There is at least one moment in everyone’s life when frustration builds while trying to accomplish a goal that seems inexplicably both out of reach and at the tips of your fingers all at once.
Whether you are pounds away from that max rep in the gym, a few delicate strokes from perfecting that painting, pages behind truly understanding a scientific concept or any number of goals we try to reach throughout life, the difference (so often) between failure and jubilant success seem insurmountable and inevitable simultaneously.
That, in a nutshell, seems to be the Stanford offense. Big receivers, dual-threat tight ends, a Heisman runner-up at tailback, a veteran offensive line and a quarterback that was ready to run the show.
But the offensive line is lost, the Heisman shine is nowhere to be seen on Bryce Love, and the quarterback has made questionable throws to receivers who have disappeared at times.
It seems ludicrous to claim that the same offense which scored 24 points in the second half against Oregon is the same unit that was floundering in the first half against Utah. But that is where we are.
Surely, with the collection of talent available, there is a way to tinker with the offense without throwing out the ground and pound staple that is Cardinal football.
Moving The Pocket
The Cardinal can use a few simple tools to help protect quarterback K.J. Costello while still maintaining the pillars of offense that Stanford holds dear.
1) Deep Boot-leg Play Action
Getting Costello away from the mess and out to the field not only gives Stanford’s offensive line a bit more wiggle room for error but will also maximize some of the best parts of the passing game.
Stanford’s tight ends (Colby Parkinson and Kaden Smith) have been Costello’s safety blanket this season and the most dependable part of this offense. Going to the power formation with tight ends dragging across the field off play action plays into that strength. We also know from last season that Costello excels off play action, finding success when running play action from the pistol.
But with the weak offensive line play, Costello needs to get out of the pocket and in space, while finding tight ends downfield. A deep boot-leg would pair the best of both last years success and this season’s silver lining.
This one is a little more off the beaten path, as the run-pass option is not in the Stanford playbook, nor is Costello an especially dangerous dual-threat QB.
However, the consistent success in Stanford’s running game has been outside, and betting on the Stanford front to make a push through the middle is risky at best. Shaking it up from pitches and outside draws to involve some read-option and keep defenses on their toes would make for a nice flair to the Cardinal call sheet. Again, the idea here is getting away from the pocket, while also sticking with the running game that Stanford is married to.
3) Extra Blockers
When the Kansas City Chiefs struggled early against the Denver Broncos pass rush, they kept three extra blockers in and sent just two players downfield.
The Cardinal could deploy a similar strategy if they want to keep Costello in the pocket. Play action off a simple draw, while keeping the tight ends in on the edge to assist the tackles, would give Costello much needed protection. The added blockers would let Stanford’s two receivers run deeper routes, allowing plays to truly develop and letting big wideouts cause havoc on the outside.
For each of these, the critical thing is abandoning the idea that the Cardinal should forget the run altogether. No team should try to leave balance by the wayside. But the Cardinal are also a mere few tweaks from success with the talent on their offense. Some version of these play types injected into the scheme might shake things up enough for them to find success.