The Stanford offense has been in a funk lately.
ESPN noticed this so much on Wednesday that they wrote two redundant articles about the struggling Cardinal O - one titled, "What's ailing Stanford's offense?", the other titled "What's wrong with the Stanford offense?"
Clearly, something's broken here if the Worldwide Leader feels the need to devote two articles to the problem. But there's no reason to think Stanford can't snap out of this funk. So what's the trick to an offensive breakout? Simplicity.
The bottom line with the Stanford offense is that it's time to make things easier for Kevin Hogan - the offensive coaching staff has to let his playmakers do the majority of the work with the football. David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren can't have a repeat of last week, where they asked Hogan to drop back and wait to throw over and over again. Under that formula, Hogan got sacked several times and fumbled twice. It's time to make his reads simpler - the way they were when he first became Stanford's starting quarterback.
So what kind of simple plays were those? Handoffs, QB runs, option plays, and passes with only one read - screen passes, bubble screens, or play-action passes with just two receivers running routes. It's what Hogan excelled at last year, and his substandard play over the last two weeks has raised a question in my mind: Why make a player who is really good at checkers try to play chess? Why not just let his strengths be his strengths?
Thankfully, there's one player who can help make Hogan's job easier by himself: Kelsey Young. The running back/wide receiver has already made his mark with the Cardinal - he scored Stanford's first touchdown in the Rose Bowl a year ago - but he's yet to get a high volume of touches... even though his statistics are eye-popping.
From 2012 through the first six games of 2013, Kelsey Young has touched the ball as a running back or as a wide receiver exactly 28 times. He's gained 304 total yards on those plays and he's scored two touchdowns. He's picked up eight first downs when he's touched the ball. He averages 10.85 yards per play when he touches the ball.
So... let's find a way to get this guy the ball more often.
So far, his main contribution to the Stanford offense has been on jet sweeps, like the one he ran for 32 yards against Arizona State last month.
The bizarre thing about this play isn't that Young broke it open for a big 32-yard gain, but that the Stanford coaching staff didn't go back to it again at all. In fact, the same thing happened in the Rose Bowl back in January. Young ran in a jet sweep for a touchdown and Stanford never called his number again.
For some reason, the Stanford coaching staff doesn't think that the jet sweep's success is sustainable over the course of a game - but that's not true. And Wisconsin, the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative a year ago, proved it.
The Badgers already had Heisman contender Montee Ball as their workhorse in the backfield, but they still did everything they could to put the ball in one of their talented youngster's hands - and so he did. Running back Melvin Gordon gashed opposing defenses on the jet sweep, racking up 621 yards on 62 attempts - a spiffy 10 yard average. (Ringing any bells?)
Over and over again, Bret Bielema would pound opposing defenses with Ball up the middle, then hit them with Gordon on the outside. If defenses wanted to stack the box, they made themselves vulnerable to Gordon's speed on the edge, and if they tried to defend the boundaries then Ball would dominate them between the tackles. Because of this, Bielema was always able to keep two of his best players on the field at all times. Just watch Gordon blaze past defenders out on the edge:
Should the Cardinal incorporate Young's skill set into their offensive playcalling more often, it would allow them to put three of their best players on the field at all times - Ty Montgomery, Tyler Gaffney and Young - and keep defenses guessing which player would be getting the ball. It'd make Kevin Hogan's job a lot easier because all he's have to do is flip short passes to Montgomery or Young on the outside, hand off to Gaffney or Young, or run the option with any of those three guys.
It's an easy change, and it's one that's been proven to work. And even ESPN thinks it's time to put the ball in the hands of the playmakers.
But if the coaches don't turn to Young to help their "ailing" or "hurting" offense, it'll cause me to think up a different question for the coaching staff: What's your deal?