"The Report Card-inal": Oklahoma 31, Stanford

OK, so a week has passed, the holidays are history, and there is finally some time to reflect rationally on the bowl game that was, and might have been with some better Luck. Stanford came up short in the 2009 Brut Sun Bowl, falling to Oklahoma 31-27 in a hard-fought, competitive game. There are plenty of ways to look at the outcome, both in positive and negative light. It was... what it was.

"The Report Card-inal": Oklahoma 31, Stanford 27

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, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of Bootleg management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp or Coach Harbaugh.      

A week has passed, the holidays are history, and there is finally some time to reflect rationally on the bowl game that was. Stanford lost the 2009 Brut Sun Bowl 31-27 to Oklahoma in a close back-and-forth game. There are plenty of ways to look at the game, both in positive and negative light.

 

Positives: Stanford could have won, even with a backup quarterback. The defense kept it close and made a number of big plays. Toby Gerhart was a rock.

 

Negatives: The passing offense and defense.

 

Whether you leave the game with happy thoughts or bad thoughts, one thing every Stanford fan can agree on, it was great to be back in a bowl game after seven seasons of being home for the holidays!

 

RUN OFFENSE:  B+

 

The run game was excellent. Not just for the yards it tallied, but the fact that Stanford was able to find any success at all running the ball when Oklahoma often had AT LEAST nine men in the box and several of those nine headed to the NFL. There was just no room in the middle.

 

Toby Gerhart rushed 32 times for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns. (We'll forget about the two fumbles since he recovered both). There was no secret he was going to get the rock and he pounded out a very nice day anyway. When the defense is keying on Gerhart on Third &10, that is going to be a tough running day. Yet the Cardinal did find success, albeit four yards at a time.

 

The real difference in this game vs. some of the other successful games that Gerhart has had seemed to be the team speed on defense for Oklahoma. The offensive line would do a great job of opening up holes at the line of scrimmage. But the Sooner defense would do an even better job of filling holes downfield of the line. Runs that would go for 10 yards in the month of November were now being stopped at three and four yards because Oklahoma was able to fill a gap late, and make a tackle to avoid a big play. That was a key scenario that eventually, as we all feared, would put unwelcome pressure on the passing game.

 

PASS OFFENSE: D

 

Tavita Pritchard is a great guy, you hate to pile on a winner of a kid, but the reality is the senior quarterback did not get the job done. His stats were 8-19 for 117 yards. His biggest completion, a 42-yard pass to Ryan Whalen, was more luck and Whalen coming back to the ball than talent. Pritchard looked unsure of himself in the pocket, and when he did the throw there was not much on the ball. Fumbled snaps, rushed decisions, lack of comfort.

 

Most Stanford fans agree that the Cardinal wins this game if Andrew Luck is playing. Not just for the throws that he does make, but just the possibility of those throws would have opened up the running game. Balance was the difference between the "good" 2008 offense and the "great" 2009 offense. Oklahoma showed the passing game no respect, and at no point were they ever burned for maintaining that approach. The passing game found no rhythm, and when it came to big plays, the coaching staff seemed to lose confidence in being able to throw the ball and went to the run more and more.  The "Wildcat" direct snaps seemed to be a way to avoid even having a quarterback at all.

 

Would the game have been different had Pritchard had thrown incompletions instead of interceptions on two of his first four passes? With no passing game, it brought back to Stanford fans the frustrating memories of 2008.

 

RUN DEFENSE:  A-

 

It was one of the best days against the run all season. In fact, the Stanford defensive line as a whole may have had its best day of the season. Oklahoma really could never get anything established on the ground. Sophomore Thomas Keiser was there early and often. Shayne Skov had a great game against the run with 15 tackles. The Sooners really could not get the ground game going for much of the game.

 

The pessimist of course looks at what happened in the pass defense and says Oklahoma did not need to run. But give credit where credit is due. The run defense was well-coached. The Cardinal won the battle at the line of scrimmage against a battered, bruised and reshuffled Sooner offensive line.

 

PASS DEFENSE: D+

 

There were signs of hope early on. Bo McNally's interception was a critical play in the game, keeping things from getting away from the Cardinal early. Unfortunately, it was too few and far between for the good defensive plays against the Sooners' aerial assault. Landry Jones was 30-51 for 418 yards and three touchdowns. For every good play Stanford made on first down, they could not stop Oklahoma on third down. Third and short, third and long, the Sooners would find an open receiver running through the secondary.

 

In the first half it was the slot receiver on the short post down the middle right behind the linebackers and between the safeties. That play could not be stopped. Adjustments to that play in the second half opened up other slant routes and out patterns. The corners would play back to give up the short route that was routinely completed. With the spread formation, anytime a corner did come up to play bump and run, there would be an uncovered slot receiver that would find room in the zone. Stanford could not find any answers, and as a result Ryan Broyles (#85) had a Sun Bowl-record 13 catches for 156 yards and three scores, earning overall game MVP honors and Special Teams MVP to boot. As easily as they passed the ball, Oklahoma really did not need to run the ball.

In fairness, Landry Jones is a quality quarterback with a bunch of talented receivers. Broyles smokes a lot of people. We couldn't disrupt Jones much and he enjoyed a very productive day. A D+ grade is probably a bit harsh because the Cardinal pass defense played pretty close to the level we could have expected from them against Oklahoma. 

 

SPECIAL TEAMS:  B

 

For the most part special teams play was a wash. Nate Whitaker was sharp on his field goals. David Green had a couple of nice punts. Neither team was able to muster much on kick-off returns. Maybe that was the biggest surprise, while Michael Thomas ended with more returns than Chris Owusu, Stanford rarely got the ball past the 30-yard line which was the norm during the regular season. Oklahoma's kick coverage crew was well-prepared and seriously came to play. Their one big return came from a very talented player with a professional future.

 

COACHING:  C+


Given the amount of time to get ready for the game, and knowing that national offensive freshman of the year Luck would not play, it would have been nice to see a little more creativity in the game plan. Nobody is surprised by the conservative approach with Pritchard in the game. But when a defense is keying on Gerhart even on third and long, opening things up seems required. It would have been nice to see some more quick-hitting misdirection in the running game as well. A fake to Gerhart and then running an option play to Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney would have gone for 20 yards.

 

On defense, kudos for holding Oklahoma to "only" 31 points, but not being able to adjust and limit the passing game to something south of 418 yards was clearly frustrating.

 

OVERALL: C

 

An average grade. Back to the original position - there is good and there is bad to take from this game. A loss is a loss. But honestly, how many of us expected the win when we learned Luck was out of the game? Vegas' immediate reaction should have been an indication. Despite not being able to pass, or to stop the pass, Stanford still had the ball and a chance to win in the final three minutes. And we did beat the spread.

 

There is much Stanford could have done that might have pulled out the victory against the 'Homas, but there was much that could have gone against the Cardinal, much that could have turned a competitive game into an embarrassing blowout (See Arizona vs. Nebraska).

 

Overall, we'll take our lumps, and just be happy to be back in a bowl game for the first time since 2001. It was not the dream ending that the Stanford football community wanted, but the future is still very bright on The Farm!

 

Now when can hire some new defensive coaches, lock down some stud recruits, and start getting ready for the 2010 season?


Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. 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  


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