Stepfan Taylor enjoyed a big physical advantage
Stanford's 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona happened differently than anyone expected, but the Cardinal still dominated two of The Bootleg's primary keys to the game. Here's an analysis of their effort.
Key No. 1: Exploit the Size Advantage
This was supposed to be a showdown between Ants and Elephants, and
the rousing dual came to full fruition. Stanford, which had been
stopped by a smaller Washington defense on the road, learned from
its mistakes and positioned itself to stomp the Wildcats. The key
here was that the Cardinal did not take their size advantage for
granted the way they did the week before; instead of obtusely and
repeatedly pounding the ball up the middle behind obvious jumbo
formations, Stanford unleashed creativity that kept Arizona off
balance and wiped out any chance of a slowdown.
Ricky Seale and Remound Wright both touched the ball this time along
with Kelsey Young, who took his fantastically designed end-around
opportunity untouched 55 yards to the end zone. The rest of the
time, Stepfan Taylor constantly plowed his way forward to extra
yardage. It was clear from the onset that the smaller Wildcats were
going to have massive trouble tackling Stanford at first contact,
and the Cardinal certainly exacerbated this advantage.
In another commendable departure from his Washington gameplan, Pep
Hamilton firmly established the run early on. Instead of
jimmy-jacking around, Stanford handed the ball off on eight of its
first 11 plays. This commitment soon set up disgustingly open
playaction opportunities to massive tight ends downfield. The end
result, 617 yards of total offense, spoke for itself - though it
should be noted that ex-Stanford men Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman
have a sense of humor. They one-upped the Cardinal by pushing their
San Francisco 49ers to rack up 620 total yards the next day behind a
similarly creative rushing attack.
Key No. 2: Embrace the Speed Challenge
Only the game's final two defensive possessions, both stops, save
Stanford from a failing grade in this department. Is Terrence Brown
really that important? Arizona spread the field and terrorized the
Cardinal secondary after the team's leading cornerback left early on
with a concussion. Given how freely Wildcat receivers were roaming
in the secondary, though, it's hard to believe that one player -
even an experienced one of Brown's caliber - would have been able to
do much to slow down Matt Scott's high-powered attack.
The Arizona quarterback was fantastic, demoralizing the Cardinal
with his accurate reads downfield and exploiting true freshman Alex Carter, among others, along the sideline. Stanford's early pressure
was highlighted by a Jarek Lancaster sack, but the Wildcats
withstood the physicality and then neutralized the Cardinal attack
by releasing the ball quickly and running effectively (126 yards).
With Stanford's advantage at the line of scrimmage rendered moot,
the Farm Boys were 617-yard toast in the open field. But late in the
game, when a stop had to be made, they resealed the line of
scrimmage. Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson both generated suitable
push to knock down two Scott throws. The second of those was
intercepted by Chase Thomas, setting up Taylor's winning score. With
those deflections, the secondary was rendered moot.
Smaller nickel and dime packages can certainly supply Stanford with
more speed for jet engine-speed match-ups with teams like
Oregon, but turning to such formations simultaneously sacrifices the
sheer mass advantage that the Cardinal front seven is best known
for. For the Stanford defense to avoid a repeat letdown, it'll be up
to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to dial up the perfect balance
of speed and size. This time, though, the Cardinal's supreme
physicality was enough to trump its defensive troubles in space.
Key No. 3: Force Field Goals: Win the Red Zone Battle
Stanford visited the red zone six times and scored six touchdowns.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, had nine opportunities. They were forced to
kick field goals twice and were completely denied points once. In a
game that was deadlocked after 60 minutes, this proved to be a
decisive edge for Stanford. Although Arizona improved in red zone
efficiency, they were expected to struggle simply because a spread
passing attack is better when its space isn't restricted by the back
goal line. Naturally, the Wildcats' failures opened the door to
Stanford's comeback and subsequent victory.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal
football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be
heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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