September 24, 2009
5 Questions on the Cardinal
1) There are a lot of different players in Stanford's secondary with some coming from the offensive side of the ball. How has the transition gone?
WR Richard Sherman and WR/RB Delano Howell moved from the offense to the defense at the beginning of spring drills and while both players are experiencing growing pain at their new positions the Stanford coaches are happy with the moves. The athletic upgrade to the defensive is dramatic.
Sherman made the move to corner and he is one of the Cardinal's top athletes. Sherman is still learning the technical part of being a corner but is upside is tremendous, and while he has given up some yards in the passing game his speed and instincts allow him to recover quickly.
Howell moved into the strong safety spot and is one of the most physical tacklers on the defense. The coaches and players rave about his toughness and attacking style. His coverage skills need work and are improving week by week.
The steady influence of Bo McNally as free safety has made the transition smoother than expected, he is the 'quaterback'; of the backfield and insures the Cardinal get aligned and in the right coverage.
2) With a freshman quarterback at the helm, does the Cardinal have the ability to open up the offense if the power running game isn't working?
Stanford is still a power running team and will be as long as Toby Gerhart and Owen Marecic remain healthy. The coaches have brought along Luck slowly and made sure not to give him too much, too soon. He has done an excellent job through three games of taking what the defense gives him and allowing Chris Owusu to make plays. His two interceptions were cases of a young quarterback making an immature decision.
Luck has shown to be a quarterback that has the tools to make everything you want a QB to make. The Cardinal wide receiver corp is vastly deeper than a year ago. Owusu is healthy is a legitimate game changers. Ryan Whalen is solid at the other starter. Doug Baldwin is healthy and is a speedy target. And freshman Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell showed flashes through fall camp that they can develop into big-time threats.
The tools are there for the Cardinal to open it up if needed, it is just a matter of executing it against a Pac-10 defense.
3) Is the power running game and physical defense an extension of Jim Harbaugh's personality or just a direct result of the personnel he has to work with. With a talented young QB, would Harbaugh throw it around more if he could?
This is a good question and one Cardinal fans have pondered. Harbaugh without question yearns for a tough, physical, blue-collar team. He wants his team to out-work their opponents year round.
And the current roster fits that persona to a T. They have solid lines on both sides of the balls and are thin at the skill positions.
Stanford fans used to Bill Walsh and West Coast, spread-type offenses aren't accustomed to a pounding style. The 2009 recruiting class was heavy on skill players on both sides of the ball, and that was due to the lack of athletes on the roster.
It will be interesting to see how his style changes as his roster grows deeper and more athletic, but I think coach Harbaugh will remain a tough, physical coach. It fits the mold of an Stanford recruit.
4) What players should Husky fans keep their eyes on and why?
Owen Marecic is the fullback and you can never go wrong watching #48. He plays with reckless abandon and loves contacts of all kinds. He is a devastating blocker and could see time at linebacker.
WR Owusu is the speed threat the Cardinal did not have last season. He can stretch the defense and is capable of taking a five yard hitch to the end zone. He has worked hard on his toughness and catching skills and has become the player Stanford coaches hoped he would be.
On defense, Clinton Snyder is the rock of the Stanford defense. He is the stady man in the middle, is always flying to the ball. He is the emotional leader of that side of the ball.
Defensive end Thomas Kieser is off to a great start. The redshirt sophomore earned freshman all-american honors last season, recording 6 sacks. And this season he has four, including three last week versus San Jose State. He relies on a combination of speed and improved strength from the edge.
5) Stanford wins if? Washington wins if? Your prediction?
If the Cardinal are able to limit the big plays from Locker they stand a good chance of winning, sounds obvious and is certainly a tall task. If the Stanford defense can pressure Locker without sending numbers and exposing the secondary further it will take a big step to victory. If the Cardinal offense stays true to its identity and executes a physical, punishing game plan for four quarters giving Gerhart 20-25 carries they will win.
Stanford has gotten off to fast starts in all three game, if the Huskies can take a lead and slow the Cardinal down they will put Stanford into a situation they have not faced all year - playing from behind. Stanford was plagued with turnovers and penalties in their last two games, Wake Forest was able to capitalize, but San Jose State was not, if Washington can force turnovers and convert them to points it will be a long day for Stanford.
As funny as it sounds for a late September game, this is a huge game for the Stanford season. A team with high bowl aspirations needs to win games on their home field where they are favored by a touchdown. The schedule gets progressively more difficult for Stanford and getting to six wins will be difficult with a loss Saturday.
With all that being on the minds of the Cardinal football program I expect to see a focused, determined team take the field. Stanford comes out on top 31-21.
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