One of the things I love about Rule of Tree, and Stanford fans in general is the elevated level of discourse when discussing sports. On most sports sites the comment sections are generally filled with insults, vulgarities, poor grammar and even worse logic. Not Rule of Tree though. One of our readers Jeff Tarnungus left this comment in response to our post game coverage roundup. I wanted to share it with the rest of the Rule of Tree readers. What follows is all Jeff Tarnungus:
The defense has been a constant all year. Yes, they were off balance vs. Oregon, caved on one drive vs. USC, blew a coverage call vs. ND, and sort of melted against Utah in OT. But otherwise, we have always been able to count on the defense to give us a chance to win. They were great again on Friday and held up their end of the bargain against Hundley and Company.
So what changed in this game? First, the O-line finally came together and played a very good game. And that changes many things. It gives Hogan more time, improving his accuracy and giving him more options (run vs. pass). It also makes running the football an option, creating opportunities through the middle and off-tackle. It reduces turnovers (no picks by Hogan, no fumbles by backs being slammed in the middle) and penalties, though Peat committed two very costly penalties at the start of the game. What I cannot assess is whether the O-line was better against Cal and UCLA simply because their respective defensive lines are less stout. It would be interesting to go up against, say, Utah again with this same team and see how our O-line performs.
Another difference in this game: Shaw opened up the playbook, mixed it up, and unleashed the entire arsenal of weapons at his disposal: the long ball, the slant, the screen, the play-option....and the run. And all the talent on offense had a chance to participate: Cajuste, Rector, Hooper, Pratt, Owusu, McCaffrey, Wright, Sanders and, last but not least, Kevin Hogan, who had his mojo back and looked better than ever. The absence of Ty Montgomery, as negative as it appeared before the game, may have been just the thing to make Shaw and Hogan turn to the other players for offensive production.
What I also cannot assess is how much the improved O-line play allowed Shaw to open up the playbook. Was he being so conservative all year because he didn't have any faith in the O-line and hence no faith in Hogan to execute the entire playbook? The two may be connected, but I cannot say for sure. One thing that speaks against this theory is that we had a terrific O-line last year; and Shaw still rarely opened up the playbook. The game against MSU in the Rose Bowl is a perfect case in point. I just hope Coach Shaw has seen what a wonderful world of offense is possible if you use your talent and don't get stuck in a power-running rut.
The game plan vs. UCLA was also excellent; but again, this only works with a functioning O-line: stuff the opponent with a great D, get the ball and march methodically down the field for a score, keeping the opposing team's offense off the field, rinse and repeat. Then, once the lead is three scores, kill the clock, while eliminating the big play from the opposing team.
Last change: Hogan was on fire. Yes, it's tough to be on fire behind a dysfunctional O-line; but his lights-out play on Friday was not only because of the improved O-line. It's like he reconnected to his best performances of old and became the mature, versatile QB we all expected him to be at this stage of his career. I didn't think I would say it, but I sure hope THAT Kevin Hogan comes back for his senior year of eligibility.
And yes, the victory against the Bruins is a bitter-sweet affair. The Stanford squad we saw dismantle the purported #8 team in the country can play with anybody on a good day, even the Ducks. The losses to ND, USC and Utah hurt all the more now, because the course of the season has shown that none of them were top teams. I mean, Notre Dame was beaten by Northwestern and Louisville and got absolutely shellacked vs. USC yesterday, who in turn was smashed by UCLA the week before. Yes, it could have been an 11-1 or 10-2 season, but that is all idle speculation now. Our sights have to be on 2015.
My wish list:
1) We somehow manage to reload the D
2) Peat and Hogan return
3) Shaw remembers what opening up the playbook does for an offense
Then we might see that excellent season in 2015 that we missed this season.
Keep the great discussion coming folks!