Stepfan Taylor and the Stanford Cardinal come to Pasadena on Saturday - Doug Pensinger
Our friends Hank, from Go Mighty Cards, and Scott, from Rule of Tree, join us today to talk about Stanford football.
Hey everyone, please give a warm welcome to Hank from Go Mighty Card and Scott from our SBN partner Rule of Tree. We've chatted with both of them before and they are both great people who do a great job covering all things Stanford on their excellent blogs. They were kind enough to answer some questions for us and we look toward our final Pac-12 game of the season, and what might also be a preview of the Pac-12 title game. Thanks to both Hank and Scott for their time and insight. Please stop by Go Mighty Card and Rule of Tree to say hello, and look for our answers to their questions on Bruin football.
The Cardinal had a very impressive win over Oregon. What could your defense do that no other defenses could?
GoMightyCard: They took away the Oregon running game, but not just the running backs. They forced Marcus Mariota to throw the ball, and he wasn't up to the challenge. Not only is this the best Stanford defense of all time, it's also the best defense the Pac-12/10 has seen in years. Much has been made of the front seven, and rightfully so (the linebackers, especially, are phenomenal, and could be the best unit in the country), but the improvement of the secondary has really allowed this defense to elevate from good to great. Safety Ed Reynolds is a serious playmaker, as evidenced by his three pick sixes this season, and the cornerbacks -- especially true freshman Alex Carter -- can hit as well as they can cover. From top to bottom, this is a dominant group.
Rule of Tree: Stop the run. The Cardinal's run defense had been dominant all season, but they obviously hadn't faced an offense quite like the Ducks. They managed to hold the Ducks to fewer than 200 yards rushing by getting pressure in the backfield and tackling well.
Stepfan Taylor has had a great career, but doesn't seem to get the praise he deserves nationwide. Do you agree and why do you think that is?
GMC: That's definitely true. During his sophomore and junior seasons he played in the shadow of the best player in America, so it's understandable that his thousand-yard seasons weren't noticed. Even though he's passed that barrier for a third straight year already and should become Stanford's all-time leading rusher during the first half this weekend, he's been more of a workhorse than a show pony. He won't be a Heisman finalist, but he'll be remembered as one of the best players in the history of Stanford football.
RoT I think the biggest reason Taylor hasn't gotten a ton of praise nationwide is he played three of his four years in the shadow of the eventual Heisman runner-up (Toby Gerhart in 2009, Andrew Luck in 2010-2011). I think the general consensus was that Stanford's success -- and Taylor's, to an extent -- over the last couple of years was predominantly because of Luck, and with him in the NFL, the Cardinal was due for a giant step back this year. Taylor has proven that he's an elite running back no matter who's under center.
What led to the change in QB from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan? Hogan has been great, so does Nunes ever get back in the starting lineup? What does Hogan do that Nunes didn't? Will Brett Nottingham ever get a shot?
GMC: Kevin Hogan is a quantum leap above Josh Nunes. Nunes's ineffectiveness made the offense one-dimensional, and even that dimension didn't work. Defenses had no fear of the Stanford passing game under Nunes, so they played at least eight men in the box, sometimes even nine, daring him to throw. He could never take advantage of these alignments, so the entire offense became stagnant. After two series with Hogan at quarterback against Colorado, it was clear that Nunes would never take another meaningful snap for the Cardinal. There were concerns that Hogan wouldn't be able to throw effectively, but he's been more than adequate in that area, and his mobility has opened up the playbook. Perhaps more important than that, he's more confident than Nunes ever was. As for Nottingham, his days are numbered as well. I'll be stunned if he doesn't transfer following the season, and since he had committed to UCLA before flipping to Stanford on signing day three years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up in Westwood.
RoT: Plain and simple, Josh Nunes couldn't complete enough passes. His accuracy wasn't what it needed to be and I don't think there's any way he sees the field again this year, unless it's in the fourth quarter of a blowout bowl win. Hogan is more accurate, both in the pocket and on the run, which has allowed David Shaw to call a lot of bootlegs for him this year. He wasn't rattled making his second career start at Autzen Stadium, which says something about his makeup. Unless Hogan regresses in the spring, I don't think Nottingham will get a shot.
Your offense has a solid O line, Taylor at RB, a really promising young QB, and incredible TE's, but we don't hear much about the WR's. Are the WR's just under the radar?
GMC: The wide receivers aren't under the radar, they're off the grid. Seniors Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson showed signs of life earlier this season, but they've faded into the background as Hogan has fallen in love with tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. (And really, what's not to love?) This was supposed to be the year that highly-touted sophomore Ty Montgomery took over as the #1 wide receiver, but his season has been marred by injuries and dropped passes. He has only 187 yards receiving and not a single touchdown. They seem to have given up on the idea of getting the ball to him downfield, as his only targets the last few weeks have been screens or quick-hitters. Kelsey Young, though not a true wide receiver, will likely get a few passes on Saturday. He's kind of Stanford's version of De'Anthony Thomas, so watch out for him as well.
RoT: The NSA would have a tough time detecting Stanford's wide receiver production because it simply isn't there. Drew Terrell has been pretty good when the QBs look his way, but Ty Montgomery has struggled this season. A lot of Stanford fans expected a breakout sophomore season from Montgomery, but he's battled injuries and drops all year. For the most part, the air attack goes through the tight ends.
Stanford's offense has looked good all year, but what did Washington do that slowed you down so much?
GMC: Washington didn't do anything to slow down the Cardinal. We didn't have an effective quarterback at the time, so the Huskies were able to sell out completely to stop the run. Even so, it was a game Stanford should've won. If the Cardinal were to play a triple overtime game against the Bruins on Saturday evening, then hop on a plane and fly straight to Seattle for midnight matchup against Washington, they'd still crush the Huskies.
RoT: No disrespect to Washington, but the Huskies didn't really do anything special in that game other than stack the box and force Nunes to beat them through the air. He couldn't. Errant throws and drops killed Stanford in that game.
We know Shane Skov is the heart of that defense. What makes him such a special player?
GMC: Skov is the unquestioned leader of this football team. I think they'd follow him into the abyss if he asked them to, and his intensity sets the tone for the defense. The bottom line, though, is that he's 6'3" and 240 pounds and never stops. His production has been down a bit this season, but I think that's probably more because of the incredible depth the Cardinal enjoys at linebacker. He was on the field all night against Oregon, and he certainly made an impact. He was the team's leading tackler and was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week. There's a small hope that he might return for another year, but it's looking doubtful. He'll likely be playing Sundays next year.
RoT: Skov is obviously athletically gifted. Many fans wondered how long it would take him to get up to speed after missing most of last season with an ACL injury. It didn't take long, and he's show no ill effects of the injury. He's got great instincts, but I think it's his intensity that sets him apart. He watched Oregon run all over Stanford from the sideline last season and he played out of his mind to make sure it didn't happen again this year.
We've talked before about the differences between Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw. Have your opinions on Shaw changed much since last season? Any thoughts that Shaw might follow Harbaugh to the NFL?
GMC: My opinions haven't changed, but there is a vocal group of fans who continue to question Shaw. They disagree with his conservative playcalling and question his ability to evaluate players, specifically pointing at how he handled the quarterback situation this season. Here's the bottom line: Stanford is 20-4 under Shaw, and three of those losses were to teams ranked in the top five. I'll take that. As for the NFL, I don't worry so much about that. I think we've got him for at least another five or ten years.
RoT: My opinions on Shaw remain more or less the same. I still disagree with his decision to play for a tie at the end of the Fiesta Bowl, and I haven't agreed with every call he's made this year, but it's hard to argue with the results on the field and on signing day. I'll never say never, but I think sticks around at Stanford for as long as they'll have him.
Huge thanks to Hank from Go Mighty Card and Scott from Rule of Tree for taking their time during a busy holiday week to chat with us here. Please stop by their sites to say hello and to keep up with the best coverage and conversation on Stanford sports.