Stanford heads to Boulder to face a Buffaloes team that will do everything it can to keep the game from turning into a blowout. After watching the film from the Cardinal game against Washington State, the Colorado coaches are going to use similar tactics because the Cougars held Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor to 2.8 yards per carry and the team to just 256 yards of total offense. It isn't a huge secret what teams are doing to slow down the Cardinal: bring the safeties up close to the line of scrimmage to stop Taylor (Wazzu's were lined up 5 yards deep before the snap), leave the corners outside to play man coverage, and force QB Josh Nunes to make enough plays in the passing game. The offensive line actually blocked the Cougar front seven effectively, but the unaccounted-for safety continued to make tackles after two or three yards. It has been a strategy Stanford has repeatedly seen this season, and here are some ways to make defenses pay for using it.
- The most obvious way to beat it is to win in the passing game. With no deep safety help, the corners are isolated. In straight drop back passing situations, the safeties will drop into zone so in order to keep them up, hard play action must be used. Post routes or deep crossing routes are the easiest ways for WRs to create separation, but without Ty Montgomery, Stanford has been searching for the burner on the outside who can scare defenses. Jamal Rashad Patterson has the straight line speed, but maybe young Kodi Whitfield (first two career catches against the Cougars) can be the answer. The other option is to line up the two TEs to the same side with no outside WRs and run play action behind them. No only would the safeties have to respect the run fake, but Ertz and Toilolo have the speed to get by LBs or safeties and make the big play down the field.
- Bring the Z receiver in short motion to block the safety. The Z lines up off the ball so is able to run motion before the ball is snapped. If the safety is coming down to stop the run and the play is being run towards him, the Z (often Drew Terrell) can motion towards the ball to get a better angle and make it easier to block the safety. That would then leave the corner unblocked on the outside, but not only is he further from the ball than the safety, it is also a better matchup for Stepfan Taylor and an easier tackle to break. This can even be an adjustment made while Nunes is under center, as he can bring the Z down once he sees the safety support.
- Run reverses or bootleg action. With all of the defenders lined up tight and often between the tackles, running a reverse or getting the QB to fake one way and roll out the other, it can take advantage of the over-pursuit. Patterson has made a big play on a reverse this season, and Kelsey Young has been effective on the fly sweeps out of the Kevin Hogan read option package. Getting to the perimeter also makes it easier for the WRs to block the safeties. To the second point, Josh Nunes is limited with his ability to get to the outside and throw on the run, so as a result bootlegs and roll outs haven't been staples of the offense. That could be another reason David Shaw promised more of Kevin Hogan in the coming weeks, as his athletic ability allows the play callers to attack the defenses' weaknesses.
Stanford's game against Colorado is billed by many as a tune up for the brutal stretch of games to finish the season. However, many thought the same thing about the Washington State matchup a week ago, and the Cardinal needed a defensive TD late to pull away. The reason is because the Cougars had a defensive scheme that didn't allow Stanford to get its ground game going, which then bogged down the passing game. Stanford needs to show it has answers for the 8 and 9 man fronts because the personnel of the Beavers, Ducks, and Bruins can make a good defensive game plan much, much more effective.