44 For the Corps
The location of Saturday's game was exotic. The opponent's offensive
scheme was unusual. The visiting team's performance was rather
uninspiring. But the crowd's selection and adulation of its hero was
random, bizarre, and wonderful.
Hundreds of Army cadets hung around above the tunnel after the final
gun to beg Stanford's John Flacco to come back out of the locker
"[No.] 44 for the Corps!" the throng of soldiers chanted, pleading
for a curtain call.
Within hours, the reserve Cardinal safety had accepted over 600
Facebook friend requests. That number soared well over 1,000 just a day later. Dozens of Internet memes glorifying his
likeness had gone viral through West Point's social network. Though
he'd seen only one late play on special teams, Flacco turned into the
highlight of Stanford's occasionally sluggish and disjointed 34-20
win at Army. His popularity had spread like wildfire through the
jam-packed cadet seating section and into the infinite reaches of
An Army cadet told me that the cult-like worship for Flacco had
nothing to do with his famous brother, Super Bowl champion
quarterback Joe Flacco. It was born because of his genuine
acknowledgement of the cadets in attendance, who had cheered for him throughout the game as their "Rudy"-like figure. (At the time of
publishing, 678 Facebook users had "liked" that picture.)
The worship truly picked up steam very late in the game after Flacco saw his one play on the field, which came to a thunderous cheer from the crowd. On the game's last play, he
joined the hoard of Army cadets cheering from behind the Stanford
sideline to lead the "Rocket," a traditional West Point football cheer.
The rest was history. Flacco's
interaction with the crowd might have made him the most popular
opposing player to ever visit Michie Stadium: According to Facebook
posts, cadets even voted him as the player of the game.
The legend took on a life of its own in the following days, particularly when Flacco himself authorized PM inspections at West Point through a Facebook post. This "allowed" cadets to sleep through rigorous morning inspections and turned Flacco into a true hero at the Academy and on Wikipedia, where he is referred to as "a legend among the United States Corps of Cadets for his performance at the 2013 Stanford vs. Army football game."
Stanford's first visit to West Point since 1976 was never expected
to be a run-of-the-mill road trip, and Flacco's surreal encounter
with fame among Army cadets certainly put a unique extracurricular
stamp on the contest. A previously anonymous Stanford football player had won over the hearts of thousands of Army cadets. Sports are able to create a bond between people thousands of miles apart, and this particular connection will serve as the lasting memory that separated
this game from the Cardinal's ordinary ones against non-military
Sluggish, Disjointed, but Physically Dominant
On the field, the Cardinal ultimately accomplished the inevitable:
They overwhelmed Army behind a massive size advantage that surpassed
50 pounds at some positions. But that edge didn't prevent the Farm
Boys from yawning out of the gate and delivering a performance
marred by inexact play and a pair of turnovers.
David Shaw expressed little concern about the game's 9 a.m. PDT
start during the preceding week. Players only slightly
tweaked their schedules 48 hours prior to kickoff. Come game time, rustiness,
perhaps resulting from jet lag, was apparent right away. Kevin Hogan fumbled the ball away on the third play of the
game. After another three and out just minutes later, Stanford
found itself trailing 6-0 to a severely overmatched opponent.
"We have to take the error out of our game," Shaw said afterward.
"We had two balls pop out on us, and that can't happen."
It's clear that Stanford has the size and athleticism of a
legitimate national title contender. That's why undersized Army
never had a chance to win, despite the Cardinal's early
struggles. By the time the game's third possession rolled around,
Stanford's morning coffee appeared to have kicked in, and the Farm
Boys proceeded to slap Army silly down the field. Tyler Gaffney
carved out a punishing 25-yard gain before Michael Rector hauled in
his first career catch, a 26-yard touchdown that he caught off a
Still, Stanford never fully grabbed the broom to knock out its
early-game cobwebs. Devon Cajuste dropped a sure touchdown pass
it appeared he would easily reel in, while Army's Josh Jenkins (De La Salle High School) intercepted a horridly underthrown
second half deep strike intended for Jordan Pratt.
"That ball should have never been thrown," Shaw said.
Furthermore, the Cardinal's tight ends, who towered over Army's
small defenders, didn't record a single catch for only the second
time in the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era. This position group was
last held without a reception on September 19, 2009, in Stanford's
home opener against San Jose State.
These shortcomings meant little against an inferior opponent this
past Saturday, but the scepter of their return looms large with
capable Arizona State visiting The Farm this coming weekend. Per Vegas, the Cardinal are only about a touchdown better than the Sun
Devils, so another mistake-littered performance will likely
not be enough to win this coming showdown.
Triple Option Troubles
Army had 61 carries to only 10 pass attempts against
Stanford, about par for the course for an offense that kept the ball
on the ground 88 percent of the time last season. The Black Knights'
predictability was decidedly unpredictable and effective, though:
They racked up 296 rushing yards on the afternoon, 117 of which came
in the second quarter alone on only 18 carries.
"When you're playing a triple option team and you're not a triple
option team, it takes a half to get used to the speed, to the tempo,
to the [cut] blocks, and to the misdirection," Shaw said. "We felt
really good about our defense after halftime. We started slowing
them down and getting them into passing downs. ... I thought it would
take a quarter, but it took a half to get used to playing these
Army neutralized Stanford's defensive size advantage by confusing
the Cardinal throughout the first half. They implemented a
philosophy similar to the one that earned UCLA success against
Stanford at last season's Pac-12 title game: During their second
quarter touchdown drive, the Black Knights' Terry Baggett stretched
the Cardinal to the perimeter on a 46-yard gain before Larry Dixon
gashed up the vulnerable middle for a 15-yard score.
"It's like Oregon and Chip Kelly's offense," Shaw said. "They're going to probe and probe, and then based on whatever you're
doing, they're going to try to turn that against you. ... It's about
trusting your eyes defensively. Everybody has to be where they're
supposed to be. In the second half, we did a much better job of
Defensive end Josh Mauro took over in the second half, frequently
rupturing Army's offensive line before the Black Knights even had
the chance to decide on the triple option. He finished with seven
"[Mauro] was beating two guys at a time," Shaw said. "He made plays
I haven't seen made in a while. Josh is going to play in the NFL. No
question about it. He plays with reckless abandon."
Mauro's formidable presence was critical after starting defensive
end Henry Anderson went down with an apparent knee injury in the
second quarter. Anderson, who was on crutches after the game, is
awaiting MRI results. Stanford is optimistic that his injury is not
severe, but nothing is certain until the results come back.
Cornerback Wayne Lyons packed a physical punch in the backfield for
the second straight game. His two tackles for loss neutralized
Army's perimeter rushing attack in the second half. He leads
Stanford with three TFLs through two games.
Positive Offensive Developments
Though Stanford received no receiving production from its tight
ends, Rector emerged as a threat for the first time in his career.
It turns out that his lack of involvement in the season opener
against San Jose State was nothing to fret about. The Cardinal
targeted Rector downfield three times, and his speed bought him
valuable separation on each of those plays. Hogan's throws to No. 3
were not particularly accurate, though, so the redshirt freshman
finished with only the one touchdown catch.
Still, Stanford is making clear progress in implementing an offense
that is speedier and more dangerous on the perimeter than its
predecessors. The Cardinal lined up in a five wide receiver set for
the first time in four years Saturday. They busted the top off
Army's secondary with Rector, Cajuste and Ty Montgomery. Montgomery became
the only Pac-12 player other than Marqise Lee and Reggie Bush in the
last 10 years to record 130 receiving and 30 rushing yards in the
"Since the day Chris Owusu got hurt, we haven't had this kind of
[offensive speed]," Shaw said. "We want to be a team that can put
out eight linemen on one play and five receivers on the next play.
It's about being as diverse as possible."
Speaking of linemen, Stanford's front certainly hasn't been tested
by pass rushers its own size yet, but it is worth noting that Hogan
generally had enough time in the pocket to read Rags to Roses. Tyler Gaffney worked behind a
diesel-fueled Cardinal line that delivered nearly 3,000 pounds of
weight during one nine-linemen formation. The senior racked up 132
yards on 23 carries. (He also caught 23-yard touchdown on a wheel route.) That performance statistically surpassed his previous
career best, which came in Stanford's 2011 ground obliteration of
Washington. The Farm Boys racked up a school-record 446 rushing
yards in that game en route to a 65-21 victory.
"[From the day Gaffney returned to practice from professional
baseball], it was obvious that he had been lifting like a football
player and not like a baseball player," Shaw said with a smile. "He plays with
such an appreciation for football now. He loves all the little
things about it."
* Francis Owusu became the first true freshman to see game
action for Stanford this year, fulfilling Shaw's prediction. He appeared on two punt coverage
units. Meanwhile, tight end Austin Hooper remains a
playing time candidate this year, though the clock is ticking. Shaw has
said that players who do not enter within the first four games will
almost certainly redshirt this 2013 season.
* Shaw graded Hogan's performance a B or B-plus. "We've got to
get him to the A's," he said.
* Stanford's injury issues go beyond Henry Anderson. Cornerback
Barry Browning was hurt near the end of the game, and Shaw was not
ready to give an update on his condition afterward. Fullback Ryan Hewitt (bruised knee) suited up but did not see action. Meanwhile,
linebacker Blake Martinez was inactive and wearing sweats on the
sideline. Stanford has not disclosed the reason for his absence.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com
and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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