Stanford's win over Oregon State provides more questions than answers about the offense

Steve Dykes

The Cardinal once again pulled out a close victory, but the offense is still underperforming

I don't understand anything about this game at all.

I do not believe I will understand the game any better tomorrow. This was the most bizarre game I've experienced, as a fan of one of the two teams actually playing, in some time.

But there is one thing I do understand: any bizarreness does not negate the awful offensive concepts used in the game. What's worse, rather than correct obvious poor ideas, the offensive brain trust persisted and deepened its embrace of those poor ideas.

Let's start with the overall context. 20 points -- 21 with an extra point -- and 5.3 yards per play is not acceptable against a defense surrendering an average of 28 points per game and 5.68 yards per play. Or, this context: the offense hasn't scored over 30 points since September. It's been long enough to say that the flukes of any one game -- if only Montgomery hadn't dropped that TD against UCLA, etc. -- aren't really flukes. They're trends. It's been long enough: there's still something wrong here.

Start with personnel choices. While the offense has been better this year than last, not targeting the best players on the team has been a weakness. With Devon Cajuste out, Stanford decided to play and target Jordan Pratt and Charlie Hopkins quite frequently. This is bizarre, since the two of them have three career catches - combined. One potential choice might be to use players like Michael Rector and Kodi Whitfield, who have five times the number of career catches between them. One would think using a player averaging 39.5 yards per catch (Rector) would be a priority for the offense, but apparently not for David Shaw.

Or take the odd state of our running backs. Wilkerson was once a player of great promise; now he's averaging less than 3.9 yards per carry. Naturally, he has the second-most carries on the team. Surely there are other, Barry J. Sanders-shaped running backs who could be more successful. Or Kelsey Young, who had success against the Beavers. Or...whomever.

To be fair, the offense was hampered by one odd factor: Kevin Hogan's troubling... whatever the hell that was throwing. Hogan's accuracy is not great and his zip is just above average, generally speaking; but against the Beavers his accuracy was roughly equivalent to a carpet bomber's and his throws wobbled, floated and generally did not drive through. Was he hurt? Was there some other issue? Who knows.

Still, if it is readily apparent to basically all observers that something is off with Hogan's arm - or very off, as was the case on Saturday - why not...adjust? Run the ball more (which is actually working!) Use Hogan's legs! Unlike other offensive debacles, where it seemed like basically nothing was working, there were things working here: the typical power runs, plus edge runs -- reverses, fly sweeps, and the like. Why not use what was successful? Why not make things easier for Hogan?

All this, by the way, is just on basic approach -- without considering ideas like, "Hey, we like to run downhill and have a running quarterback. What if we used the pistol more frequently?" Or, "Hey, our quarterback comes from a spread system and looked really comfortable running the no-huddle last game. In fact, even in games he struggles he seems to run two-minute drills well. What if we mixed in more hurry-up no-huddle?"

(Meanwhile, I've heard some wistful reminiscences for Pep Hamilton, but I don't think that would make any difference. Remember, Andrew Luck is the Great Bad Idea Bail-Outer, and he's done a ton of that for the Colts this year, from GM decisions to coaching staff weirdness.)

But despite another offensive debacle the game should have been won rather handily: if Gaffney doesn't fumble; if a bogus offensive pass interference doesn't happen; if a bunch of things. But still, remove the quirky stuff from your mind: the fact is that this was a vulnerable defense, that showed its vulnerabilities, that was nevertheless allowed to keep itself well-guarded. Worse, its weaknesses were the exact alleged strength of our offense. They were not exploited.

While the offense has, on the whole, taken a step forward from last year, its inconsistency from game to game and play to play is a big problem and coaching is not fully exploiting its talents. The offensive brain trust needs to reassess this year, and consider potential changes of approach or staff over the offseason.

Sometimes, it's hard to make a change when you're not at rock bottom, and improving. Still, make it!

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