Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Stanford Cardinal Offense

BEAR HUG! - George Frey

It's not a very good offense, but that shouldn't stop them from putting up 50+ points.

"Now, I don't know about y'all, but I sure as hell didn't come down from the goddamn Strawberry Canyon, cross fifty miles of bay, fight my way through half of East Palo Alto, and jump out of a fuckin' air-o-plane to teach the Cardinal lessons in humanity. Cardinal ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Cal-hatin', mass murderin' maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed....And our battle plan will be that of a Bear Raid resistance. We will be cruel to the Cardinal, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And the Cardinal won't be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our axe. And the Cardinal will be sickened by us, and the Cardinal will talk about us, and the Cardinal will fear us. And when the Cardinal closes their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with."

- Lt. Aldo Raine

This week we face the big, bad Stanford Cardinal. Apparently we should be quivering and ready to wave the white flag. This is the same team that was a Florida State upset away from a trip to the BCS National Championship Game! They beat Oregon, so they have to be unstoppable! All the hype about the furd ignores one glaring, fundamental flaw with the Cardinal: their offense isn't very good .There is a reason this team has lost twice already and had to hold off 4th quarter charges from Washington, Oregon State and Oregon. The reason is offense. We have all lamented the Bears' inability to score 30 or more points in conference play. Guess who hasn't done that since October 5th? Utah. Guess who else? The Lobsterbacks. Last week's loss to USC was another reminder that the Cardinal should not rely on quarterback Kevin Hogan to lead the offense. His turnovers crushed the dreams of the fan in Palo Alto. Kevin Hogan is one of only two starting QBs in the Pac-12 who have failed to break the 300-yard barrier this season (the other is USC's Cody Kessler, who has come within 5 yards on two separate occasions). And despite all the hype about their running backs and offensive line, they're only 4th in the conference in rushing and 7th in the conference in scoring rushing TDs. National title contender my tuchus.

Scheme

The Stanford offense has not changed much over the years. It's a run-heavy pro-style offense that uses brawn over blazing speed. This particular iteration of the Stanford offense is particularly reliant on the run. The Lobsterbacks haven't run this much since they trotted out a young, redshirt freshman quarterback who threw the game-losing interception in a classic Big Game. They run on a whopping 65% of plays. This unusually run-heavy approach has one pleasant side effect: the tight ends are much less involved with the passing game. Our defense may get embarrassed again, but at least we won't be watching tight ends running wild on us.

While the offense is relatively simple, David Shaw tries to make it look complex. Sports Illustrated's Peter King writes about the complex simplicity of the Stanford offense.

"I’m going to quote my old boss, Jon Gruden,’’ Shaw said, standing in a tunnel outside the Stanford locker room after the 34-20 win over Army. Shaw was a Raiders quality control coach under Gruden for three years, and Rich Gannon’s quarterback coach in his fourth year with Gruden, 2001. "He would say it every single day: ‘What you want to do on offense is present the illusion of sophistication but all in all remain very simple and basic.’ So very often we’ll throw a whole bunch of different stuff at them, but we’re going to run a basic day-one installation play. Something we’ve run thousands of times. Something very, very simple. But for the defense, it looks very complicated. So we want to present these illusions, then run a regular play that we just want to execute right.’’

Against Army, Stanford ran plays from a TON of formations. King notes some of these formations:

• A pro style shotgun, with one back, one tight end and three wideouts.

• A pro style I, with two backs, two wideouts and a tight end.

• An empty-backfield shotgun, with four wides and a tight end.

• A pistol (the shorter version of the shotgun) with sidecar backs on either side of quarterback Kevin Hogan and three wides.

• A pistol, with one back, two wides, and a tight end and slot tight end next to each other.

• A heavy formation, with three tight ends and two backs.

• The Weird Wildcat (my words, not Shaw’s): a back taking the snap, three tight ends, and a guard, 316-pound Joshua Garnett, as another (slot) tight end to demolish anything in his path.

• A classic old-time power I, with three backs and two tight ends. (Get the point? David Shaw loves the tight end.)

• And something I don’t know what to call: Before the snap, the tackle, tight end and slot tight end shifted to the right (sort of what Chip Kelly did at Washington in Week 1) to create a huge gap outside the guard.

Once again, it sounds like the Bears will have to diagnose plays very quickly after the ball is snapped.

Now let's take a look at a sample of plays the Lobsterbacks run. For a look at even more plays, check out LiffeyBear's post from yesterday.

Running

The bread and butter of the furd offense is running, particularly power running (pulling guards, fullbacks, tight ends everywhere).

Below the Lobsterbacks line up in their Lard Lad formation. I don't know what they actually call it--probably something like "heavy" or "power." It's the kind of formation that gets ESPN announcers in a frenzy because they're shocked--shocked!--that anyone still uses power running concepts. They talk about how unique this is and how novel it is, despite the fact that power running is still very popular in college football (even among--gasp!--spread teams!). Anyway, they line up in the Lard Lad formation with 23 personnel (2 RBs, 3 TEs). The open side of the field (bottom) has one TE while the boundary side has two TEs.

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Because there are so many blockers, I had to color-code the blocking assignments in the following image. The gold paths illustrate the paths of the RB and his lead blockers. Stanford pulls the left guard and uses him and the FB to clear a path for Tyler Gaffney.

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It wouldn't be a successful Stanford run play without some blatant holding. The center blows his assignment and basically tackles the lineman from behind. Naturally the refs didn't throw a flag.

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The San Jose State safety quickly gets to the line of scrimmage where he's prepared to drop Gaffney for a two-yard gain. A stutter step from Gaffney is all he needs to shake the defender.

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And we're off to the races. Gaffney has a clear path to the end zone.

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SJSU was in position to blow up the play, but they missed the opportunity. I expect we'll see a similar scenario many times on Saturday.

Next play.

Once again we see the Lard Lad formation: 23 personnel.

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There are too many bodies in too close of a space, so I'll show the blocking assignments for the field side TE, fullback, and pulling guard. Here they seal the edge to give Gaffney a running lane off tackle.

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Instead Gaffney likes what he sees straight ahead.

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The Lobsterbacks plow enough of a running lane for Gaffney to find the end zone.

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As they do on defense, the Lobsterbacks frequently use size and strength to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Stopping Stanford in these short-yardage situations is extremely difficult.

The run game isn't particularly complicated. They run between the tackles, they sometimes run off-tackle, and they periodically run the wildcat. It's a standard wildcat: direct snap to the RB, who is lined up in shotgun. He either charges straight ahead or hands it off to a WR (usually Ty Montgomery on a sweep).

Passing

Now let's take a look at the passing game.

Stanford lines up with 2 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 RB. The following play is an excellent example of how Stanford attacks the seam between the LBs and DBs.

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From bottom to top, the field side WR runs a crossing route, the TE runs a go route, and the boundary side WR runs a deep (~18 yard) hitch route.

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As Ty Montgomery runs his crossing route, the SJSU corner releases the TE and gets in position to defend a potential pass to Montgomery. This creates a big seam in the defense. Kevin Hogan sees this seam and attacks it.

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He delivers a pass to WR Devon Cajuste, whose hitch route had him stop just below the safety.

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A more accurate pass could have given Cajuste an opportunity to plow through the safety and turn this into a TD. Instead they must "settle" for a 15-yard gain.

As we saw in the last play, Stanford likes use decoy routes to get defenders out of position. Here they line up with 22 personnel and move WR Devon Cajuste from the boundary side to the field side prior to the snap.

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The tight ends run corner routes while Cajuste runs a go route. The intersection between Cajuste's route with the TE's route will create havoc for the SJSU defensive backs. To add further confusion, Stanford fakes the handoff to the RB.

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The circled middle linebacker picks up the TE while the safety moves towards the hashmark to help cover Cajuste.

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The LB releases the TE, who gets picked up by the CB...the same CB who was being assisted by the safety. For a brief moment, no one is responsible for Cajuste. By the time the safety tries to get back in position to defend Cajuste, it's too late. He's wide open.

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They catch Cajuste in time to stop him just short of the end zone, but the mountain of a receiver muscles into the end zone for a touchdown.

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If you're thinking Cajuste looks awfully big, it's because he is. He's 6'4" and almost 230 pounds. I'm sure they will routinely line him up against our smallest corner and exploit that matchup all day. That is, unless Buh finally decides to start assigning defenders to specific players, regardless of formation. He didn't do it with Paul Richardson last week--why would he start on Saturday?

I had to watch the next play about ten times to see everything that's going on here. This is a really interesting and well executed play that incorporates both running and passing elements.

Stanford lines up with 3 WRs and a TE.

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There's too much going on here so I have color-coded the players' assignments. The gold assignments show the assignments for a run. Stanford pulls the right guard and uses him as a lead blocker for an off-tackle run. Meanwhile the TE, LT, and LG seal the edge. The rest of the line heads downfield to block for a jailbreak screen to Ty Montgomery.

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The center is too slow to get out to weakside outside linebacker, who should stop Montgomery for a 1 or 2 yard gain.

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He whiffs on the tackle and we're off to the races. Devon Cajuste is in position to block the SJSU corner.

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Cajuste misses the block but the corner whiffs the tackle anyway.

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The safety eventually brought down Montgomery after a 1-2 yard gain turns into a 20-yard gain. Sound familiar? It shouldn't. We would have let that turn into a 60-yard touchdown (too soon?).

Cal absolutely needs to make its tackles on Saturday. We cannot let the hulking Cajuste or speedy Montgomery to get out into space. The secondary must also make sure to establish and maintain its assignments. We cannot afford to allow WRs running free downfield. Stanford does not like to pass the ball--let's not invite them to pass with some shoddy defense.

Now let's meet the unfortunate souls who have pledged their allegiance to the dark side.

Personnel

* Denotes returning starter

Quarterback

*Kevin Hogan: 6' 4", 228 lbs., Jr.

Kevin Hogan won the starting role midway through last season and has since been nothing more than a game manager. Only once in his career has he thrown more than 30 passes and it's not unusual for him to have fewer than 20 pass attempts. He's reasonably accurate and doesn't turn over the ball much, but he has not demonstrated that he can lead the offense if the running game gets shut down (fortunately for him, the run game never gets shut down).

I tried to learn more about Hogan by checking out his profile page on the Stanford website, but I was blinded for several hours and have not attempted to go back. Look at this page. There are thousands of bullet points, all of which causes the eyes to dart all over the place. There's no flow or natural progression. It's just a mess. What an embarrassment.

Cons

  • Not good enough to lead the offense on his own
  • Reasonably accurate, but coaches prefer he doesn't throw
  • Terrible, awful, no-good, very bad profile page

Running backs

Tyler Gaffney: 6' 1", 226 lbs., Sr.

Anthony Wilkerson: 6' 1", 215 lbs., Sr.

*(FB) Ryan Hewitt: 6' 4", 246 lbs., Sr.

Tyler Gaffney touches the ball on about one-third of Stanford's plays. He's a big, physical, tackle-breaking RB who is effective in the passing game. He sat out the 2012 season while spending time with the Pittsburgh Pirates but decided to rejoin the Lobsterbacks. Backup RB Anthony Wilkerson is a speedster to complement Gaffney. He is more likely to burn the defense on off-tackle runs. FB Ryan Hewitt is a relentless blocker and an excellent safety valve when Hogan's receivers are covered.

Pros

  • Tyler Gaffney's brother Drew saw the light and enrolled at Cal to join the rugby team

Cons

  • Gaffney willingly returned to Palo Alto, which makes me seriously question his decision-making
  • Gaffney's number gets called more than Hogan's, which makes Hogan very sad
  • I'm still frustrated with the furd profile pages. How can the AQ team closest to Silicon Valley have such TERRIBLE web pages?!

Wide receivers

Devon Cajuste: 6' 4", 228 lbs., Jr.

Ty Montgomery: 6' 2", 215 lbs., Jr.

I was taught that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Next section.

Tight ends

Charlie Hopkins: 6' 6", 262 lbs., Jr.

Davis Dudchock: 6' 4", 233 lbs., Sr.

Once a formidable unit and the focal point of the Lobsterback offense, the tight ends are rather one-dimensional this year. Hopkins had no game experience until this season and Dudchock had never caught a pass until this season. Hopkins is a good blocker but he isn't utilized in the passing game. Dudchock, however, is best in the passing game thanks to his quickness...but he is still never used as a receiver.

Cons

  • Not Coby Fleener
  • Not Zach Ertz
  • Not Levine Trollololol

Offensive line

Andrus Peat: 6' 7", 312 lbs., So.

*David Yankey: 6' 5", 313 lbs., Sr.

*Khalil Wilkes: 6' 3", 286 lbs., Sr.

*Kevin Danser: 6' 6", 296 lbs., Sr.

*Cameron Fleming: 6' 6", 318 lbs., Sr.

This is another typical furd offensive line. Danser and Fleming are All-Pac-12 players and Yankey is a consensus All-American and the winner of the Morris Trophy (given to the Pac-12's best blocker). They're great at blocking and offer superior protection for their QB. They'll all become NFL draft picks and go on to successful careers. Blah blah blah.

Cons

  • Have to attend school at the world's largest Taco Bell (although that has certainly helped them bulk up)
  • Can't all drive together in most cars without exceeding the GVWR
  • Still no stanfurdium

Statistics

Individual Stats

Passing

  • Kevin Hogan: 1,728 yards (60.0%, 8.0 ypa), 13 TDs, 7 interceptions, 140.96 efficiency rating
Not bad, but his low production (172.8 yards per game) clearly demonstrates that he is not the focus of the offense. In fact, he doesn't even really play a role in close games. He averages just under 134 yards per game in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Rushing

  • Tyler Gaffney: 1,209 yards (5.12 ypc), 15 TDs
  • Kevin Hogan: 251 yards (4.48 ypc), 2 TDs
  • Anthony Wilkerson: 241 yards (3.89 ypc), 1 TD
  • Ty Montgomery: 106 yards (10.5 ypc), 0 TDs

The rushing offense is carried by Gaffney, who is on a roll with 158 yards per game and 2 TDs per game over the past four games. Kevin Hogan is the team's second-leading rusher for the second consecutive year.

Receiving

  • Ty Montgomery: 662 yards (14.71 ypc), 5 TDs
  • Devon Cajuste: 396 yards (18.00 ypc), 4 TDs
  • Michael Rector: 249 yards (35.57 ypc), 2 TDs
That Michael Rector yards per catch stat is horrifying. He only has 7 receptions, but he has certainly made them count. For once, the furd TEs aren't a major factor of the offense. They have only combined for 6 receptions this season.

Team Stats

Scoring

  • 30.4 points per game (58th)
  • 383.6 yards per game (83rd)

As is the case for the past several years, the Lobsterback offense is just competent enough to let the defense win games for the Cardinal.

Passing

  • 178.1 yards per game (107th)
  • 8.0 yards per attempt (31st)
  • 139.86 quarterback efficiency (44th)

They only average 22.2 pass attempts per game (117th in the nation), but they're pretty efficient when they opt to pass.

Rushing

  • 205.50 rushing yards per game (29th)
  • 4.92 yards per carry (31st)

They run often and run well.

Conversions

  • 50.0% third down conversions (16th)
  • 50.0% fourth down conversions (57th)
  • 54.05% red zone TD conversions (100th)
The Cardinal have a very impressive third-down conversion rate. However, as is often the case with a one-dimensional offense, they struggle to turn red zone possessions into touchdowns.

Ball Management

  • 14 turnovers (39th)
  • 31:34.30 average time of possession (34th)
  • 29.60 seconds per play (pace = glacial)

The Lobsterbacks take decent care of the ball and dominate time of possession, as you expect from a successful, rin-first offense. The pace of the offense is extraordinarily slow, however.

Negative Yardage

  • 0.90 sacks allowed per game (9th)
  • 3.20 tackles for loss allowed per game (1st)
  • 42.8 penalty yards per game (40th)
The sacks number isn't as impressive as it sounds thanks to the infrequency with which they pass the ball. The TFL stat is mighty impressive and speaks to the quality of their offensive line. The penalty yardage isn't bad for a Pac-12 team.

Conclusions

As tepid as the Cardinal offense is, it's tough to have much confidence in our ability to stop it. We've faced the conference's two worst offenses these past two weeks, yet we've surrendered 103 points to them. The Lobsterbacks' run heavy offense looks complicated, but it's very simple. They run a handful of running plays from seemingly countless formations. If the Cal defenders can quickly diagnose the plays and wrap up the ball carrier (LOL), they should be able to keep the Cardinal offense in check. The passing game is efficient, but it alone cannot win games for the Cardinal. Stanford has not exceeded 30 points since October 5th; a reasonably competent defense should be able to keep the Lobsterbacks in check. Unfortunately we don't have have a competent defense, which means the furd's streak will come to an end unless Buh has some tricks up his sleeve.

Final Thoughts

I was hoping to write thirteen of these posts this season but we fell embarrassingly short of qualifying for a bowl, so this is the last preview of the year. I'd like to thank each and every one of you for reading the weekly offensive preview. They regularly exceeded 4000 words, so I know it probably took a little while to get through them. Thanks for trudging through them, even when it was obvious our defense had no shot at stopping the opposing offense. I hope you learned a thing or two about our opponents this season--I certainly did. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to spend each week wringing my hands about someone else's offense, instead of reflecting on the shortcomings of our own. It's too bad that by the end of the season our defense was inept enough that even the league's worst offenses were serious challenges. Hopefully our defense takes a great leap forward next season. That ought to make these previews induce slightly less doom in 2014. Just slightly. Until then, Go Bears!

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