Stanford is coming off a solid victory with momentum heading into a tough stretch of games. I am sure that sounds familiar to Stanford fans this season as the same could have been said following the USC upset and the Arizona overtime win. Both victories were followed by gut wrenching losses to Washington and Notre Dame respectively, and the offense went from taking one step forward to two giants steps back in those defeats. If Stanford has any chance to keep up with Oregon and win the expected fist fight with Oregon State, the Cardinal has to come up with ways to sustain the offense's evolution.
- Find ways to get the WRs more involved. Stanford's top two pass catchers on the season are TE Zach Ertz and RB Stepfan Taylor. In fact there are 3 WRs in the PAC 12 conference with more receptions than the entire Cardinal corps of wideouts combined. Ertz has been incredibly effective when he spreads out from the normal TE alignment, but in order for the offense to have the big play ability over the top of the safeties, a WR with speed must emerge as a deep threat. That will keep the safeties from cheating up on run defense and will also open up the middle of the field for Ertz and Toilolo to operate.
- Continue to develop QB Kevin Hogan. Hogan's career passing numbers are 1-1 for 9 yards and a TD. Tough to really improve on that, but certainly his role in this offense has grown over recent weeks and his running ability adds a much needed dimension to the offense. QB John Nunes has scrambled successfully at times, but his athleticism certainly doesn't scare opposing defensive coordinators. In fact, Hogan's TD pass came on a play where the run was faked to the left and he ran to his right, which marked the first time all season that a misdirection keep has happened all season. Making the backside defensive players respect a keep helps open up the cutback possibility for Taylor in the run game. Also, pressuring the edge in the run game with the read option is a huge variation from the power play, Stanford's staple, and forces defenses to stay honest on the perimeter as well as spend valuable practice time preparing. Not only that, but Hogan may very well be the future at the position, so the more reps he gets and the more comfortable he feels running the offense, the smoother the transition will be once he takes over.
- Find the left tackle. David Yankey has started at LT this season and has been shuffled to left guard at times. It actually can change from play to play as the coaches like to use him at guard when running power to the right, which allows him to pull and lead for Taylor. Talented freshman offensive lineman Andrus Peat and Josh Garnett have been rotated in at times, but some consistency up front will lead to better play. Coach David Shaw mentioned that the OL played maybe its best game as a unit against Cal, and the freshman played more snaps than they had all season. If Garnett is ready, then Yankey can stay at LT. If Peat proves to be the man, Yankey can move down to guard, his more natural position and likely NFL future, and the offensive line is solidified. Consistency should increase the performance of the unit and lead to more 200+ yard rushing performances like the offense produced against the Bears.
It is clear that Stanford's strength is its defense. The effort against the Bears in the 115th Big Game was incredible as they held Cal to just 3 yards rushing and are one of the best in the country at sacking the opposing QB and tackles for loss. However, if Stanford is going to have a shot at its third consecutive 10+ win season, the offense needs to continue to evolve, develop and find ways to keep the chains moving.
Finally, I would like to point out that the NCAA recently released its Graduation Success Rate numbers, and Stanford finished atop the PAC 12 while Cal finished at the bottom of the conference. Just another blow to the Bears following a big one in Memorial Stadium last Saturday.