Stanford Football’s Thanksgiving Review 2011

With one game left in the college football season, Stanford ranks sixth in the BCS. They are behind only LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and Virginia Tech. I got a question about how Virginia Tech managed to sneak into the top five. I’m not sure to be completely honest. I was not aware they were 10-1. Virginia Tech does not possess eye popping numbers but they seem like a solid, overall team. They have benefited from the losses of teams ahead of them, like Oregon and Stanford. I just hope we don’t get a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl.

1. Thoughts on Cal – Stanford probably should have beaten Cal by more than just three points. That is just a little too close for any fan to be comfortable. Quarterback Andrew Luck had some trouble connecting with his receivers. He missed tight end Levine Toilolo, tight end Coby Fleener, and wide receiver Griff Whalen for huge gains on three different drives. The ball was just a tad out of reach on each pass. Whether Luck overthrew his receivers or his receivers were a tad slower than usual is not something that I can know. I can only say for sure that they were not on the same page for most of the game. There were also a few more drops on easy passes. Those missed opportunities really kill an offense. Even with the return of kicker Jordan Williamson, Stanford still missed another field goal. Had they made that earlier field goal, coach David Shaw might have been a little more aggressive at the end of the game on fourth down. Instead, he decided to kick a field goal while we all held our breath in the rain. “You’ve got to have faith in your players,” Shaw said after the game. “He missed a kick, but that was the right decision at the time.”

At this point in the season, the defense just sort of is what it is. They struggle with the big, fast wide receivers. Most schools do(except maybe LSU and Alabama). Cal’s opening offensive play of the game was a 42 yard pass to sophomore receiver Keenan Allen. The Cardinal breathed a sigh of relief when on the next play Cal fumbled the ball. But a defense cannot always depend on getting the big play. That same principle applies to a big play offense. Reliance on turnovers leads to some sporadic play. However, the defense did a good enough job to make this game winnable. If Stanford manages to convert on some of the plays they missed, this game is not even close.

Up 28-13 in the third quarter, I expected Stanford to blow Cal out of the water at that point. Another touchdown at any point in the fourth quarter would have sealed the game. Though they did not manage to get back into the end zone, they succeeded in running down the clock and scoring. Fullback end Ryan Hewitt was instrumental in moving the ball down the field. He had several backfield catches for first downs. The Cardinal’s final drive was critical in keeping the game just out of reach for the Golden Bears. In other words, they did enough to win. Any win over Cal is a good won.

2. BCS Projections – With USC’s win over Oregon last week, Oregon is out of the national championship picture. That means Stanford will not be going to the Rose Bowl. Stanford could only make the Rose Bowl if Oregon State somehow manages to upset Oregon. That seems rather unlikely. I would not make any bets on Oregon losing two weeks in a row. ESPN BCS expert Brad Edwards currently has Stanford projected to go to the Fiesta Bowl, where they would likely play Oklahoma State or Oklahoma. This would be a good opportunity for Stanford to show their strength as a program. Last year, the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl were both blow outs with Oklahoma and Stanford winning their respective games. The Fiesta Bowl represents the best and most realistic scenario for Stanford. Glendale, Arizona is also in relative driving distance. Remember that it is no small feat to make it to any of the BCS Bowl games. We have been spoiled these past few years with great football play. It has not always been so.

3. The Injured – Safety Delano Howell made a nice return for Stanford. He finished with seven tackles and a fumble recovery. Howell adds some much needed stability to the back end of the defense. Coach Shaw said that tight end Zach Ertz will be “probable” for next week. He will be welcomed back into the offense with open arms. The Cardinal passing attack thrived because of the diversity of players and skill sets. Luck could quickly change around the formation and really fool the defense. Without Ertz, however, those matchups have been harder to create as teams could focus their attention on individual players. Wide receiver Chris Owusu looks like he will remain out.

4. The Young Guns – Wide receiver Ty Montgomery has done a decent job of filling in for Chris Owusu. He scored Stanford’s first touchdown of the Cal game. He ran for 34 yards on a reverse hand off. Montgomery still needs to maintain more consistency from play to play but he definitely has the speed to be a big weapon for this offense. The other big surprise for Stanford has been wide receiver and defensive back Corey Gatewood. Gatewood played well against Cal with a couple passes defended. Coach Shaw has had only compliments for Gatewood, saying, “He’s a special athlete that truly can play at the next level. We thought we needed him on offense, we switched him back over and he did some good things on offense and we needed him back on defense so we flipped him back over. And God bless him, he’s been phenomenal for us. Just as far as being able to make the adjustment and come out and be able to perform.” That is particularly high praise from the coach. Gatewood reminds me a little bit of the transition Richard Sherman was able to make from receiver to corner.

5. **Award Watch – **Luck has fallen to second behind Alabama running back Trent Richardson in ESPN’s Heisman watch. I would hate for Stanford to lose another Heisman to another Alabama running back. Luck still has one game to show his stuff against Notre Dame. Hopefully that will be enough. Luck has also been named a finalist for the Maxwell Outstanding Player award and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. In addition, Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro has been named a finalist for the Outland Trophy. The Outland Trophy goes to the nation’s best interior lineman. DeCastro would certainly be deserving of that honor.

Stanford will face Notre Dame this weekend. As the final regular season game, this is another must win. More analysis on that game will be coming in the next couple days. Enjoy your Thanksgiving break!

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