fleener had a very nice game against Washington with three catches including a nice down-the -middle-of-the-field toss-and-catch in the first quarter. Like the receivers, the receiving part of the grade for tight ends is tough to make, due to lack of substantial opportunity. But when you throw the many double-tight end sets Stanford has run into the equation, and you run like Stanford has, the tight-end blocking has been excellent. They are an extension of the offensive line, and the line has been opening some huge holes for Gerhart and the running game.


This could be the best offensive line on the Farm in 20 years. It is certainly the best we have seen since the Rose Bowl. The combination of veterans and redshirt freshman have blended perfectly. The right side of the line, Chris Marinelli and David DeCastro had a few run plays where they completely crushed the Washington defense left of center. That is the way it has been. The run blocking is opening up huge holes for the run game. On the left side Jonathan Martin showed his ability by actually running in motion twice against the Huskies. Andy Phillips and Chase Beeler have both been solid. All this and Stanford lost starting tackle Matt Kopa in Game One. Now they get sixth-year senior Allen Smith back and it sounds like he will be working into the rotation at left tackle starting this week. The pass defense has been very good, only allowing Luck to be sacked twice this season. There have been a few issues with penalties that still need to be worked out, but so far one has to be impressed mightily with the big men up front.


This is a group that had huge expectations coming into the season and maybe because of those expectations they seemed to underachieve those first couple of games. But as with most of the defensive units, the line has continued to improve each game. Sophomore Thomas Keiser has been dominant at one end. He has six sacks, but he has pressured four different quarterbacks out of the pocket multiple times in each of the four games. He has been a bigger factor against the run this year as well. Senior Erik Lorig may not be showing up in the stat sheet as much as expected, but #80 is constantly applying pressure on the pass rush. The middle of the defensive line has taken hits with injury. Sophomore Matt Masifilo is out with a knee injury suffered against Wake Forest . Senior Brian Bulcke is out with season-ending wrist surgery. And while the defensive line struggled at Wake Forest , they have responded since then. Coach Harbaugh called out Sione Fua, saying the San Jose State game was his best game at Stanford. Against Washington Ekom Udofia clearly played his best game of the season. A defense that could not step off the field at Wake Forest in the second half, has grown into a team that allowed just seven points to the Huskies.


Another unit that just seems to be getting better. In the first couple of weeks, team co-captain Clinton Snyder was making tackles but he appeared to be playing out of position in the middle. SLB Will Powers was struggling on the outside especially against sweeps. And WLB Chike Amajoyi looked a bit tentative. That was then, this is now. After Harbaugh challenged his defense with playing time after the Wake Forest game, the team has responded. Snyder now looks like an all-conference player. Powers responded with two sacks again San Jose State and is clearly playing more aggressively. Harbaugh said Amajoyi had his best game this past week against the Huskies. Also against Washington we saw true freshman Shayne Skov get his first significant playing time with the first-string defense. Among other plays he blew off a lead blocker in spectacular fashion before tackling a runner in the backfield. His future is bright. Max Bergen is in the mix as well to keep the team fresh.


So many question marks with this unit coming into the season and so far, they have surprised. There have clearly been some growing pains. Corey Gatewood got beat on the big pass down to the two yard-line at Wake Forest . Gatewood was also beat a couple of times against the Huskies that included a touchdown. Richard Sherman gave up big plays in each of the first two games. But as we have progressed in the season, so have the corners. Gatewood did have the interception for a touchdown against San Jose State . Sherman made a great pass defense against the Huskies. To keep the players fresh, Stanford has started rotating in the forgotten man, senior Kris Evans. He has had a settling effect at corner and in the last two games has played as well as he did anytime last year. Look for his playing time to continue to increase. At safety, the transition of Delano Howell has to be considered a big success. Two interceptions against Washington , but maybe more impressive has been his tackling. He has made every tackle that he has been near, some of those are touchdown-saving tackles. Howell has 19 tackles so far in his first year at safety. Meanwhile his playing partner, senior Bo McNally, has been quieter this year than in last, but is still second on the team with 25 tackles. He has been the quarterback in the secondary making sure all his inexperienced teammates are in the right place. That job alone can not be underestimated. Safety Austin Yancy has joined the rotation at safety and has provided some inspired play when given the opportunity.


Here is another easy one. Three kickoff returns for touchdowns for Chris Owusu. They are first in the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage and in net punting. They are second in the Pac-10 in punt returns, which includes a Sherman return for a touchdown. Nate Whitaker is 4-6 on field goals which includes the big 54-yarder at the end of the first half against Wake Forest . He has missed from 44 (a big one vs Wake) and from 50 yards. His leg is clearly there and as he improves his accuracy he will be a huge scoring threat.


It is hard to argue with too much here. Stanford fans may nit-pick the decision at Wake Forest to go for the 44-yard field goal rather than the first down on fourth & one in the third quarter. The field goal would be missed, the rest is history. Other than that, the game plans have been sound. The last two weeks have been all about running. Until someone stops Gerhart, there is no reason to change that philosophy. Offensive line coaches Tim Drevno and Greg Roman deserve huge praise for putting together a great run game and being very creative with their blocking schemes. This is not just hand off right and hand off left. There are unbalanced lines, and as previously mentioned, linemen in motion. Coach Buh and Coach Lynn on defense have done a nice job of bringing an inexperienced squad along quickly. They appear to be more aggressive in their play-calling the last two weeks as well. And special teams coach D.J. Durkin should definitely warrant a huge mention for what he has done with the special teams units. Remarkable.


If someone would have told you at the beginning of the season that Stanford would be 3-1 to start the season, you probably would have taken that. Sure, Stanford easily could have won at Wake Forest and maybe that costs them one grade. But they responded from that and have moved forward, winning the next two games easily. There is a long way to go, and the next step is a huge one against UCLA. For now though, 3-1 and first place in the Pac-10 sure does sound good.

Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com  

Do you have a "premium" subscription to The Bootleg? If not, then you are seriously missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest, baddest  and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)! At The Bootleg, "WE WRITE!"

The Bootleg Top Stories