Stanford Cardinal blog Go Might Card hit us up to talk Saturday's game, and we got the chance to find out the opponent perspective from Hank Waddles. Head over to their blog to see their questions answered by us.
1) There's been a lot of discussion of a quarterback change for the Cardinal. It doesn't look like that'll happen, but how concerned are you about Josh Nunes on a scale from 1-10, and why?
It's never a good idea to be the man who replaces The Man, and Josh Nunes is learning that. Whoever is the next starting quarterback for the Cardinal, whether that's two weeks from now or two years from now, will have a much easier time. I've been saying for quite some time now that the Stanford defense is so good that even an average Pac-12 quarterback could possibly lead the team to a third consecutive BCS bowl game, but the problem is that Nunes has been below average. I wrote a piece for my site on Thursday making the outrageous suggestion that Shaw should not make a quarterback change, and the blowback was fierce. Most voices in Cardinal Nation are calling for Brett Nottingham to get a chance, with the idea being that he couldn't possibly be worse than Nunes was last week in the Washington loss, but I think Shaw has to stay the course. So how would I rate my level of concern? If 1 is an Andrew Luck level of comfort and 10 is sheer panic, I'd say I'm at a 5. I'm watching to see what happens each week, but I'm definitely not ready to give up on him.
2) In general, what's the most concerning part of the loss at Washington? Was it any weakness that Arizona could potentially use against the Cardinal, or did the Huskies just play much better than Stanford?
See my response to question #1. The defense was utterly dominant as they absolutely battered Husky quarterback Keith Price all night long, but the offense was so inept that when the defense finally made a late mistake, the team couldn't recover. I'm guessing the Arizona coaching staff has seen the tape of the game, so I'm not giving anything away here, but UW essentially laid out the blueprint that the rest of the conference will now follow for beating the Cardinal -- until Coach Shaw and his staff do something to stop it. Here's what you do. Crowd the line of scrimmage on defense with a minimum of eight men in the box, and play the receivers with tight man-to-man coverage. You might worry that the receivers will get off the line and beat you deep, but don't worry. They won't. And if they do, they'll probably drop the ball. Meanwhile, even though Stanford football over the past four years has been defined by an ability to simply overpower opponents with the running game, that won't happen either. Faced with those eight- or nine-man fronts, the offense will respond with a similarly stacked offensive line, sometimes with six or seven offensive linemen and a fullback to lead the way for Stepfan Taylor. You'd think that would give them a size advantage, but it won't matter. And instead of continuing to pound that running attack for the duration of the game, knowing the defense will soften and eventually yield progressively larger chunks of yardage, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will look elsewhere, stubbornly hoping to establish a passing game with a below average quarterback throwing to receivers who can neither get open nor catch the ball.
It really isn't that bad, but I've essentially described what happened last Saturday night. Cardinal fans are hoping to see something different this weekend.
3) One of the most interesting story lines in Pac-12 play is the competition between the spread teams and the pro-style teams. Stanford obviously falls in the latter. Do you see that being an advantage or disadvantage against spread teams in general?
I think match-ups are everything in college football. Take a look at USC and Oregon. Along with Stanford, they have the clear the class of the Pac-12 for the past five years, and their games have been highly competitive during that time. When those teams have played Stanford, however, the results have been dramatically different. Stanford simply matches up well with USC, but not against the Ducks. USC's pro-style offense and NFL-inspired Tampa 2 defense are familiar to David Shaw, who spent several years coaching at the next level. The Trojans have been supremely talented for the past decade, but they don't do anything to surprise anyone. Stanford has beaten them by running the ball relentlessly to keep the high-powered Trojan offense off the field, and this year the defense had enormous success harassing quarterback Matt Barkley. None of this works against Oregon's high-tempo spread offense, however. The Ducks don't need time of possession, so Stanford's typical clock-draining drives don't bother them. On defense, while Stanford has been able to contain the methodical Trojan offense, Oregon's speed -- and speed of play -- has flummoxed the Cardinal players and coaches the past two years.
The good news for Stanford, though, is that Oregon is an anomaly. They faced Oklahoma State's spread offense in the Fiesta Bowl last January, and although they gave up more than forty points, they obviously should've won that game. If Arizona's offense develops into something like Oregon's, the Cardinal just might start looking forward to the years when the Wildcats drop off their schedule.4) What is the most concerning part about Arizona's personnel or scheme for a Cardinal fan?
Stanford has already faced two great quarterbacks in USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price. Both players took a beating at the hands of Stanford's front seven, but it will still be interesting to see how Matt Scott performs on Saturday. Even though the Stanford secondary has vastly exceeded expectations, I think most Stanford fans will admit to a healthy degree of skepticism and concern. It will take more than a game or two to erase the memories of blown coverages and missed tackles that seemed to pop up in every game last season. The second area of concern is the Arizona defense. No one outside of Seattle expected the Washington defense to give the Cardinal any trouble at all, at least as far as the running game was concerned, so I think there must be at least some degree of concern here as well. Until the offensive line shows that it can be dominant again, people will wonder.
5) Who are players who Arizona might not yet have heard of and should keep an eye upon?
Again, let's talk about the front seven, specifically the linebackers. I'm guessing you know All-Pac-12 outside linebaker Chase Thomas and 2010 All-Pac-12 inside linebacker Shayne Skov, who was injured in last season's Arizona game and ended up missing the rest of the season. Those two men aren't the only linebackers out there, however. Watch for Trent Murphy, who scored Stanford's only touchdown last week after making a leaping interception at the line of scrimmage and outracing a wide receiver for fifty yards to the end zone. Playing alongside Skov is James Vaughters, a freakishly talented sophomore who dominates practice and is starting to put things together on game day. A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster both started on the inside last year, but even though they've been replaced in the starting lineup by Thomas and Skov, they'll still rotate in frequently and make their share of plays.
6) How do you think this game pans out?
I think this is a highly motivated group of players and coaches, and it was evident in the aftermath of last week's loss that all parties were angry, frustrated, and even embarrassed. I'm guessing all of that served to fuel a week of high-energy practices. I think the defense will be overwhelming, perhaps even better than they were at Washington. Nunes should benefit from the return home, so I don't expect to see him underthrowing wide open receivers by five and ten feet. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who dropped several balls, including one pass that would likely have been the game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes, is looking for redemption. Look for him to score a touchdown. When it's all done, I think Stepfan Taylor runs for 140-150 yards and two touchdowns, Nunes passes for 180, the defense records 6-8 tackles for loss, and the team wins 24-10.