Checking in on the Cardinal

Happy Friday Cougar fans!!

Earlier this week, we connected with the creator of a new Stanford Cardinal blog, GoMightyCard.

All week, blogger Hank Waddles and I have been discussing all things Cougs and Card leading up to this weekend’s tilt in Palo Alto. Last year the Cougs lost 39-13 on the opening weekend of the season in Pullman, and in 2008 the Cougs were pounded 58-0 on the road with JT Levenseller at the helm of our offense.

Waddles has been following the Stanford Cardinal since he walked on campus as a wide-eyed freshman way back in the fall of 1987.  Over the past twenty-three years he’s followed the roller coaster of Stanford Football from the heady days of Bill Walsh’s return in the early 90s and Tyrone Willingham’s Millenium Rose Bowl team to the doldrums of Buddy Teevens, Walt Harris, and some of the worst teams in Stanford history.  As Jim Harbaugh made the team relevant again over the past few years, Hank looked around for places on the web to follow the team more closely.  Finding almost nothing, he decided to start a blog of his own.  GoMightyCard is only four weeks old, but it’s absolutely breathtaking — and it even sleeps through the night.  How many newborns can say that?

Many things have changed for both programs since they last met in early September 2009.  Last year Stanford had a Heisman Finalist in Toby Gerhart, and this year they likely have another in Andrew Luck.  The Cougs meanwhile have redefined rock bottom, but appear to be making the climb out of irrelevancy!

Here is my interview, on his blog, regarding the Cougs.  Continue reading to get a better scoop on the Cards, as I didn’t know much about the 2010 version of them before chatting with Hank. Enjoy!

LucasCoug: Toby Gerhart has moved on to the Minnesota Vikings.  Who handles the majority of the Cardinal carries and tell us about him.

Hank: Toby Gerhart was a great back, certainly the greatest runner in Stanford history, but he benefitted greatly from what was the conference’s best offensive line.  Most of that line returned this year, so it’s no surprise that there hasn’t been a huge drop-off in the team’s rushing statistics.  Several Cardinal running backs have combined to average 210 yards rushing per game, but sophomore Stepfan Taylor has emerged as the lead back.  He doesn’t hit the hole as hard as Gerhart, doesn’t seem to be quite as fast as Gerhart, but he’s been good enough to top the century mark in each of the past three games.  Also, watch for true freshman Anthony Wilkerson.  He might only get a few carries, but most expect him to eventually jump ahead of Taylor.

LucasCoug: Give me a couple names of your defensive playmakers, and what to look out for on that side of the ball.

Hank: The big news from spring and summer was the defense’s switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.  The idea was that the 3-4 would allow the team’s undersized defensive ends to become big linebackers who could play strong against the run and blitz the quarterback in passing situations.  The results have been mostly positive, though there have been definite signs of regression over the past two weeks as both Oregon and USC repeatedly burned the defense with quick throws to receivers in the flat.  Expect more of that on Saturday.  If the defense is playing well, you’ll likely hear the names Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser all afternoon, as well as sophomore middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who is probably the most talented player on that side of the ball.

LucasCoug: Please tell readers about the Cardinal Special Teams.

Hank: Junior Chris Owusu was one of the most dangerous kick returners in the nation in 2009, and entered 2010 as a pre-season All-America candidate.  He missed the first two games of the season with what was assumed to be a knee injury, and he didn’t seem to regain his aggressiveness until last week against USC.  If he’s healthy, he’s a threat to score on any kickoff.

LucasCoug: If I remember correctly, Owusu returned a kick for a touchdown last season in Pullman.  Good thing our kick coverage has improved greatly!  Coaches have had a difficult time being successful in Palo Alto the past 15 years or so.  What makes Jim Harbaugh so special and are fans worried that he may bolt for the NFL?

Hank: You can probably divide the Stanford fan base into two camps regarding the future of Jim Harbaugh.  The one side is absolutely certain that he’ll be leaving after this season, while the other side is holding on to the slim hope that maybe he actually likes it in Palo Alto and might want to stay a while.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  If Steve Spurrier can leave Florida and Nick Saban can leave LSU and Pete Carroll can leave USC, Harbaugh can certainly leave Stanford.  But in many ways this seems like the perfect job for him.  Only four years ago the Cardinal finished at 1-11 as one of the worst teams in Stanford history, but if the Oregon game had gone differently, Stanford could be undefeated and perched atop the polls right now — and this is a team poised to get even better.  Many different recruiting services rate the 2011 recruiting class as one of the top five or ten in the nation.  Harbaugh has said that he relishes the challenge of succeeding at a place like Stanford, and he’s already achieved something that I never thought possible — he’s made me believe that Stanford can win a national championship.

LucasCoug: Andrew Luck is one of the best Quarterbacks in America.  Tell me about the guys on the other end of his passes.

Hank: The receiving corps has been a strength this year, even though they’ve been riddled with injuries.  The starting receivers, Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen, have both missed time, but this has allowed more time for senior Doug Baldwin, who’s already set career highs in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns.  Tight end Coby Fleener has only caught eleven balls this year, but it seems like each reception has been for either a first down or a touchdown.  With those four targets healthy together for the first time this season, Luck will finally be playing with all his weapons at his disposal.

LucasCoug: Cougar fans know all to well about being riddled with injuries, sorry to hear that.  Last question, and then we will let you get back to your blog!  The last two seasons, Stanford has averaged about 48 points per game against the Cougs, please look into the crystal ball and give me a final score and statistic prediction for this weekend’s outcome!

Hank: Putting all of this together, I predict a good day for the Cardinal.    I don’t think the offense will have much trouble scoring, but I think the jury is still out on the defense.  With this in mind, I’m looking for a final score somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-21, in favor of Stanford.

LucasCoug: Hank, we sure do appreciate your time today, and your perspective on this weekend’s opponent. 

Cougar fans, if you’re looking for any other information regarding the Cardinal, please check out Hank’s blog.  Have a great afternoon, and GO COUGS!