The World-Wide Leader
I started this blog last fall for two reasons. One, I found myself sending five-hundred-word emails every week to friends who were too polite to tell me to stop; and two, there was no place on the internet to read about Stanford football.
Ted Miller was doing great work for ESPN's Pac-10 football blog, but even he was having trouble finding material about the Cardinal. His Lunchtime Links would regularly feature links to several different sources reporting on the other nine teams in the conference, but there was rarely anything about Stanford, and when there were, he was always linking to the same mainstream media sites: the Stanford Daily, the San Jose Mercury News, and sometimes the San Francisco Chronicle. It was clear that someone out there should be writing about the Cardinal, and I couldn't think of any good reason why that someone shouldn't be me.
Scott Allen was apparently thinking the same thing. He launched his comprehensive Rule of Tree site less than a week before mine was born, and he quickly gained a huge following. Right around that same time, I believe, Willys DeVoll started up The Daily Axe and also found instant success. Where there once had been nothing, there were now suddenly three separate sites covering the Cardinal with equal enthusiasm.
And then Andrew Luck decided to return for his senior year and everything got crazy. Suddenly there was actual hype surrounding Stanford football. Luck was immediately touted as the front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race, found his way onto the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, and became the subject of countless feature stories in newspapers around the country. ESPN's travelling preview show rolled onto campus in August (and College Gameday will be there again this weekend), and Luck and new head coach David Shaw appeared on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, and ESPNU.
None of that, of course, was enough. Early in the season the folks at ESPN.com made the stunning decision to launch a blog solely dedicated to Stanford football. There was no such blog for Alabama, LSU, USC, Texas, Michigan, or Auburn, but somehow there was one for Stanford University. This was mind-blowing news, even to those of us who were living and breathing Stanford Football on a daily basis. Stanford football had truly arrived.
So as we get ready for what some are calling the biggest game in the history of Stanford football, it makes sense to call on Kevin Gemmell to get his perspective on the matchup. So without further ado, I'll turn things over to Kevin...
Injuries will always be a part of football, and both these teams have suffered in that department. But while Oregon seems to be getting healthy after their early season problems, Stanford is getting hit hard late. How much do you figure the absence of Shayne Skov as well as the expected loss of Chris Owusu, Zach Ertz, and possibly Delano Howell will affect the Cardinal against the Ducks?
I think they have come to terms with the loss of Skov, and I really like what I’ve seen from Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley. There are other receivers who can make plays in Owusu’s absence – specifically Ty Montgomery and Drew Terrell – but neither can match Owusu’s speed. But Ertz is the big one on offense. So much of Stanford’s identity and personality on offense revolves around those three-tight-end formations. You take him away, you lose a reliable third-down option and a solid mid-range receiving threat. As for Howell, you can see the impact when the hardest hitter on the team isn't patrolling the secondary.
At the outset of the season there were some experts who felt Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense would struggle because of the raw offensive line. Two-thirds of the way into the season, some of these same experts are referring to that group as one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Putting aside the injury to Cameron Fleming, how good has the line been thus far, and how have they come together so quickly? How do you expect them to fare against Oregon's front seven?
Like the rest of the country, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the haste in which they have come together as a group. I think a lot of that has to do with center Sam Schwartzstein. He’s often credited with having a deeper understanding of the offense than anyone on the team, save Luck. I like what they’ve done in pass protection and when you can pull both guards and run the power to either side – and do it out of a dozen formations – it adds an element to the offense that is difficult to defend. As for how they will fare? Well, we saw them breakdown a little against an athletic USC defense – and Oregon has comparable size and speed. If I’m those guys, I’m committing the USC game film to memory and figuring out where things went wrong.
If you’re a reader of my blog, you know that I’m a huge David Shaw fan – have been since I covered him and Harbaugh at USD. I think he’s put his own stamp on the offense this year with the innovative formations and personnel groupings. I completely concur about his calming presence during the USC game. At the same time, I love that he was so animated when Chris Owusu got hurt against Washington State. It’s nice to know that fire is there, even if it only comes out once or twice a season. Not sure who isn’t giving him enough credit – because I feel like I can’t give the guy enough.
You’re assuming LSU gets by Western Kentucky. Don’t go sleeping on the Hilltoppers – winners of five straight. That would set us up nicely for a Kellen Moore vs. Andrew Luck showdown in the national championship game. We could hold off the Heisman voting and let the winner take all. (Hey, you said just for fun). But in all seriousness, I think Stanford matches up better against LSU than it does Oregon. I see play-action for days against the Tigers. With that said, I think if they played 10 times, LSU probably wins six out of 10. And the field will be neutral, but only on the stat sheet. It’s a game I’d love to see.