Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Welcome to another year of "Spring Fish Wraps". You may not remember, but last year, we decided to tackle each team on the WSU schedule and take a close look at them, post-spring football condition. Why? To try to get a feel for what to expect in the upcoming season, that's why.
Why use the term "fish wrap"? It's a self-hating thing. You know, this article sucks so bad I wouldn't wrap dead fish with it? Or line the bird cage with it, etc. But it's a play on words to also wrap up the spring.....get it??
Anyway, I have to admit that doing something like this was/is educational to say the least. At least for me it is. It's a good idea to dig deep on each team and see for yourself what is going on outside of Pullman. You can see some of last year's Fish Wraps here (or just search "spring fish wrap" in the blog search window at the top of this page).
That said, time to look at game one for 2009. And what do you know, the rebuilding Jim Harbaugh's/Stanford Cardinal invade Pullman on September 5th to kick it all off.
What do we have to look forward to? Read on and see the WSU Football Blog angle to Stanford...
LAST YEAR: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the PAC-10.
LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A humiliating 58-0 wipeout on a damp track in Palo Alto.
Stanford ran over the WSU D for a season-high 344 rushing yards(!), led by Toby Gerhart's four TD runs, all in the first half as Stanford sprinted to a 31-0 lead. And, uh, WOW were we bad last year!
STANFORD FANS ARE: Pretty happy. Maybe not completely thrilled, but pretty happy with the direction. The rebuilding under Captain Comeback took another step forward last year, just one victory from getting back to the postseason since Ty Willingham's fleece vest roamed the now-defunct Seattle Bowl sidelines in 2001.
It's been a while. But to think that they were just one win away from a bowl game, when two short seasons ago in 2006, Stanford was a one-win disaster? An outfit so bad it was being debated as to their place in the all-time WORST PAC-10 teams of all-time? How can Stanford fans be anything but thrilled right now? Ask yourself, if WSU was to be one win from a post-season bid in 2009 in year two of the rebuilding job, after the train wreck of 2008, wouldn't you take that?? Anyway, the fans believe in Harbaugh, and he has this thing going places.
OFFENSIVE SCHEMES: Stanford offensively keeps things fairly close to the vest. Not your spread scheme by any means, they are more of a traditional pro-set/west coast offense look that you see out of a USC or even UW in the Sarkisian era. Look for a fullback and a tight-end on several occasions, and a lot of snaps with the QB directly under center.
OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Stanford did improve offensively last year, coming off a dreadful 2007 in which they were trolling near the bottom ten in several categories. In '07, they were 102nd in the nation in rushing offense, and 107th in total offense. Fast forward to 2008, and it's better. 84th in scoring offense, but an even higher 67th in total offense. In the PAC-10 rankings, Stanford was sixth in scoring offense and total offense. But while the passing game was lacking, ahead of ONLY WSU in passing yards per game(!), they did finish SECOND in the league in rushing offense at 199.6 ypg. So overall, not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but they are getting better.
DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Like they are on offense, they are traditional on defense, relying on the basic 4-3 attack. But they will mix things up by blitzing linebackers to bring pressure. And again, Stanford showed improvement.
DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Another area with some improvement. In '07, they were 98th in the country in total defense. In '08, they moved up to 76th. In the conference, they were slightly below average, finishing sixth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense, seventh in rushing defense and seventh in total defense. This isn't your '85 Chicago Bears defense (or anything close). But again, they ARE improving.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: RB Toby Gerhart.
This one's easy. Toby Gerhart was the heart and soul of the Stanford offense last year, and really THE GUY for the entire team. Gerhart gashed the Cougs for four TD runs in the first half of the 58-0 blowout, but he wasn't just a one-hit wonder. Far from it actually. Gerhart would finish third in the PAC-10 with 1136 rushing yards, averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. But he was even more impressive getting into the endzone, finishing was second in the conference with 15 rushing TD's. Absolutely stacked at 6-1, 232 lbs, the guy is a horse.
In watching the video, it's pretty clear that if you get a helmet on Gerhart, you better wrap him up! The guy is not only powerful enough to run you over, but he breaks tackles as well as any back in the conference. But not only does he have that power, he's also got that little extra "gear" to where he can outrun the defense. Check out some of those runs vs. Oregon State, where he gets to the sideline and then runs away from the defense. SERIOUSLY impressive!
Along with CAL's Jahvid Best and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, Gerhart is one of the top running backs in the west, and he will compete for all-conference honors.
And for what it's worth, Gerhart is one heck of a baseball player as well. There was even some talk that if he had a big baseball season this year for the Cardinal, he could go pro in the upcoming June MLB draft.
But alas, Gerhart hasn't had the big season some expected from him on the diamond, hitting .272 with five HR's this year. So yep, expect him to line up at tailback on September 5th. WONDERFUL.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Safety Bo McNally.
McNally had a fantastic all-around year for Stanford in '08, leading the team in tackles (76), including 6.5 for loss. But he knew what he was doing in the secondary, also leading the team in interceptions (4). He'll be the senior leader of the defense. Not an NFL prototype safety at 6-0, 205, he's still pretty quick and is a very good tackler. He will contend for all-conference honors as one of the top safeties returning in 2009. While Gerhart leads the offense, McNally is the heart and soul of the Cardinal D.
TOP THREE POST-SPRING QUESTIONS:
1) What's the deal with the QB's?? Another year, another QB "situation" at Stanford. Last year Tavita Pritchard (yes, Jack Thompson's nephew) won the job. But he did "a'ight", but certainly didn't torch the opposing defense. Pritchard would throw for just 1633 yards and 10 TD's in 2008, leading Stanford to the ninth-rated passing offense in the conference. Granted, Stanford's offensive coaches didn't ask him to do too much, but Pritchard couldn't escape the turnover bug. He threw 15 INT's, and that's just too many when you aren't even primarily a passing offense. As we all know (far too well I might add!), turnovers KILL offenses, and they just can't have that again. So, Harbaugh has now officially given the keys to the offense over to none other than hotshot QB prospect Andrew Luck.
Luck is a big-time QB prospect who comes straight out of central casting. Big (6-4, 227), strong, and even some good wheels with a reported 4.7 40-time, Luck was highly recruited out of Houston, Texas. But instead of heading to a usual NCAA powerhouse, Luck shocked everyone when he picked Harbaugh and the Cardinal when he signed in 2008. He was a top-5 QB in every recruiting service around, and regarded as one of the top 50 or so players in the country when Harbaugh reeled him in. The best part is what Luck did this spring when given a shot at unseating the established Pritchard. He threw for an amazing 352 yards and FIVE TD's in the Cardinal spring game, basically assuring everyone that this is Luck's job. That's a kid who wants a job. So get ready to see the redshirt QB under center in Pullman September 5th.
2) How's the schedule? Pretty mild if you want to know the truth. After opening in Pullman, they do have to travel across the country the following week to take on Wake Forest. But then it's Palo Alto for three in a row vs. San Jose St, UW and UCLA, all winnable games at home. A 4-1 start isn't out of the question. While they do have to travel to Oregon State and USC later in the year, they get Oregon, Cal and ASU all at home. And of course there's the traditional Notre Dame game to close the season, also in Palo Alto. Phil Steele ranks their schedule as #71 in the country. Safe to say that the schedule looks to be Stanford's friend this year.
3) Sounds good. But isn't Stanford just a little too young this year? Actually they do look pretty green, projected to return just 15 starters this fall. And that includes starting a brand new QB in Andrew Luck. While Luck looks like a star on the rise, he hasn't taken an NCAA snap. Kids can look great in scrimmages, and they can carry around the press clippings from glory days gone by, but you just never really know until the lights go on and it gets real in a hurry. And what kind of help will Luck have in the passing game? Wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin were 1-2 on the team in receptions last year, and they are both back for '09. But after those two, the next leading receiver coming back is none other than Toby Gerhart, who caught 13 balls out of the backfield.
To make things a little more shaky on Stanford's QB situation, third-stringer Alex Loukas tore up his knee this spring and will be out for the beginning of 2009. Meaning that Tavita Pritchard, the same guy who was beaten out for the QB job and is now the backup, will likely be the only QB among the top three on the depth chart who has thrown an actual pass in a game situation to start the year.
WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: The first game is always a dicey proposition. You see teams bust their butts all summer long, and so much focus is put on game number one. It's like the driving motivation for all that hard work, and you hope it all pays off. But weird things tend to happen early in the year. In fact, last year Oregon State went down to Palo Alto to open up the 2008 season, and they LOST to the Cardinal in what was regarded as a bit of an upset. Nobody knew just how big at the time though, as really that loss kept the Beavers out of Pasadena! Had Oregon State won that game, the Civil War loss to Oregon would have been irrelevant as the Rose Bowl bid would have already been secured. And that game was mistake-filled by OSU, as the Cardinal finished at +3 in turnover margin. The first-game yips were evident, as it can be especially tough when you open the season on the road.
But that said, we can't exactly erase 58-0 from the memory banks, can we? After all, Stanford just sledgehammered the Cougar D, time and again. The Cougs also turned the ball over FIVE times, compared to zero for Stanford, so that had a lot to do with it. But when you can't do the basics like stopping the opponent from running for 344 yards on you, you are in for a long day.
Obviously the key for WSU this year will be to crowd the line of scrimmage and commit to stopping the run. If they can somehow do that, and put young Luck in obvious passing situations, they have a shot. But if Gerhart is constantly getting 5, 6, 7 yards per carry and moving the chains, it could be another long day defensively. But we'll get to all that stuff later this year, Football Friday style.....
For now, I have to say that I like the looks of Stanford. Even though Luck is young, he looks the part. They should be better through the air. Combine that with the return of Gerhart to bring balance to the offense, and given Stanford's lower-level schedule? 2009 sure looks promising for a return to the postseason. Not bad for year three in what was thought to be a massive rebuilding job.
That's it for today. Enjoy your Tuesday, and GO COUGS!