Back in those days, Stanford was a team that had firmly established an identity. They were the maulers who were going to turn every game into a street fight. They were going to batter you with Toby Gerhart, slice you up with timely throws from Andrew Luck, and pound you with a young, emerging defense. This wasn't the same old Stanford team that had served as scrimmage fodder for the rest of the conference.
Now, three years later, as I get on a plane to be a part of a Stanford game day again, I'm not sure that anyone truly knows what to make of the Cardinal. Players, coaches, or fans.
At this point, I don't think this offense quite knows what it is or what it wants to be. Does it want to run the ball right up the gut? Does it want to go Wildcat? Does it want to throw fades to Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz all day? (Actually, Stanford usually tried all three in any one series of downs against Washington, and it almost always ended in a punt…)
As I often mention, I'm not an offensive coordinator, but I sometimes play one on the radio and the internet. Against the Huskies, I think Stanford would have been better served by committing more to the running game. By trying to pound the Huskies and slow the game down. By staying true to what their identity has largely become.
More specifically, I would have liked to see more runs to the tackles, instead of going up the middle the overwhelming majority of the time. I'm not talking about sweeps, per se, but the Card seemed to have success on the rare occasions when they decided to run to the outside. Something to mix up the running game a bit.
But, more often than not, Stanford handed the ball off up the middle for one or two yards, then abandoned their prized running game the rest of the series. This sequence would put the onus on Josh Nunes, the young quarterback who still seems to be finding his way. This also meant that the series would usually last two more plays before the punt team would have to take the field.
As for Nunes, he struggled against Washington. There's no other way to spin it. Was it the worst quarterbacking exhibition I've ever seen? No. Am I going to question the kid's effort? No. But the performance clearly wasn't good enough to win.
While it would have been nice to see Nunes hit the big throws consistently, that's something most quarterbacks on the collegiate level still cannot do. So, quite honestly, I wasn't fazed by that. What was troubling was Nunes' inability to hit the little throws. Passes that would land at an open Ertz's feet. Screens that would fall harmlessly incomplete. Throws that would have moved the chains.
Regardless of whether Nunes matures and plays better going forward, this offense needs to decide its identity. It needs to figure out whether it wants to pound its opponents into submission, or whether it wants to become more multifaceted in its attack.
Hopefully things change. Hopefully the offensive line gets better push and opens up bigger holes. Hopefully the receivers get separation, and hang on when the rock is thrown to them. Hopefully the quarterback matures and becomes a playmaker in his own right. But until those things happen, if Stanford is facing a good team and/or is on the road, I don't think they can have it both ways.
While the Stanford offense seems to be struggling with who they are, Stanford fans also seem to be having a bit of an identity crisis as well. The normally tolerant and patient Cardinalmaniacs reacted to last week's outcome in ways that I, quite honestly, didn't see coming. Especially after the first loss of the season.
Losing is part of the game. Years ago, Bill Walsh told me, "If your competition is as aggressive and determined as you are, you're going to lose your share of games. That's just part of it. The critical thing is how you deal with it."
Well, judging from the fallout from last week's result on the BootBoard Plus, it looks like more than a few Stanford fans have forgotten how to deal with losses. You would have thought that the Cardinal had lost their first game ever, that all their goals and dreams had just vanished into thin air, and that the entire program was imploding in front of everyone.
Has it really reached a point where Stanford fans can't stomach one loss? It wasn't that long ago where Stanford fans began each season just trying to figure out how (or if) the Card could make a bowl game. Any bowl game.
Now some fans are ready to revoke the quarterback's scholarship, depose the head coach (who is 14-3 since taking over the program, by the way), and march on the new athletic director's office so they can make their demands heard. All after just one loss.
Doesn't that sound like the kind of fans that Cardinalmaniacs used to laugh at? The kind of fans at those other schools where football is all they have to look forward to and be proud of? The kind of fans whose perspectives and priorities seemed to be completely divergent from any kind of reality or common sense? The kind of fans some of us swore we would never be?
Some of you may not want to hear or believe this, but chances are pretty good that the Cardinal are going to lose another game at some point in its history. Hell, it may even happen this year. When that happens, hopefully some of the fans do a better job of dealing it with it than they did last week.
Trust me, I wasn't particularly thrilled with the loss, either. I certainly had higher hopes for my evening than watching the offense go three-and-out all night. I was slightly irritated watching Husky fans storm the field. I didn't really enjoy the ribbing I got at the office the next day. But to be upset to the point where all rationality and reason are thrown out the window is, I think, foolish, counterproductive, and totally against our identity as Stanford fans. I'd expect that from self-entitled, self-absorbed U$C fans. Not us.
I can't wait to be back on The Farm. I can't wait to crash everybody's tailgates before and afterwards. But I also can't wait to see what steps the Stanford offense—and Cardinal fans—take towards establishing their true identities for this season.
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RANDOM PAC-12 THOUGHTS
Arizona State's Will Sutton wrecked cal's interior line. My God. What a virtuoso performance that was…
Zach Maynard has already taken some pretty hellacious beatings this year. Makes me wonder if he's going to make it to Big Game…
Did I not get the memo? Is it now a law that every football game in the state of Washington is being played at CenturyLink Field? Certainly seems that way after seeing entirely too much of that stadium on my TV over the past few days…
Here's a confession for you: Oregon State is becoming my other favorite Pac-12 team to watch. The more I see of Sean Mannion, the more I like him. Poised. Accurate. They have speedy playmakers on the outside. Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds makes big tackles and even bigger plays. The Civil War might actually be worth watching this year…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… while everyone is raving about Geno Smith and how he led West Virginia to 70 points (and rightfully so), the Mountaineer defense has flown completely under the radar. West Virginia cannot win the Big 12 giving up 63 points every week. And defensive coordinator Joe DeForest knows it…
Not a Pac-12 thought, but… go get em, Oakland A's!
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U$C @ Utah. (Thursday) If you're the road team, Utah is not an easy place to play. If you're the road team, strange things tend to happen on Thursday night. If your star center is still fighting a bum ankle, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is about the last person you want to face. So why do I like U$C by 9? Cowardice, probably.
Washington State @ Oregon State. The Beavers' pass defense took the second half off against Arizona. But even with Connor Halliday slinging the rock for the Cougs, I don't see OSU allowing the big plays that Wazzu will need to win this game. I like Oregon State by 13.
UCLA @ cal. The Bruin defense isn't very disciplined, but they're fast and physical. That's not good news for Zach Maynard or his offensive line. I like UCLA by 17.
Washington @ Oregon. The Huskies held Stepfan Taylor to 75 yards rushing last week, and are allowing just under 20 points per game this year. The Ducks will likely surpass both of those numbers by the end of the first quarter. I like Oregon by 23.
Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 7-2 (straight-up), 4-5 (ATS).
Last year: 27-19 (straight-up), 28-18 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy is in his 20th year of following the Cardinal as a columnist, broadcaster, and announcer. In its 11th season of Cardinal commentary, Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, hear him on Pittsburgh's Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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