On one hand, yes, their most recent effort represented a huge turnaround from early on. Stanford dominated the line of scrimmage against Cal like in no other game this season. The Big Game saw Stanford score a season-high five rushing touchdowns, four from tailback Remound Wright and another from Kevin Hogan. The Cardinal’s victory template – Hogan completing 75 percent of his 20 passes for healthy yardage (214), the offensive compiling three scoring drives that each consumed at least four minutes – looked a lot like the pattern that won consecutive Pac-12 titles.?Unfortunately, this effort stands as more of an anomaly than a trend. The offensive line lacks the earthmoving ability of previous units. In its defense, the o-line had to replace four starters who graduated to NFL camps. But after 11 games, their resume remains lacking. Stanford has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher. The Cardinal sits at ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense. They are talented. The one remaining starter, junior left tackle Andrus Peat, is a future first-rounder. Collectively, they’ve yet to live up to their prep credentials (Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett were both five-star recruits) or preseason expectations (David Shaw labeled them NFL-caliber before the campaign began).
2. Why do you think the defense has been able to roll to another elite season despite replacing a significant portion of the defensive front?
?Credit the personnel tasked at replacing the graduates, in addition to the new assistants who oversee the defense. The line may have lost Ben Gardner and Trent Murphy, but nose tackle David Parry and lineman Henry Anderson, both fifth-year seniors with years of starting experience, have only gotten better this season. The linebacking corps features a pair of new starters, redshirt sophomore Blake Martinez and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi, who’ve stepped into their roles without issue. They join fifth-year senior A.J. Tarpley, a mainstay since Skov tore his ACL in 2011. New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has proven to be a major addition after replacing Derek Mason, now head coach at Vanderbilt.
The secondary looked shorthanded in the preseason. Safety Ed Reynolds (who picked off Hundley in the Pac-12 title game) left early for the NFL. Acrobat Kodi Whitfield moved from wide receiver to the secondary. But the group led by defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who enjoyed major success as a Texas assistant under Mack Brown, hasn’t disappointed.
3. If Ty Montgomery is out this weekend, as expected, who do you expect will take his place as that dynamic, multifaceted threat out of the backfield and in the slot??
4. Given the heights to which the program has climbed the past four years, what's the feeling among the fan base regarding the disappointing season so far?
“What’s Your Deal?” has, the time being, become an ordeal. Shaw’s first three teams built on Jim Harbaugh’s foundation. But success breeds high expectations, and this year’s memorable moments– the historically bad offense, the loss to USC when every drive crossed into Trojan territory, the last-minute defeat to Notre Dame, etc. – are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Fans are frustrated at the present and fearful of a return to the not-so distant past, when football on The Farm was irrelevant. The 2015 season will be a crossroads season for Shaw. His offeseason “to-do” list must include hiring a seasoned offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. This was the biggest waste of a defense in conference history since Desert Swarm, and even those offensively-challenged Arizona teams weren’t fighting for a bowl on Thanksgiving weekend. Like Terry Donahue, John Robinson and Mike Bellotti, Shaw enjoyed great success after replacing an NFL-bound head coach. However none of those three ever suffered so steep a decline, so fast.
5. What made Arizona State and Oregon, in particular, successful against this Stanford defense??
Both teams used their multi-dimensional strengths. ASU controlled the clock and wore out the Stanford defense, mostly forgoing downfield throws in favor of conservative – but very effective – efforts. Mike Bercovici ran this ball-control passing game to perfection, going 23-of-33 for 245 yards. The Sun Devils enjoyed a 23-14 edge in first downs. Taylor Kelly was healthy and available but ASU didn’t even need him. Oregon rode Marcus Mariota’s trademark passing efficiency (19 completions, 30 attempts, 258 yards, two scores), but was the Ducks’ ground game that doomed the Cardinal. Stanford allowed more rushing yards (267) than in any game since Shaw became head coach. “Rolls” Royce Freeman and Mariota each proved to be devastating on the ground.
6. How would you grade David Shaw as a play-caller, particularly in the red zone?
The numbers speak for themselves. In 46 red zone trips, Stanford has collected only 23 touchdowns (50 percent, an “F”) and 32 scores altogether (69.6 percent, or “C-minus,” if I remember correctly). Both marks rank dead last in the Pac-12. Shaw is at times ridiculously conservative, like when he punted with just over two minutes left from the Utah 34-yard-line. He played for overtime – where the game is decided in the red zone – instead of letting Jordan Williamson try a 51-yard field goal to break a 7-7 deadlock. The frustration factor didn’t stop with the Utes’ double-OT victory. Stanford took a brief 17-14 lead in the second extra frame after Williamson drilled a field goal from, you guessed it, 51 yards. During the aforementioned loss to USC, Shaw elected to punt from both the Trojan 29 and 32-yard-lines. In Stanford circles, “Dave Ball” is not a former UCLA standout defender. It’s playing not to lose.
7. How do you see the game going on Friday and what's your score prediction?
Black Friday will leave Stanford feeling black and powder keg blue, or whatever you call that shade of blue UCLA (unfortunately) has worn since changing colors in 2001. The Cardinal is 0-6 against ranked teams since winning last year’s Pac-12 title game. I don’t see that trend changing. I instead see Bruins 27, Cardinal 17. Congratulations to the 2014 Pac-12 South champions. Good luck against the Ducks, and even better luck driving on 101 to Levi’s Stadium…at rush hour…on a Friday.