Know Your Enemy

So my picks got lost in the shuffle and didn’t appear in this morning’s post. My fault, but I don’t have time to re-hash my picks, so real quick, I like Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, ASU and Cal. But that’s not why I am here this afternoon.

It’s not too often I find myself in the same circles as Stanford grads. Other than having watched The Social Network, loving Tiger Woods, and having gone to high school with a chick who did Gymnastics at Stanford before she was on The Bachelor, I know nothing about them.

So when I got an email earlier this week from my favorite Cardinal fan, Hank Waddles, I had a grin from ear to ear. For the third year in a row, Hank, from Go Mighty Card, has reached out to me so the two of us can get the scoop on the unanswered questions we have about our respective teams. I’d link to the last two years worth of posts so you can see how thorough and awesome Hank’s past analysis has been, but I’m still learning how to effectively navigate the Archives in our new look and feel

Aside from #88 costing me a pick in my Weekly Office Pool when the Cards were laying 6 for their visit in Seattle last month, I haven’t caught a ton of their action. From what I can tell, their QB is awful, their WRs are non-existent, but boy, they can run and they can play defense. Sounds a lot like my Seahawks.

Anyways, without further ado, Hank has some answers for my five burning questions about the Trees and our game!


1) In the first year of the Post Luck Era, Josh Nunes has been underwhelming at best and Stanford still has very little threat at the WR position (#88 killed me against the Huskies). Whats stopping teams from sticking 8 men in the box and letting your ground game get it?

It’s interesting you bring up Ty Montgomery (#88). Stanford would probably have won that game against Washington if he had been able to hang on to just one of his two or three drops, especially the last one that looked like a game-winning touchdown. If you were to ask Stanford fans about the most surprising disappointment, Montgomery would probably be the answer, not Nunes. After his stellar freshman campaign last season, big things were expected from him this year. Inconsistency plagued him during the first five games, and he’s been out with an injury the last two weeks. More and more, it’s looking like a lost season for him. But that wasn’t your question. Why don’t defenses stack the box? We still have two of the best tight ends in the country in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Ertz leads the team in receiving with 31 catches for 505 yards and three touchdowns, and Toilolo is second (15/288/3). Coby Fleener had been the deep threat in the past, leaving Ertz to do the dirty work in the short passing game, but this year Ertz has been used more frequently in open space, and he’s taken to it nicely, as evidenced by his 16.3 YPC average. Toilolo is an absolute monster at 6’8″. Essentially unguardable. Ertz and Toilolo frequently line up in the slot or even split out wide in order to run slant patterns where they can use their size against smaller defensive backs. Even when coming off the line from a more typical tight end position, they both have considerable size advantages over even the biggest linebackers the Pac-12 has to offer. Saturday looks to be heavy run day for the Cardinal, but I still expect Ertz and Toilolo to figure prominently in the offense.

2) Cal’s two RBs and Maynard combined to rush for more than 300 yards in Pullman two weeks ago. True or false (and tell us why), Stanford rushes for more than 285 yards this Saturday?

I think this might be true. Stanford is averaging 167.6 yards rushing per game, and their highest single-game totals thus far are 257 against Arizona and 252 last week against Cal, but the running game hasn’t been as consistent as Coach Shaw would probably like. Duke actually played as many as nine men in the box for most of the game and held the Cardinal beneath the century mark, and Notre Dame’s staunch defense also limited the Stanford running game. I think Shaw would like nothing better than to his running backs carry the ball 50 times, with Stepfan Taylor getting 30 of those. If that happens, look for Taylor to notch a career high rushing total for the second straight week (he gained 189 against Cal) and for the team to get close to 300 total yards on the ground.

3) Our defense would be lucky to hold Notre Dame’s jockstraps, but moving on. On one of the stingiest defenses in the league, with the likes of Shayne Skov roaming the second level, who is the most unheralded player on that side of the ball?

Shayne Skov is the unquestioned emotional leader of this defense, and the player who lines up alongside him, fellow inside linebacker Chase Thomas, is just as good. Those two get lots of publicity as the leaders of the front seven, but two players who deserve equal credit are outside linebacker Trent Murphy and defensive end Ben Gardner. Both typically lead the team in tackles for loss and take turns punishing opposing quarterbacks. You can expect to hear their names early and often on Saturday afternoon.

4) What should we look for on Special Teams?

Drew Terrell has been excellent returning punts this year, leading the Pac-12 at 16.69 yards per return. That’s the good news. The bad news is that field goal kicker Jordan Williamson has been terribly inconsistent.

5) So you’re saying that Casey Locker might be assigned to intimidate Terrell? He did knock Owusu out of the game each of the last two seasons. Anways, this is our third year swapping posts and I’ve always looked forward to it. The last two years, you’ve predicted two big time wins for Stanford over Wazzu and have been more than correct both times. First of all, what’s your prediction for this weekend. Secondly, say Wazzu does something they haven’t done in a decade in beating a ranked team on the road, if there was one reason for this big time upset, why would Stanford lose to Washington State?

I’m going to have to pick the Cardinal again. The Stanford running game should carry the day, and I’m guessing the final score will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 31-10. That’s what should happen, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the 2012 Cardinal it’s that nothing is a sure thing. Josh Nunes shouldn’t have to make too many plays on Saturday, but if the Cougars are able to hang around and make it close — or even win — it will likely be because of Nunes. He’s had a tendency to turn the ball over, either via fumble or interception. If Nunes throws the ball more than 20 times, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise for him to throw three interceptions. If those picks happen on the wrong side of the field — or if one or two of them are returned for points — the Cougs might have a shot. Realistically, though, I can’t imagine that the coaching staff would allow him to throw that many times with such an apparent advantage with the running game. We’ll see.

Interesting Hank, I think the game might play out closer to what we saw in 2010. Cougs fall about 5 touchdowns behind early and then hang a few late TDs on the board to make the score seem way closer than it really was. So Nunes like to turn the ball over, huh? More so than Keith Price’s ten in the last three games? Well thanks for joining us today, and as always, fantastic insight, we truly appreciate it. Good luck this weekend (not that you need it).