Offensive challenges face Shaw this offseason
Justin Muchnick, The Bootleg's youngest contributor, was befuddled by Stanford's playcalling during its 24-20 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State. He believes that the Cardinal's fatal issues were actually a recurring theme throughout the team's three losses this season. Here's his take on the problem and how the team should fix it.
In the car with my family on the way to the 100th Rose Bowl Game, I hoped for a day chock full of Cardinal happiness. Visions of
Gaffney’s hard-fought rushing touchdowns, Montgomery’s big-play
receptions, and Skov’s perfectly-timed blitzes danced through my
mind. However, when I trudged back to the car hours later, I
realized that the most positive aspect of the day had been the
pre-game Alumni Tailgate.
See, Stanford was determined to make this year’s tailgate great.
Cardinal fans (or at least fans of Cardinal tailgates) know that the
2013 Rose Bowl Tailgate was somewhat of a flop. There were numerous
complaints about overcrowding, shortage of tailgate food, et cetera.
In the wake of this criticism, the Alumni Association sent an
apology email and a full refund to those who had bought tailgate
tickets. More importantly, they recognized the problems with last
year’s tailgate and set out to rectify them this year. The wildly
successful 2014 edition of the tailgate featured a more spacious
layout, ample food, kid-friendly games, and just about anything
anyone attending a tailgate could ask for – a true testament to
problem identification and solving.
Now that the Cardinal has taken care of the tailgate issue, the next
big problem that David Shaw needs to identify and solve is in the
offensive playcalling department. The team's three losses this year
were all marred by poor play-calling. I don’t want to reopen old
wounds by dwelling on the absurd third- and fourth-and-two pass
plays against Utah or the excess of ill-advised fourth-quarter Hogan
passes at the Coliseum, but the Rose Bowl play calls equally
Though the field goal attempt with five minutes left was
questionable and the stubborn insistence on trying to establish the
run in the second half was foolish, the playcalling on Stanford's
final drive was the most baffling of all. With three minutes to go,
the Cardinal offense found itself in a do-or-die situation. A
70-yard touchdown drive was the last chance at victory. The plays
the coaches chose for this desperate last gasp? Three short runs,
plus a pass so short that it was counted as a run in the box
score. Stanford also dawdled in between plays, wasting over a
minute to gain a total of nine yards. The team seemed to forget that
it had a whole field to cover and played like a first down was
all that was needed (and even that didn't happen). Honestly,
Stanford did not look like a team that was down by four and scrapping to
keep its Rose Bowl championship hopes alive.
Why not send Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector downfield on that last
drive and actually attempt to gain significant yards? (Ed: Justin
has a good point; the downfield passing game had actually seen its
share of success earlier in the game) Stanford wasn’t ever going to
march down three quarters of the field in three minutes with a
flimsy rushing effort; that drive should have been all about long
passes and an up-tempo approach.
Yes, I know the Cardinal's identity is to establish the run, but
Shaw must understand two obvious reasons why he shouldn’t have gone
with power run on the last drive. Number one: football, perhaps more
than any other sport, is about situations. In fact, a football game
revolves so entirely around situations that it is broken up into
many little situations called plays! Play calls are made based on
the situation – sometimes runs make sense and passes are more
appropriate at other times. The situation at the end of the Rose
Bowl was one that necessitated passing; there clearly wasn’t enough
time for a systematic ground-and-pound drive. Trailing by a
touchdown in the dying minutes of the game with a whole field to
drive down, Shaw should have realized that the dire circumstances prevail
over the fact that Stanford is a run-first team.
Number two: you need to know who you’re up against. Even if the
Cardinal had enough time for a drawn out, methodical drive, it
would've have been nearly impossible against a staunch Spartan
defense that had stuffed the power run game for nearly the entire
game. It might have made sense to try to keep forcing the run in the
first half, but late in the game, Shaw needed to concede that
Stanford wouldn't be able to establish the run because Michigan State, even without suspended linebacker Max Bullough, had an
outstanding rush defense and was winning the battle in the trenches.
Just don’t play right into the opponent’s strength on the last drive
of the most important game of the season.
Really, David Shaw has been great for Cardinal program. He has
brought in good recruits, he motivates the team, and he does a
fantastic job of promoting the Stanford culture of integrity and
academic as well as athletic excellence. But while Shaw has many
strong attributes as a coach, he and his current staff do not seem
to have a knack for play-calling. This shortcoming should be
identified and solved during the offseason, perhaps by hiring an
experienced offensive coordinator whose primary job is to call
In any event, David Shaw does not have to send Stanford fans
an apology email or refund their Rose Bowl tickets, but he does
still need to take a page from the Tailgate Committee’s book and
address his playcalling problems. Then someday, I might even be
fortunate enough to see Stanford return to Pasadena and enjoy both a
great tailgate and great play calls.
About the author: Justin Muchnick is a tenth grade
student-athlete at Philips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. In
addition to being an avid Stanford sports fan, he is extremely
passionate about soccer, wrestling, reading, and history. He is
also the co-author of "Straight-A Study Skills" and is
currently writing "The Boarding School Survival Guide" which
will be published in June, 2014. He still remains our youngest
Bootleg journalist and is also a charter content-creator on Yoursports.com.
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