Q+A with Rule Of Tree And Go Mighty Card on 2011 Cal-Stanford Big Game

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We got a game so big we talked to TWO Stanford sites!  TWO!  That's like 150% more than our normal Q+As.  If not more!  And that's what you all get this week.  An extra super sized extreme Q+A.  Not one of those lame one site only Q+As.  

Rule Of Tree is the SBNation site for Stanford.  They are newer to the scene, but continue to grow day in and day out.  Scott Allen is the main guy over there, providing information on all things Stanford.  Here is our answers to their questions.   Mighty Card is another Stanford site that contacted us regarding a Q+A.  They bring another great perspective on those damnable Lobsterbacks.

With two times the Stanford sites, you can expect two times the information.  Information on Andrew Luck, David Shaw, and all the rest of those cartoonishly evil characters from down South.  So, join me after the jump to learn more about our upcoming opponent and maybe, just maybe, boo Tiger Woods a little bit more.  GO BEARS!  BEAT THE CARDINAL!

1.  How good of a coach is David Shaw?  It's tough to tell for those of us who do not closely follow the program, as Andrew Luck would probably make Buddy Teevens look decent.

 

Rule Of Tree: 1. I think David Shaw is a very good coach who may eventually be a great coach. He was outcoached by Chip Kelly on Saturday, but there's no shame in that. One could argue that Kelly outcoached Jim Harbaugh last year. Shaw hasn't had to make many difficult in-game coaching decisions until recently, primarily because the Cardinal coasted in the first half of the season. He took some heat for taking the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands by running the Wildcat formation on a crucial third down in the USC game, but he defended the decision afterward. He made an ill-advised decision to attempt a long field goal with a backup kicker against Oregon. The kick wasn't close and Stanford never seriously threatened again. 

 


Arizona has turned out to be awful, but I think one of Shaw's defining moments this season came at halftime of the game in Tucson. The Cardinal only led by 10 and had watched Shayne Skov go down with a season-ending injury in the second quarter. It seemed the season might be in danger of unraveling before it even really began, but Stanford dominated the Wildcats in the second half and slowly adjusted to life without Skov in subsequent weeks. Whatever Shaw said -- and I can only assume he said something -- it worked. The players love him, he's recruiting well, and, unlike Harbaugh, Shaw isn't looking to go anywhere. Cardinal football could be in his hands for a long time. Oh, and no disrespect to Luck and Co., but this team would be no better than 4-6 with Buddy Teevens at the helm.



Go Mighty Card:  1. Here's the first thing you need to know. If you gave Buddy Teevens a time machine and let him transport the 1985 Chicago Bears defense and the 2007 New England Patriots offense to Palo Alto, he'd still find a way to mess it up. But back to your question. Jim Harbaugh's brash attitude and infectious confidence made him the perfect coach to spur Stanford's rise to national prominence, but I think David Shaw is the perfect replacement, and not just because he's likely to stick around. People are definitely disappointed that the national championship dream is over, but this has already been a successful season, especially when you consider what Shaw's had to deal with. The team's best defensive player, Shayne Skov, went down for the seaosn in Week 3, CB Wayne Lyons went down a couple games later, and safety Delano Howell missed two games and left early from a third. On the other side of the ball Chris Owusu has continued to be an injury magnet, and tight end Zach Ertz has missed the last three games. Injuries are a part of football, but Shaw has done a great job compensating for these losses and keeping his healthy players focused on the game in front of them instead of their injured teammates.


2.  While most teams have had great difficulty pressuring Luck, Oregon was pretty successful.  What did they do differently?

Rule Of Tree:  2. Oregon's offense gets all the hype, but Nick Aliotti's D is impressive. The Ducks attacked the Cardinal with multiple blitz packages and did a pretty good job taking away the quick hitter to the tight end that is often Luck's first read when blitzed. 




Go Mighty Card:  2. The Ducks did what all good defensive teams anywhere do. They blitzed from different angles, they varied their coverage packages, and when they didn't blitz their front four was still able to get after Luck. Before last weekend I didn't think there was a college defense out there that could confuse Andrew Luck, but there were definitely times when he wasn't sure where to go with the ball or seemed surprised by a defender. But like I said, Oregon's approach wasn't new, they just did it better than other teams.





3.  With the Pac-12 championship game mostly out of the picture and Andrew Luck's Heisman stock taking a drop, is there any chance the team could come out flat to start this week's game? (much like Alabama and even LSU did this past weekend).

Rule Of Tree:  3. I'd say there's a decent chance, especially given Stanford's propensity to come out flat all season. Heading into the Oregon game, I really wasn't nervous in the least about Big Game. I'm a little worried after watching the Cardinal lose on Saturday, not because the Ducks provided a blueprint for beating Stanford -- OK, I guess they did, but Cal doesn't have the personnel to replicate it -- but because there was so much buildup for that game. There's obviously still a lot to play for, and it shouldn't be hard to get up for your biggest rival, but Saturday was a major letdown for a team that had circled Nov. 12 on the calendar since the Pac-12 schedule came out. On the other hand, there's a chance Stanford takes out its frustration from Saturday and puts another beatdown on the Bears.  




Go Mighty Card:  3. I don't think there's any chance the Cardinal comes out flat. There are enough players on this team who remember what happened the last time the Bears came to Stanford Stadium, and co-captain Michael Thomas was even talking about in the press conference following the Oregon loss. You mention Andrew Luck's Heisman stock. One interesting thing to watch this weekend will be whether or not the coaching staff gives in and changes the game plan to get him some bigger numbers. I don't think it's ever a good idea, especially in football, to change things in order to accommodate one player, but I think this is a special situation. The Heisman would be nice for Luck, but it would mean even more for Stanford football. I'll disappointed if he gets fewer than thirty passing attempts on Saturday.




4. The last three games have been fairly surprising: USC nearly pulled the stunner, Oregon State played a close game for 40 minutes, and Oregon ran away in the second half.  Has the wave of injuries on offense and defense played a role here?


Rule Of Tree:  4. Yeah, I think injuries have been a big factor the last few weeks. USC is a solid team and a bad matchup for Stanford with all of that speed on offense and it didn't help that the Cardinal was without safety Delano Howell. Stanford lost one of its three tight ends, Zach Ertz, on the opening kickoff against the Trojans, and Luck seemed to really miss him and Chris Owusu against the Ducks. A healthy Skov, Ertz, and Owusu likely wouldn't have changed the outcome of the Oregon game, but they certainly would've given the Cardinal a better chance. 


Go Mighty Card:  4. I talked about this a bit up above. The injuries have definitely played a role, but let's make one thing clear. I'm not convinced there would have been a different outcome last week even if Stanford had been completely healthy.





5. All year long we've seen and heard how good the Cardinal offense is - not only Luck, but the offensive line has been bulldozing opponents and the running game has made it impossible to play a constant nickle to defend against the passing game. But how good is the Cardinal d? You can't really get to #4 in the country without stopping a few opponents - who should we know about and what scheme and style does the Card play on the other side of the ball?


Rule Of Tree:  5. The knock on the Cardinal D before the Oregon game was that Stanford "hadn't played anybody." No matter that the unit held some pretty good offenses in Washington, Washington State, and USC to 21, 14, and 27 points (in regulation), respectively. I'm impressed the defense has played as well as it has without its biggest playmaker in Skov, even after the unit got torched for three long touchdown plays by Oregon. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio followed Harbaugh to the 49ers, but the 3-4 scheme remains. Outside linebacker Chase Thomas leads the team with 6.5 sacks, though he has only 1 in the last four games. Inside linebackers Jarek Lancaster and AJ Tarpley have been solid in place of Skov, while Michael Thomas and Howell form one of the better safety duos in the conference. The Ducks killed the Cardinal with big plays, but in previous weeks the defense displayed an excellent ability to bend without breaking. 



Go Might Card:  5. If you discount the Oregon game -- and I'd really, really like it if we could discount the Oregon game -- the Stanford defense has been excellent. They've ranked in the top ten nationally in scoring defense and rushing yardage allowed, but both of those numbers obviously ballooned after last week. The 3-4 scheme gets much of the credit, but I think the defensive improvement over the past few years is mainly due to the influx of talent in the last few recruiting classes. Never before would a Stanford team be able to withstand the loss of a player like Shayne Skov, but now there are young players like Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley ready to step in. The offense might take a step back next year after the departure of Andrew Luck, but the defense should only get better. The current leaders of this unit are linebacker Chase Thomas, the likely conference Defensive Player of the Year, and safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell.


6 Is Owusu still out - and if so, how big a loss will it be for Stanford's offense and special teams?
  
Rule Of Tree:  6. Owusu will not play. Stanford hasn't used him as a deep threat this year, but that doesn't change the fact that defense have to respect his speed. Stanford wasn't able to stretch the field against Oregon and that may have been partly due to Owusu's absence. He's only returned 8 kickoffs this season, so his loss won't be felt as much on special teams.  


Go Mighty Card:  6. Chris Owusu is definitely out. Stanford is notoriously tight-lipped about player injuries, but Shaw spoke about Owusu this week and made it clear he wouldn't play until everyone was certain that he was completely healthy again. I wrote a piece last week asking him to consider retiring. He's out right now because of the hit he took against Oregon State, but that was only the latest in a string of vicious blows to the head absorbed by Owusu. If I were his father, I'd suggest he never play again. What this means on the field is that Andrew Luck doesn't really have a deep threat of any kind. Griff Whalen has been a pleasant surprise as he's emerged as Luck's favorite target, and true freshman Ty Montgomery has shown flashes, but the passing game is terribly limited. Watch for lots of play action throws to tight ends. They're great tight ends, but they aren't wide receivers.



7.  How is the QB situation shaping up for next season?  How promising is Luck's successor?

Rule Of Tree:  7. There will likely be an open competition for the starting job next season, but sophomore Brett Nottingham is one of the favorites to succeed Luck. Shaw has left Luck on the field well into the fourth quarter for most games this season, so Stanford fans haven't had a chance to get a great look at Nottingham. He'll face competition from Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo among others. Whoever winds up replacing Luck will inherit a solid offensive line and an impressive group of running backs. I wouldn't be surprised if Stanford is even more run-oriented next year, much like it was in 2009, Luck's first season.




Go Mighty Card:  7. The clear backup quarterback is Brett Nottingham. It's hard to say how good he is, because when he's gotten into games all he usually does is hand the ball off to a backup running back. He was a highly thought of recruit, though, and from what I've heard he's been living up to expectations in practice. It will probably be another thirty years before we see the likes of Andrew Luck at Stanford again, but Nottingham should be good enough to keep the train rolling.



8.  Is there any chance that Luck decides to stay another year?



Rule Of Tree:  8. Wouldn't that be great? Maybe he wants another shot at Oregon. But no, he's gone. 


Go Mighty Card:  8. He's said many times that this is his last season of college football, so I believe him. No chance he comes back.



9.  Who would you most like to punch in the face?

Rule Of Tree:  9. Chip Kelly. It might be therapeutic. 


Go Mighty Card:  9. Okay, I'll bite. I'd like to punch the BCS people in the face, every single one of them. While it was great to watch Stanford in the Orange Bowl last year, I don't think you could find a single Cardinal fan who didn't believe that Stanford could've beaten Auburn if given the opportunity. It would've been nice to have a playoff system in place last year, but I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever see that. So if you can produce the King of the BCS, I'll gladly punch him in the face.
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