Hello, my friends, and a happy Big Game Week to you. I've been putting off confronting the reality of this week by nuzzling in the warmth and comfort of a secured bowl berth after our win over those pesky Beavers. Kind of
sad funny how good six wins feels. Its amazing what lowering your standards and expectations can do.
Speaking of lowering expectations, that's exactly what the Stanford Cardinal got to do this week, after getting thoroughly worked in their own house by the Oregon Ducks. And when I refer to "the Stanford Cardinal", I am of course talking about the actual team itself...since everyone knows Stanford football has no fans. Back on topic, consider just how far the Furd has fallen in the last few days: no BCS Championship game, merely clinging to a top 10 BCS standing, probably no Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, may have to settle for the Fiesta Bowl or another BCS at large berth...BOO. FUCKING. HOO. Tragic, really. God, I miss Buddy Teevens so much.
Obviously this week is special for all of us. It's a rivalry, and an old one..dating back to 1892. This will be the 114th meeting between Cal and Stanford. The Tree is leading the all-time series 56-46 with 11 ties sprinkled in. No doubt a result of some huge mixup, Vegas lists our Golden Bears as 19.5 point underdogs going into this game. How can this be?!
As I mentioned, Stanford comes into the Big Game having tasted the bitterness of defeat for the first time this year. That's good. They also come in with the #5 scoring offense in the country and #7 in total offense. That's bad. They've got some kid at QB who people seem to think will be pretty good. He looks like he belongs in a GEICO commercial if you ask me. They've also got a heavy running game and a big, nasty offensive line. Their offense? Yeah, it's good.
Do we have a shot at shutting them down? Can you smell the doom? In my opinion...no, and yes!
2011 record: 9-1
Week 1: WIN vs San Jose State (57-3)
Week 2: WIN @ Duke (44-14)
Week 3: WIN @ Arizona (37-10)
Week 4: WIN vs UCLA (45-19)
Week 5: WIN vs Colorado (48-7)
Week 6: WIN @ Washington State (44-14)
Week 7: WIN vs Washington (65-21)
Week 8: WIN @ USC (56-48)
Week 9: WIN @ Oregon State (38-13)
Week 10: LOSS vs Oregon (30-53)
Last Season: 12-1 (WIN @ Cal 48-14)
2011 Offensive Stats:
Passing: 280.1 yards/game (22nd)
Rushing: 215.1 yards/game (19th)
Scoring: 46.4 points/game (5th)
STARTER- Andrew Luck, Senior - 6'4, 235 lbs
Andrew Luck is a ten foot tall beastman who showers in vodka and feeds his baby shrimp scampi. He's thrown for 2695 yards, and 29 TDs against 7 INTs. I once saw him scissor kick Angela Landsbury. He's completing 70.6% of his passes. His poop is used as currency in Argentina. He's also rushed for 134 yards and 2 TDs on the season. He drives an ice cream truck covered in human skulls. A stellar O-Line means he doesn't get hit much. Prior to the Oregon game (3 sacks taken), he'd only been sacked 4 times all season. Andrew Luck once hosted the Grammys and gave every award to Corey Hart. Luck's family crest is a picture of a barracuda eating Neil Armstrong.
Upside: Did I ever tell you about the time Andrew Luck was in a production of "The King & I"? On opening night, Luck chloroforms the entire cast and slowly eats them in front of the audience for two hours. It got pretty good reviews.
Downside: Andrew Luck named the group "Sha-Na-Na". They did NOT want to be called that.
What to expect:
Despite being led by a QB who once punched a hole in a cow just to see who was coming up the road, Stanford is at their best when they are effectively running the football. And its something they do well. Most of Luck's passes are off of play action, which is obviously set up by the run. Makes sense when you have a good running game and a strong offensive line: force a defense to stack the box and then utilize the plethora of big, fast tight ends in the seams to create easy mismatches and completions. But as we saw against Oregon, the QB who once orchestrated the merger between UNICEF and Smith & Wesson is sorely missing a few of his favored targets in the passing game. With the absence of WR Chris Owusu (Stanford's primary deep threat) and likely absence of TE Zach Ertz, Luck doesn't have a ton of quality options to throw to all of a sudden. WR Griff Whalen has become a real workhorse/possession guy (and probably the president of the Stanford Yacht Club, based solely on his incredibly WASPy name) while TE's Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo control the middle of the field. But outside of those three guys, no one else has really emerged to help keep a defense honest. As a result, Oregon sold out to stop the run, and made Luck beat him with his arm. Without anyone to really stretch the field, the plan worked perfectly. Stanford still scored 30 points (their lowest output of the season)...it just wasn't enough against the Ducks. That would likely be more than enough against us. We can limit big plays against the Furd, but we won't stop them cold. And we'll have to be able to withstand the grind of their big offensive line and stumpy running backs for four quarters. I just don't see that happening. On another note...did I ever tell you about the time Andrew Luck took me out to go get a drink with him? We go off looking for a bar and we can't find one. Finally Luck takes me to a vacant lot and says, 'Here we are.' We sat there for a year and a half and sure enough someone constructs a bar around us. The day they opened we ordered a shot, drank it, and then burned the place to the ground. Luck yelled over the roar of the flames, 'Always leave things the way you found em!'
STARTER- Stepfan Taylor, Junior - 5'11, 208 lbs
For all the hype Luck gets (and he should, he once went public with his own buttocks and made $7 million), the Stanford offense is very much run-first. And they have the right personnel to really wear down a defense. Junior Stepfan Taylor gets the bulk of the carries (170 attempts for 990 yards, 8 TDs), but he's complimented by three other backs that are each 215+ pounds of angry nerd. Taylor is a squat, powerful runner. Junior Tyler Gaffney (58 carries for 375 yards, 6 TDs) is frequently used in Wildcat formations. He's got a bit of wiggle. Senior Jeremy Stewart (43 carries for 171 yards, 8TDs) is utilized a lot on the goalline to punch in from short yardage. Sophomore Anthony Wilkerson (50 carries for 253 yards, 3 TDs) didn't see any carries against Oregon, but he's the biggest of the bunch at 6'1, 220 lbs. These guys are at their best when they can be liberally swapped in and out on long drives. Between these guys and the Stanford OL, this running game is made to crush the will of a defense. Just ask Washington. This group combined for 446 yards and 5 TDs on 44 attempts. That's over 10 yards a carry. They're also a big reason Stanford has been UNBELIEVABLY successful in the red zone this season. In 57 trips inside the opponent's 20 yard line, the Tree has scored 57 times...45 of which were touchdowns. That is ridiculous...and massively disturbing.
Upside: Size, depth, power
Downside: Not Oregon's running game
What to expect:
I actually like how we match up with the Stanford running game. Oregon worked us with the outside run, their speed, and copious uncalled holding penalties. Stanford is all about the just hammering the inside run via double tight end and jumbo package formations. They will frequently bring in an extra OL too. Not a ton of misdirection here, just some good ol' fashioned power running. I like that. We're big and deep on the defensive line. The revelation we saw last week against the Beavers where we lined up Trevor Guyton at OLB, thus allowing us to bring in an additional DL on the line (like Coleman or Jalil), is something we should see this Saturday. Even though its still considered a 3-4, we'll have the necessary personnel in there to combat the run. The key will be keeping our guys fresh, including Holt and Kendricks on the inside. They are going to get a LOT of work against the Tree. And Stanford's backs will require good, solid tackling. I think we can deliver, but it will be a HUGE challenge to maintain control of the trenches against a very good offense for 4 quarters. If we can, color me impressed. Assuming he's gotten better at maintaining a low pad level, this is a game where I could see Tiny Moala having an impact. A wide body that can clog the middle of the line would be a tremendous asset against this kind of running game.
Chris Owusu, Senior - 6'2, 200 lbs (OUT, brain)
Griff Whalen, Senior - 6-1, 185 lbs
Ty Montgomery, Freshman - 6'2, 205 lbs
Drew Terrell, Junior - 5'11, 180 lbs
Sounds like Owusu will be held out on Saturday again. It's the right call, that guy has taken some brutal shots to the head going back to last season. That loss definitely will hurt Stanford, as he was a nice deep target for Luck (35 catches for 376 yards, 2 TDs). Whalen has stepped up to be a real reception machine though. He's got 45 catches for 641 yards with 4 TDs on the season, but 32 of those catches have come in the last five games...coinciding with the first concussion-tastic hit Owusu took in the Wazzu game. Whalen is a guy who's adept at getting open, and he has great chemistry with Luck. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Insert cliché compliments about white wide receiver here. He was the sole bright spot from this unit against Oregon (9 catches for 107 yards, 2 TDs). True freshman Ty Montgomery (8 catches for 108 yards) is a big, athletic guy who also returns kicks for the Tree. He's been pretty inconsistent though, and had a few drops against Oregon that were just bad. He and junior Drew Terrell (8 catches for 96 yards, 1 TD) have attempted to fill Owusu's shoes the last several weeks. They have not succeeded, in my opinion. Not much else to see here. Aside from Whalen, Luck's favored targets are his tight ends.
Upside: Andrew Luck breastfeeds John Madden.
Downside: Depth, experience.
What to expect:
Without Owusu, we should key on Whalen. He'll be a tough matchup for our corners, but he's not in the same league athletically as Owusu is. He gets open, but he's not a guy that will break a lot of long touchdowns. I'd consider him similar to James Rodgers that way. We had trouble with Rodgers last week, so that's bad. Montgomery and Terrell are little more than warm bodies as of now. That could change as both guys have plenty of talent, but Luck doesn't seem to look their way much and when he does, he's often rewarded with a drop. Just sayin. I'd expect us to play a whole lot of man coverage while our front seven focuses on stopping the run. Williams, Anthony and Co will need to be very aware of play action passes. Biting on the run and giving the Stanford receivers space is something that's easy to do, but they will exploit that early and often. Like I said, outside of Whalen, the Stanford tight ends are the big factors in the passing game and much more difficult to match up with. Still, Whalen will have to be accounted for or Luck will make us pay. That's what happens when you have a good quarterback. Weird, I know.
STARTER - Coby Fleener, Senior - 6'6, 244 lbs
Levine Toilolo, Junior - 6'8, 262 lbs
Ryan Hewitt, Junior - 6'4, 238 lbs
It would appear that Jim Harbaugh's tireless and redundant recruiting of the tight end position in previous years has paid off. Stanford finds itself flush with jumbo sized athletes, and has done a fine job utilizing these rangy playmakers...often times getting three or more on the field at a time. Senior Coby Fleener is a good one, with great size and speed. He's averaging a rather absurd 20 yards per catch (24 catches for 487 yards, 8 TDs). He's the seam guy *shudders*. Junior Levine Toilolo is a physical freak at 6'8. He caught a season high six balls vs Oregon, but dropped a few more and seemed to have a ton of trouble keeping his feet (just a 6.67 yard per reception average). On the season, he's at 19 catches for 256 yards and 4 TDs. He's a ridiculous matchup in the red zone. I'm including junior Ryan Hewitt here as well, although he really plays more of an H-Back role...shuffling between fullback and tight end. While not as big as either Fleener or Toilolo, he does a lot of receiving work in the flats (23 catches for 202 yards, 4 TDs) and will even the carry the ball on occasion (8 rushes for 28 yards). He's even got the Owen Marecic-style curly blonde hair thing going on *pukes*. Expect to see all three of these guys on the field at the same time...often. This group would be even more potent if they had the services of junior Zach Ertz. He hurt his knee on the opening kickoff against USC and has missed the last three games. Despite that, he's still fourth on the team in receiving yards (22 catches for 308 yards, 3 TDs). Its looking doubtful that we'll see him this Saturday, which is fine by me as I'd say he and Fleener are two of the better tight ends in the country. This is a very good group, and a bunch of matchup nightmares for a defense.
Upside: Size, speed, run-blocking, versatility
Downside: Curly blond hair is SO 2010.
What to expect:
Trouble. These guys aren't just big...they're also fast and athletic. They can outrun most linebackers and outmuscle most defensive backs. And Luck will look their way very often; Stanford's play-action pass is almost tailored to feature the tight ends. Fleener is the one who concerns me the most. He can really make things happen and has a knack for getting behind safeties. So how do you combat them? Well, you can't really. But you can put your secondary and linebackers in a better position to succeed by taking away the run game and thus negating the play action pass. That's way easier said than done, but did you notice how much worse Stanford looked against Oregon when they were in the uncomfortable position of playing from behind? They HAD to throw the ball, so the defense wasn't reacting to the play action. All of a sudden, those tight ends weren't getting the kind of separation they had earlier in the game. Obviously, this would only work for us if we were leading Stanford comfortably at some point on Saturday...which I don't anticipate happening. I think the best we can ask for is that we keep the Stanford tight end "tree-o" in front of us and limit any YAC or complete breakdowns in coverage that leave the seams open. Otherwise, we're gonna get Cobied all over our Fleeners.
LT: Jonathan Martin, Senior - 6'6, 303 lbs
LG: David Yankey, Sophomore - 6'5, 300 lbs
C: Sam Schwartzstein, Senior - 6'3, 290 lbs
RG: David DeCastro, Senior - 6'5, 312 lbs
RT: Cameron Fleming, Sophomore - 6'6, 307 lbs
Another quality unit, and the main reason that Stanford boasts the #7 offense nationally. They've been pretty dominant all year, save kinda getting pantsed by Oregon last week. Which I'm sure they won't be pissed off about at all or anything. They've been equally adept at both run and pass blocking, allowing the running game to generate 215 yards a game and surrendering just seven sacks on the year. That's pretty good. This unit is led by two senior studs, left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David Decastro. They've tallied 70 starts between them. That's ridiculous. Martin is one of the top offensive tackles in the country, and Decastro is a mauler on the interior. Both will be highly coveted in the coming NFL Draft, and let me be the first to say...good fucking riddance. There's not much experience surrounding these two though. Left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming total just 29 starts between them. That's not to say there's no talent there though. Quite the contrary. They've filled in admirably and played a big part in the line's success as a unit. This is the best offensive line that our defense will see this year.
Upside: Run-blocking, pass-blocking, blocking and...blocking
What to expect:
A challenge. These guys are big, strong, and physical. They are built to grind a defense into submission. They surrender very few sacks, and can dominate in the run game if given the opportunity. Stanford will also throw reserve OL Tyler Mabry in frequently to provide some extra "oomf" in the run game. They keep the fight in a phone booth, and win most of the time. So what did Oregon do to get them out of their rhythm? Well, outside of taking a lead and staying on the gas (which we cannot count on our own offense to do), Oregon's defense was able to confuse the Stanford o-line (and Luck) by using multiple blitz schemes and different fronts. Also, the Ducks really just played more physically than Stanford. They didn't get intimidated. That's a big deal too. Oregon stayed tough on defense because they were picked up by the offensive play. They fed off the success that their offense was having. Can our offense provide a similar spark to the defense? I don't know. If they can, we'll be able to go punch for punch with the Furd OL for four quarters. If the offense doesn't move the ball, a replay of 2010 is likely. The defense will hang tough for a quarter...maybe a half. But they'll wear down. We don't win if only one side of the ball plays well this week. And more than likely, we'll get killed.
It's no fun to acknowledge this, but...Stanford's good. Really good. Better than us. They've got a quarterback that's become the media's darling...despite having a face only a mother could love. They've got a strong running game, powered by a stable of fatbacks and a big, talented offensive line. They make up for a mediocre and dinged up WR corps by utilizing a bunch of tight ends that can run and catch just as well (if not better) than the wide receivers, but can also block. They keep their offensive gameplan simple. Run the ball until the defense overcommits, then run a play action and find the guy who's the most open. They are fantastic in the red zone. They have very few three and outs. They rarely turn the ball over (12 turnovers on the year...5 of which came last week vs Oregon). This offense hums.
They were also afforded the luxury of being better than every team they've played this year, and so the above plan was typically executed without issue. Then Oregon slapped them around a little bit last week. The shine came off this Stanford offense. They could be handled. They could be forced out of their comfort zone. And all of a sudden, some of the little deficiencies become so much more obvious. Where's the deep threat at receiver? Where's the game breaker at running back? And once they got further behind... "Are they running a spread now?" Yes, they were. And that's not their game.
Our defense matches up well with this offense. Really, we do. We can match their strength and we should have the experience to not succumb to the play action. Statistically, we are the second best defense that Stanford has faced this year. The first? Oregon of course. And they "held" Stanford to 30 points. The problem is, Oregon can hold a team to thirty points and still win. Unless our opponent is Colorado, we can't say the same. Our offense isn't
good consistent enough. Hate to say it, but I'm pretty damn sure we're gonna lose this game. And I don't really think it'll be close. Stanford is a good team, and we don't beat good teams. Common sense has cornered and annihilated every foreign cell of hope that has passed through my body as I've analyzed this Stanford team. I just don't see how we can beat them.
But it's the Big Game, and kooky shit happens...right? So maybe we CAN win this...right? There's a possibility that Mychael Kendricks and co. will be bathing in the sweet tears of Cardinal nerds after the game...right?
PREDICTION: 41-24 TREE