The Stanford coaches decided to mix things up and throw some new faces in to the starting lineup this week. Two true sophomore cornerbacks, Quinn Evans and Johnson Bademosi, both earned a starting spot for the first time in their young careers. Joining them in the secondary was senior captain Bo McNally and Delano Howell, who is back into the starting lineup after missing the last few games with an injury. This was an important game for Stanford, and I thought the DB's as a whole took the challenge head-on and played very respectably in their first game playing together as a starting secondary. Also, props to the young corners for stepping in and doing a fine job in such a big game for the Cardinal. Now let's get to the game.
The Cardinal defense started out great, forcing a three-and-out on ASU's first two series. The front seven hold strong against the run and Sullivan is 0-for-4 in his first two series. Good coverage across the board in the secondary.
Stanford is showing a lot more "base" defense against ASU then we saw against Arizona. When I say "base", I mean rushing four and dropping 7. Basically, we are not blitzing nearly as much. The D line is getting pressure, and the secondary is playing well so far.
On the next drive, Danny Sullivan completes his first pass to an open Chris McGaha for 16 yards. #26 Delano Howell was in coverage. On this play, it looked like the Cardinal was in cover-4 with the corners pressed up at the line. Basically, the corners are playing man-to-man, and the safeties are playing the inside ¼'s of the field. Howell was lined up over McGaha and responsible for covering this route. Howell, at this point, is great in run support and very good reading the QB and making plays in zone coverage. One area where I would like to see him improve is his man-to-man coverage skills. If he can be a little more comfortable covering WR's one on one, he will be the total package.
Just as it looks like ASU is putting together a decent drive, Delano Howell delivers the play of the game with a completely devastating hit on a wide receiver reverse. The front seven did a great job of stringing this play out, making Jamal Miles run laterally, and Bo kept contain and forced Jamal Miles to cut back inside where Howell was waiting to "decleat" him, forcing a fumble. The Stanford defense did a great job of running to the ball, as Ekom Udofia was there to snag the ball out of the air. This is a great play by Delano Howell and a huge turnover for the Stanford defense.
On the first series of the second quarter, ASU goes three and out again after strong tackles from Bo McNally and Johnson Bademosi. Bademosi showed good discipline and toughness stopping this screen play while keeping his contain out of his cover-2 technique. This is good to see out of a young corner.
The next drive starts as Bo puts a big hit on McGaha after a short gain, right after Bo made a big hit on the kickoff. Man, Bo is really bringing the wood today. After ASU picks up a couple of first downs on a completion and a QB run, Michael Thomas comes up big on a third-down stop. MT3 is our nickel back and is matched up against ASU's best receiver Chris McGaha on this play. The Cardinal is playing zone defense and Thomas does a great job of being patient and staying inside of McGaha to break up this pass. It looks like MT3 is getting comfortable in his nickel position and figuring out what offenses are trying to do, I would like to see him get his eyes on the QB a little more in these situations so we can start seeing some INTs!
Stanford goes into the locker room up 24-0. ASU has less than 100 total yards. The Cardinal defense has forced three three-and-outs, a fumble and a punt. You really couldn't ask for a better first half.
On third and one, ASU RB Dimitri Nance picks up a first down. On this play, Bo loses contain and lets the ball get outside. Bo is one of our best players, but he has at times missed some tackles by coming in a little out of control. Now, this is the Pac-10 -- some guys are going to make you miss, but he has got to contain the ball and force it back into his teammates, and he knows this.
On first down, Sullivan goes up top for McGaha down the sideline. Quinn Evans is in coverage and knocks the ball away. I am surprised ASU did not try to test our young corners with the deep ball earlier. On this play, I thought Evans did a great job. He was patient at the line, got a solid jam on McGaha, and played through an offensive push-off to make a play on the ball. The only real coaching point would be to turn and look for the ball to avoid the flag. Welcome to Pac-10 football, where the offense always gets the calls, and veterans like McGaha, who have reputations for acrobatic catches, will get the call if they don't make the catch.
After another first down, Sullivan hits McGaha on a fade route for an 18-yard touchdown behind Quinn Evans. Taking a closer look, Evans starts out great at the line of scrimmage. He is patient, gets a jam, but as he goes to turn and run, McGaha grabs Evans' upfield shoulder and pulls himself past Evans to create good separation. Young Evans needs to be more physical and not let McGaha grab onto his upfield shoulder. I hope Evans is not playing less physical because of the pass interference penalty a few plays ago. McGaha is a long, savvy receiver who knows how to use his body to get open. Evans probably doesn't see too many guys like this out on the practice field. I had the benefit of going against Evan Moore every day to get ready for the physical receivers who like to push and pull to gain the separation they need. As Quinn Evans plays more he will see all the different types of WRs in the Pac-10, and learn how to defend each one differently.
Stanford turns the ball over on downs on ASU's one-yard line, and the Stanford defense steps up and forces a big three and out. Field position is huge in close games, and even though this game hasn't been very close, this is a big stop in terms of field position and great to see from the young Cardinal defense.
On the next defensive series, Stanford forces ASU to punt again after strong tackles by both McNally and Bademosi. Bo has been hitting hard all day, and I like Bademosi -- he definitely doesn't shy away from contact. He probably has the skills to play safety next year, if needed, after Bo graduates.
ASU starts off their first series of the fourth quarter with a run for a first down. On the next play, Sullivan hits Gerell Robinson on a slant route for another first down. Bademosi is in coverage in what looks like cover-3. It looks like Bademosi is more confident playing press coverage rather than playing off in a deep zone. All of Stanford's corners need to work on their off coverage and zone coverage skills. They have to be able to read the QB's three-step drop or, in the shotgun, no-step drop. If the QB is in the shotgun, and he turns to throw as soon as he receives the snap, the DB should be driving forward as soon as the QB turns to throw. There is no need to back up when you are already 7-9 yards deep off the ball. If we can't play zone defense or zone blitz effectively, we will severely handcuff our defensive coordinator.
Michael Thomas makes another good play, almost intercepting a pass intended for Chris McGaha. Thomas is having a good game, matched up mostly against ASU's go-to guy. Then, on third down, Jovon Williams is hit by four defenders as he catches the ball and barely picks up the first down. Even though Williams picked up a first down on this play, I like this play, because this is what zone defense is supposed to look like. Q. Evans, Clint Snyder, M. Thomas, and B. McNally are all breaking on the ball and hit Williams just as the ball arrives. If we can do this on every zone coverage, they will start dropping balls, and we will start making some INTs.
On the next play, Thomas Keiser puts a big hit on Sullivan in the backfield, just as he is able to get off a 40-yard touchdown pass to TJ Simpson. Simpson is wide open on a blown coverage by the DBs. These are the things you worry about when you play with young guys and guys who haven't played a lot together as a secondary. Communication is the most important thing; it doesn't matter if you play the wrong coverage, as long as everyone plays the same coverage. On this particular play, Bademosi's youth shows, as he thinks he is rolled up in a cover-2 technique with a safety over the top, and his safety Bo McNally is playing cover-4 and covering the man in his zone. Bademosi has to get on the same page as the rest of the defense, and McNally has to make sure that his young corner knows what to do.
Brock Osweiler replaces Danny Sullivan at QB after Keiser's big hit on Sullivan on the TD pass. Michael Thomas defends yet another pass intended for McGaha in the slot on first down. You have to like the improvement we have seen from Thomas in his pass coverage at the nickel position. After two incompletions, the secondary steps up big and allows Thomas Keiser and Sione Fua to sack Osweiler, who has nowhere to throw the football on fourth down. Turnover on downs!
On ASU's last drive, Osweiler shows some skill, connecting with McGaha on a very well-thrown pass in between Kris Evans and Bo McNally in cover 2. McGaha had to pay though, as McNally really crushed him out of bounds. On fourth down, after a few incompletions and penalties, Osweiler is tackled just short of the first for ASU's final play.
Overall the defense as a whole and the secondary had a really solid day. The front seven made it easy on the back end by providing good pressure and playing tough against the run all day. Ron Lynn and Andy Buh used a lot more base defense this week, which allowed our players to outplay ASU in their individual battles throughout the game. Tomorrow against Oregon will be a much bigger test, and I am interested to see what strategy Lynn and Co. have against one of the top offenses in the country.
For the DBs, I thought Bo McNally played tough against ASU, providing several big hits. His areas to improve will be playing more under control to prevent missed tackles, and keeping the entire secondary on the same page, no matter who is in next week.
Welcome back Delano Howell, who came up big for the Stanford defense with that huge hit and forced fumble in the first quarter. What Howell can improve on the most for next week's game and the rest of the season is his man-to-man coverage skills.
Michael Thomas had an excellent day at the nickelback position. He provided great coverage against a proven slot receiver in McGaha all game long. Thomas had several pass break ups and was always right there when the ball came. In the coming weeks I would like to see him get his head around so he can make some INTs for us.
I thought both of the young corners played very admirably in their debuts as starters for the Cardinal defense. Quinn Evans provided good coverage all game long for the most part. Mostly, he just needs more experience covering experienced wideouts, and maybe work on not letting the officials affect the physicality of his play. Johnson Bademosi showed toughness and tackling ability, but was not tested too much in coverage. He did have the blown coverage, which cannot happen if he wants to see more time in the secondary as the year progresses. I am very sure these young corners will learn from their mistakes and be ready for the game next week against Oregon.
That being said, I am very interested to see the rotation at cornerback for the rest of the season. We now have five guys in Richard Sherman, Kris Evans, Corey Gatewood, Quinn Evans and Johnson Bademosi that have seen significant time at the cornerback position. Competition will be high, and I expect to see some rotation while the coaches try to figure out who will give us the best chance to win.
Before graduating with the Class of 2007, cornerback Nick Sanchez (#2) was one of Stanford's top cornerbacks in recent memory. In his final game on the Farm, his two interceptions sealed the Cardinal's first Big Game victory in far too long, 20-13 over Cal. Look for much more from Nick in the weeks to come!
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