Sorry but there was a major mixup with the DVR this time around because we just set it to record the Pac-12 network (or something like that). Guess what, we ended up recording Colorado-Oregon instead. Why anybody would want to see that is beyond me. Anyway, there will not be an Every Down Review this time around.
I was at the game though and here are some impressions:
First off, there were some recruits in attendance tonight. I don't know who exactly. This was a pretty horrendous day to bring in recruits as not only did the Cardinal play like [redacted], but there was a staggering capacity crowd of maybe 25,000. (I haven't checked the exact figures.) If Stanford wants the best players, it's going to have to at least make the atmosphere interesting. I remember being 17, it wasn't too long ago, and believe me it matters a LOT to a seventeen-year-old to have a packed and raging 100k (75k would do) stadium cheering you on. I understand that Stanford's never going to be able to have a 75k stadium given that our undergrad enrollment is maybe 10% of that but half-empty is not going to cut it. We should pay hobos to come to the game or something. We need to fill that stadium.
Now to the game...
Things started quite nicely with the sack party. There was a lot of aggressive stunting and Wazzu's OL was completely overmatched. They got a few shots off but those were mostly short passes. Leach is famous for two main route concepts - mesh and four verticals - and the last one was hardly to be seen as if Tuel had tried a full-scale four vert assault his decapitated head would probably be somewhere near Oakland right now. Mesh (crossing routes that set picks for each other, so if done properly against man coverage one guy should be free on every play) came around a couple times and there was generally a guy reasonably open, but throwing mesh is basically begging for a zone coverage pick and Stanford uses zone a lot. Basically, the full Air Raid is nowhere to be seen as of yet. Leach has so little confidence in his OL that he isn't even using his signature wide line splits (basically, they put the linemen on an island and require them to win the one-on-one battles).
A lot of people were angry that Stanford didn't blitz more. After all, Stanford would send five-man, etc. blitzes sometimes against Cal, but the thing is, WSU is not like Cal. Tedford would add pass protectors when Stanford got pressure, and that vastly reduced the variability and complexity of the Cal offense. Ladies and gents, Mike Leach ain't adding pass protectors unless Tuel's life is in danger, and even then maybe not. So there really isn't that much payoff from bringing the house. If they did, I'm sure Wazzu would just cut block them too (I hate cut blocking, unless it's my team doing it). Man, Wazzu cut blocked a lot. People get hurt when you cut block.
Stanford's choice of packages shows that they will do anything to keep a bunch of linebackers on the field, even if it means that Skov has to cover somebody, which he had a lot of trouble with. Lot of dime. Lots and lots of dime. Often only two linemen. I guess you gotta accentuate your strengths. There was a pretty chronic problem with overpursuing and Tuel made Stanford pay for it over and over again with his scrambling ability. Now, another note on zone: it looked like Stanford tried to pattern-match (an advanced form of zone coverage that looks like man in certain areas), especially on the pick routes like mesh and post-wheel, but that could easily be just a blown switch on the man coverage. Either way, blown man coverage or pattern-match, Stanford did it badly. If you want to see pattern matching done properly watch an Alabama game sometime, it's Saban's trademark.
After a while Wazzu started finding a rhythm and Tuel began finding the seams in the zone coverage. Stanford started sending three and four-man pressure, which was a) quite conservative, b) still managed to collapse the pocket, although sacks were rare, and c) I don't mind. I don't care that much that Wazzu had 385 yards on offense that day, since the zone coverage restricted them to 7 yard gains a pop and while that's not great or anything given the sack rate and the generally bad field position, they weren't going to score much. The kicking game was great tonight. As it was, they scored three times, and that should have been two (more on that later).
I know that was pretty all over the place, but to be honest the defense did a good job. Tuel had 401 passing yards, yes, but those came on 60 attempts. That's 6.7 ypa, which is not great, but it's late in the season and Wazzu has had some time to gel. If you deduct sack yardage from the passing yardage, which is what really should happen, then you get 5.77 ypa which, for a quarterback, is horrendous. (For reference, Josh Nunes is averaging 7.04 ypa this season.)
What I really disliked about the defense was how it keeps on giving up those huge 4th down conversions. Not just to Wazzu, but to Cal, and so on...
On the offense...
Yuck. Stanford had no identity on offense. There was no rhythm at all. Nunes might have had his worst game at Stanford - he couldn't do anything (including throw picks). His one TD to Patterson was an absolute gimme, the most spectacularly busted coverage I've seen since maybe my junior year of high school. Wazzu blitzed a lot, but he was sacked...once? (This should be ample proof that pressure is more about affecting the quarterback than creating sacks. Wazzu's pressure was enough to rattle Nunes, although it really shouldn't have. I mean, he handled Cal fine.) Take out those 70 yards and he went 6-14 for 66 yards. That is 4.7 yards per play. That is horrible. And another one of those ridiculous five-yards-behind-the-LOS checkdowns to Taylor. Those should never happen. That checkdown has gotten positive yardage maybe once all season.
Levine Toilolo did not have a catch tonight. Zach Ertz had one. That is simply absurd. I've been trumpeting the "Wideouts can't get separation" argument all year in Nunes' favor but these two players are the biggest matchup problems in the Western United States outside of Eugene and they're going wasted like that? If Nunes had waited just a little longer on his passes Ertz probably would have had 70-100 yards receiving. As it was, the coaching staff did not wait to put the handcuffs on and The Hogan Package (TM) was used approximately 8-10 times out of 50 or so snaps. Also, somebody needs to start a timer: "Number of hours that Levine Toilolo has not had a catch," because that's becoming a stat of significance. He's been open. It's not his problem.
To be honest, I have to wonder whether the impending specter of Kevin Hogan is affecting Nunes' thinking. Hogan got more and more run this game than ever, and this game Shaw even let him try a dropback pass, although he got sacked. (He didn't look that bad, actually. The protection was not very good and there were a solid two passing options. And decent footwork, too.) As Sanchez-Tebow shows, quarterback controversies are a terrible idea. I know that on paper it's awesome to have Hogan as a change of pace option but this is getting ridiculous. Five straight plays? I don't mean to defend Nunes' performance, but how hard must it be to get into a rhythm when you run 70% of the time and you come off the field every seven plays or so?
The run game was hardly the Stanford run game you'd expect. There wasn't the same hell-for-leather emphasis on getting as many blockers to the point of attack as humanly possible. Guards didn't seem to pull nearly as often (I could be completely wrong, though). 3.2 yards per rush against Washington State? Even if they stacked the box that's a terrible number. The offensive line came out flat - and not just in the run game, the pass protection was mediocre as well.
A lot of the time though I was wondering whether Stanford treated this game as a virtual bye and just decided to try stuff out and see what worked. The Patterson reverse was a thing of beauty and would have gotten stuffed against any other team in the Pac-12 not named Colorado. I wondered that...and then I realized that Wilkerson had one carry all night. Taylor had workhorse carries anyway.
Again, the kicking game looked fine and did everything it was asked to do, which is, granted, not very much. The refs were atrocious tonight, absolutely atrocious. They gave Wazzu four timeouts in the first half and they should NOT have had the chance to kick the field goal at the end of the half (which could have been the difference between a win and OT). They let the WSU OL hold all night. Et cetera. Seriously, these guys should get reprimanded like the ACC refs after the FSU-Miami game.
Oregon State and USC lost, so assuming that Oregon makes the NCG, Stanford (provided they finish in the top 14) is in line for a Rose Bowl berth provided that Oregon beats Oregon State, Stanford beats Oregon State, and USC loses to Oregon once and maybe even twice (hopefully USC doesn't lose to ND, because an undefeated ND vaults Oregon for the non-Bama NCG spot in all probability). You know why I didn't say "but if Stanford beats Oregon?" Because this team ain't beating Oregon. Those 7 yard bubble screens by Wazzu are 80 yard TD passes by De'Anthony Thomas.
Well, a win's a win, I guess.