This was the day we've been waiting for on the Farm: the return of the tight ends. Could this be the new era of Tree Amigos? Eric Cotton pulled down a 39-yard touchdown and Greg Taboada snagged two TDs, the first scores for either player this season. While noted beast Austin Hooper only had one catch, it was extremely encouraging to see players that had been talked up for more than a year notch their breakout games.
I was also encouraged by the fact that Cotton's TD and Taboada's 2nd TD came from heavy sets on play-action passes - which may have emerged as one of Stanford's best personnel groupings. We already knew that Hogan is much better when afforded the luxury of play-action.
Here's Cotton's TD, where he motioned across the formation, ran a post route and was wide open:
And here's Taboada's, where the 6-5 tight end gets matched up one-on-one in the end zone against a safety at least five inches shorter than he is. Hogan rolls right and finds him for the easy score.
This heavy set is clearly a tough grouping for defenses to stop. It sets up a strong run game, Hogan off the play-action pass and mismatch-sized tight ends running free against linebackers and safeties. I'm hoping we see this element of the Stanford offense in action more frequently as the season goes along.
My only question about the tight ends after Friday: Where had Greg Taboada been before this?
Kevin Hogan was pretty darn good - 8.1 yards per attempt is pretty spiffy - and he distributed the ball well. Foremost among his pass-catchers was Ty Montgomery, who pulled down 7 catches for 72 yards (and had a touchdown nullified by an illegal formation penalty). How good was Hogan at spreading the ball around? 12 different players caught passes for a total of 284 yards - a little more than 12 yards per catch. I think that's a particularly encouraging sign because David Shaw is still trying to figure out what works personnel-wise for this team, and he got a little closer to a successful offense thanks to Friday's game. There are a lot of playmakers on this team, and he found a way to effectively use them all.
Death, taxes and the Stanford defense. They're all coming for you. Stanford held the nation's most prolific passing offense to an inefficient 292 yards passing - their lowest total of the season - and once again proved that it's capable handling whatever the conference throws at them. They're the only team in the nation to allow less than 20 points in every game this season, and they may end up being the best Stanford defense of the last three years. The schedule ahead doesn't get easier - Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon, Utah, Cal and UCLA all have some substantial offensive threats - but I don't think it's a reach to say this defense has shown no signs of slowing down.
Hungry for More
I'm strangely satisfied by this game, and that's attributable to the way this game of broke down offensively. This appeared to me to be the game on offense where Shaw executed proper personnel usage and proper reps for almost all of his best players. Ty Montgomery led all receivers. Remound Wright got the chance to be the lead back with Barry Sanders as the complement. Christian McCaffrey touched the ball five times. Shotgun passing sets had an extra blocker to help buy Kevin Hogan a little bit more time. On top of that, there were 35 passes to 31 runs - I wouldn't mind if we ran the ball even a little bit more - but this was a solid, balanced game plan that I think the staff should carry on going forward. While the execution came and went at times, I'd give David Shaw and his coaching staff a thumbs up for Friday.
Yes, I'm Judging You
Three issues have emerged for Stanford this season: red zone, penalties and punting. That once again held true on Friday. Stanford had one red zone drive ruined with back-to-back holding penalties, another fall apart when Patrick Skov fumbled reaching the ball for the goal line, and a Ty Montgomery touchdown nullified with an illegal formation penalty. So the first two problems go hand in hand. The third issue, though, is a David Shaw problem. He chose to punt the ball on 4th and 3 from their 37 and then chose to punt the ball on 4th and 3 from their 40. That's just being a chicken.
If it's three yards, just go for it. If it's seven or eight, maybe think twice. But at least give yourself a chance to pick up three yards, keep the drive alive and score a touchdown.
Important Facts also of Note
Tiger Woods was there.