KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Previewing the Stanford Offense

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Could the outcome of this year's Big Game rest on the narrow shoulders and inaccurate arm of Stanfurd QB Josh Nunes? That'd be swell!


Bring it.

2012 Thus Far: 4-2 (2-1 in Pac-12)

Week 1: Won vs San Jose State (20-17)

Week 2: Won vs Duke (50-13)

Week 3: Won vs USC (21-14)

Week 4: Lost @ Washington (14-17)

Week 5: Won vs Arizona (54-48)

Week 6: Lost @ Notre Dame (13-20)

2012 OFFENSIVE STATS

Passing- 212.7 yards/game (80th)

Rushing- 153.5 yards/game (78th)

Scoring- 28.5 points/game (61st)

QB

STARTER: Josh Nunes, Senior - 6'4, 225 lbs

Andrew Luck left some big, goofy shoes...and Nunes has done a poor job filling them thus far. On the season, Nunes has thrown for 1270 yards, 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions...while completing just 53.3% of his passes. Zach Maynard has completed 61.8% of his passes. Just for some perspective...Nunes had a 61.8% completion percentage against Arizona, and it was his highest of the season. Just to take this a tad further...Maynard is 57th among FBS quarterbacks with a QB rating of 134.38. Nunes? 93rd with a QBR of 119.07. Andrew Luck was 5th nationally in 2011 with a QBR of 169.7. To say Nunes has been erratic would be an understatement. To say he's been a significant step down from Luck is also an understatement. And it's not like Nunes had been constantly under fire either; he's only been sacked 6 times this season. As you'd guess, he relies heavily on a good running game (good...not great), and two quality tight ends in the passing game. He's demonstrated an ability to make some plays with his legs when has to; running for 3 touchdowns against Arizona back in week 5. Probably worth noting that Nunes has been atrocious away from the Farm; completing just 48% of his passes and throwing 3 picks to no touchdowns. Based on that, it's should come as no surprise that Stanford is 0-2 in road games this season. Hmm...

Upside: Furd O-Line, TE's, Running Back

Downside: LOL

What to Expect:

Nunes isn't very good. In fact, he's the worst quarterback we've faced this season. That may not actually matter if we let the Cardinal run the ball up our asses all day long though...something they very well could do. Theoretically, Stanford will lead with the run game and use that to set up the play action pass to their two land monster tight ends and a couple JAG wide receivers. But if we manage to stop the run and put the outcome of the game on the arm of Josh Nunes, we're in business. The more he throws, the better for us. He's gotten little help from his wide receivers, and will be without Ty Montgomery once again this week. If we find a way to lock up the two big tight ends (no easy task), this offense starts to really suck. We need to stick 8 guys in the box and make Nunes throw. Remember: It's only a gamble if it doesn't work. Notre Dame was able to generate enough pressure to hurry Nunes and force him into some bad throws. While they only registered one sack, pressure and hurries do matter in this game, especially with a quarterback who already has issues with accuracy and limited big-play options around him. Washington sacked Nunes twice and utilized the same strategy the Irish did: stack the box and make Nunes throw to beat you. Notre Dame has a good defense, Washington does not. We should be able to employ this strategy and have some success.

RB

STARTER: Stepfan Taylor, Senior - 5'11, 215 lbs

FB: Ryan "Lace" Hewitt, Senior - 6'4, 248 lbs

Taylor is Furd's most productive offensive player, but I have some doubts as to whether he's actually their best offensive player. In my opinion, he's more a product of a run-heavy system and a good offensive line. On the season, Taylor has rushed for 657 yards and 5 TD's...almost 4.5 yards per carry. He's also Furd's second leading receiver in terms of receptions, hauling in 19 passes for 104 yards and 1 more touchdown. While Taylor himself is averaging a solid 110 rushing yards per game, it's the lack of additional quality options in the run game that seems to be holding this unit back from being as good as it was last year. In 2011, Taylor shared the backfield with Tyler Gaffney; a smaller change-of-pace guy who ran Wildcat plays and was more dangerous getting to the edge. Gaffney rushed for 449 yards and 7 touchdowns. Furd also employed Jeremy Stewart as their short yardage specialist, and he delivered 9 touchdowns for them. With Luck a running threat as well, Furd averaged 210.6 yards per game on the ground in 2011. In 2012, it's been pretty much all Taylor. He's carried the ball 147 times. Junior Anthony Wilkerson is the next man up...with 12 carries on the year. Maybe it's the lack of variety, an offensive line that isn't quite as dominant as it was a year ago, or a crappy quarterback who can't keep defenses honest, but Furd's run production is down almost 60 yards per game from 2011. That's a bad thing. Furd's run game has become one-dimensional, predictable, and unimaginative this season. Of course, there's very little imagination necessary when an offense's mission is to punch a defense in the collective liver repeatedly until that defense keels over and starts puking blood. They're pretty good at that, but hardly a juggernaut. Hell, Washington sold out to stop the run and succeeded. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention old Marecic-Lite himself, fullback Ryan Hewitt. He killed us last year on 3rd and short plays, either running or catching balls in the flat. Hewitt has only rushed 5 times for 13 yards, and 2 catches for 18 yards. Still, I suspect we'll see plenty of him. Hewitt is the kind of low-talent, high-effort guy that's easy to hate...unless he's on your team. Thankfully he's not a Bear, because I REALLY hate him. Back to the subject at hand, worth mentioning that Stanford's 2 losses both came in games where Taylor did not average more than 4 yards per carry. Against Washington, he was held to 75 yards on 21 rushes (3.57 YPC) and he rushed for 102 yards on 28 carries (3.64 YPC) last week against Notre Dame.

Upside: Size, Receiving, Furd O-Line

Downside: Spelling, Hewitt looks like a female bodybuilder

What to Expect:

Last year in the Big Game, we held Taylor to 45 yards on 17 carries (2.65 YPC). Of course, we were a lot better against the run in 2011 than we are now. But they were better in 2011 too. Still, this is a run game that we could have some success defending. It's pretty straight-forward, unlike the Pistol and spread option attacks we've seen previously. I'd equate it most closely to SC's run game...which we surrendered 296 yards to. SAD TROMBONE. But wait! When we faced SC, we were far less focused on the run... because Matt Barkley. Nunes doesn't command the same respect. Or any! If we have our full stable of DL available this weekend (Todd Barr seems to be the only question mark), I think we have the horses to slow down Taylor and put the game in Nunes' hands. Defensively, we won't be seeing any 2-4-5 variations this week. No sir, this offense is begging for 7-8 large guys in the box, crowding the line. With Nunes at the helm, I think we can get away with man coverage of the receivers and tight ends and focus on Taylor. He's a tough runner, and arm tackles won't do the job. We'll need a man's game from our front 7 (8) to keep him in check. Can we do it? Maybe.

WR

STARTERS:

Ty Montgomery, Sophomore - 6'2, 212 lbs : DOUBTFUL

Drew Terrell, Senior - 5'11, 180 lbs

Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Senior - 6'3, 208 lbs

The Furd has sorely missed 2011's leading receiver and Polo club captain Griff Whalen, as a reliable possession receiver for Nunes has yet to step up in this group. They're an inconsistent bunch who have underperformed and even hurt Furd at times this year with drops and miscues. Furthermore, Ty Montgomery is listed as "doubtful" for the Big Game as he still nurses a leg injury that held him out of last week's loss to Notre Dame. Montgomery is a big body who has 18 catches for 168 yards on the season, and is also a quality kick returner. In his likely absence, senior Jamal-Rashad Patterson will get his second start of the year. Patterson has 4 catches for 100 yards on the season in spot duty, but also had some horrific drops last week against the Irish...where he failed to record a catch. On the other side, senior Drew Terrell retains a starting spot and has 13 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year. He's good for about 3 catches per game, and averages almost 14 yards per. These guys aren't all that good, and aren't relied upon heavily in the passing game. Nunes needs someone to step up, but it remains to be seen just who that will be.

Upside: Largely ignored due to suckiness

Downside: Experienced depth

What to Expect:

Hard to say really. These guys have essentially played themselves out of being reliable options in the passing game. I certainly think Steve Williams and a healthy Marc Anthony can handle man duty outside with this bunch. The Furd receivers will test us deep, and then start running a lot of curl and stop routes where they can sit down in space for Nunes to find them. As long as we finish our tackles in the secondary and limit their yards after catch, we should be okay here. There's little evidence that this group is capable of beating us.


TE

STARTERS:

Zach Ertz, Senior - 6'6, 252 lbs

Levine Toilolo, Senior - 6'8, 265 lbs

By far the best and most dangerous unit on this offense. Even though Coby Fleener was a first round NFL Draft Pick, Harbaugh's recruiting of multiple giant athletes certainly has kept the Cardinal cupboard stocked. Ertz leads all Stanford receivers with 25 catches for 371 yards an 2 touchdowns. He's averaging almost 15 yards per catch. His size and speed make him a difficult matchup for linebacker and safety alike. He's good for anywhere between 4 and 6 catches per game, and had his best day in the loss to Washington when he caught 6 balls for 106 yards. Toilolo has 13 catches for 278 yards (an absurd 21.38 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. At 6'8, he's a real pain in the ass to defend as well. To take full advantage of mismatches, Stanford will split him out wide against a DB at times too and throw fade routes and jumpballs to really try to utilize his height and length. He's less consistent than Ertz, tallying 3 or less receptions in all but one game this year. Of course, that ONE game was against Arizona, and he caught 5 balls for 141 yards and a touchdown. Luckily, he drops a fair amount of balls. Opposing DB's should just sit underneath Toilolo, give him a shake like he's a rickety apple tree, and wait for the football to fall right into their hands. These two are Nunes' security blanket and primary options in the passing game, and will need to be accounted for and neutralized if at all possible.

Upside: Size, athleticism, speed, run-blocking

Downside: Consistency

What to Expect:

They'll get their targets and their looks, my hope is just that they aren't running down the seam wide open when it happens. Much of Stanford's TE utilization in the passing game is predicated on the success of the run pulling a defense in to set up the play action. If we're handling the run game, the likelihood that either Ertz or Toilolo are finding a lot of space in the secondary decreases significantly. I also like our current safety duo of Lowe and Sebastian to make them pay if they do catch the ball in traffic. That said, these two are Nunes' main outlets in the passing game. It's more likely that they hurt us than the receivers. In the ND game, drops and bad throws were the main culprits in keeping these two under wraps. Nunes himself just may be our biggest weapon in neutralizing Ertz and Toilolo.

OL

STARTERS:

LT- David Yankey, Sophomore - 6'5, 302 lbs

LG- Khalil Wilkes, Junior - 6'3, 291 lbs

C- Sam Schwartzstein, Senior - 6'3, 292 lbs

RG- Kevin Danser, Junior - 6'6, 298 lbs

RT- Cameron Fleming, Sophomore - 6'6, 314 lbs

Even though they lost incumbent left tackle Jonathan Martin and left guard David DeCastro to the NFL, this group has remained pretty solid for the most part. Their pass protection has remained very good, but they've slipped a bit in the run-blocking department. The Cardinal seems to be strongest at the tackle spots and cat center this year. Yankey started 13 games last year as a guard, and has played both left guard and slid out to left tackle this season. He's pretty good. Wilkes is a first-year starter at left guard, starting games when Yankey plays tackle. He struggled last week. Schwartzstein started all 13 games in 2011 at center for the Furd. He's a team captain this year and a very good player as well. At right guard, Kevin Danser played in 12 of 13 games in 2011. Again, first-year starter. Right tackle Cameron Fleming was a freshman All-American in 2011 after he started 11 games. There's a high likelihood that we also see two of Furd's stud true freshman tackles, either in regular formation or as an extra lineman in the Jumbo package. Keep your eyes peeled for Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy. As a unit, these guys have been good, but not as good as last year. In pass protection, they've done a fine job; surrendering just 6 sacks to opposing defenses. They haven't been nearly as punishing in the run game though. Maybe some of that can be attributed to not having a physically dominant, nasty dude like DeCastro in the middle of the line. In any case, it's a quality group that may be the difference in this game.

Upside: Pass protection, talent, girth

Downside: Execution in run-blocking

What to Expect:

We'll need a big effort from our boys up front to have a chance here. This OL is not the world-beaters that we saw last year, but they're gonna be physical and try to really impose their will in the trenches. The run game will be the key for Stanford to move the ball. After a few games where we've really not seemed to prioritize stopping the run, we're gonna need our big boys like DeAndre Coleman, Payne/Moala and Jalil to really swallow up Stanford's OL so that our linebackers can remain free and clear to take on Taylor. If Stanford is able to consistently get second-level blocks on our linebackers, we're done. And if Stanford is getting good blocks on our DL, our linebackers need to be quick to fill gaps and close those holes fast. That's where Holt and Kendricks were so good last year. I think Forbes and Jefferson can do it, but they need to do it consistently. Making the right reads and sticking to run fits will be critical against this offense. We win up front, we got this. We haven't been disciplined up front this season though, so things could go south quickly if Furd gets going downhill on us.

IN SUMMARY

Did you know: Stanford is ranked 83rd in Total Offense going into this game? Cal is ranked 83rd in Total Defense. WHOA! It's time to see what happens when a resistable force lightly brushes against a movable object.

The good news is: This is most definitely NOT the Stanford offense of the Luck years. You could even say...their "Luck" has run out. HARF HARF! Nunes is struggling with accuracy, and the fact that he has an utterly mediocre receiving corps. The offensive line is good, but unable to replicate the kind of dominance they had last year. Stanford has yet to identify a true change of pace back to spell Taylor and keep him fresh. He's good, but their riding him into the ground. Much of the balance that made this offense so dangerous last year is gone.

The bad news is: This is still a talented group. They've gone toe to toe with some good defenses and done enough to win. The OL may be less than what it was in 2011, but it will still be better than any we've faced this season. And Stanford still has two huge, dynamic tight ends that will create a lot of problems in coverage. Cal needs to stop the run...something we haven't been good at. Fortunately, selling out to do so may not expose us to the kind of abuse that a guy like Luck could deliver. This is a one-dimensional offense that is pretty good at the one thing they do. Pretty good, not great.

As Nick covered yesterday, the Stanfurd defense is probably the best unit between both teams. Even if we have some success stopping this offense, we need the Cal offense to somehow sustain drives and score some points. If they can't, or even worse: if they start coughing up the ball...our defense will wear down against Stanford's simple, brutal rush attack until we finally break. But we've got a defense that should be up to the task if the offense helps them out. Either way, this should be a hard-fought game. It still blows my mind that Stanford has got themselves a blue-collar, hard-nosed football team. Just weird. If ever there was a school that didn't deserve it. So...Fuck Stanfurd.

GO BEARS!

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