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Football roundtable: Can Cardinal stifle Mike Leach’s offense?
Junior running back Bryce Love (above) is still the nation's leading rusher (1,387 rushing yards) but he is a game-time decision for Saturday's game.(JIM SHORIN/isiphotos.com)

Football roundtable: Can Cardinal stifle Mike Leach’s offense?

In Bryce Love’s absence Thursday, the Cardinal only gained 81 yards on the ground, their lowest total this season by far. What exactly did Thursday tell us about Love and the Stanford offense?

Matthew Gutwald (MG): What Thursday’s game in Corvallis showed us was that Stanford’s offense is all about timing. While 81 yards on the ground may sound an alarm for Stanford fans, I would not be so worried. All things considered, Stanford’s offensive line looked good throughout the game, especially going up against a stacked box. With having less experienced and more anxious backs in the game, the timing of the offense was thrown off. This highlights the patience that Bryce Love provides, allowing the offensive line to clean up gaps, move people and create the huge holes that we have seen this season. Not to mention that offense was also made rather one dimensional due to a lacking performance from Keller Chryst. Stanford will need to demonstrate the ability to throw the ball against the Cougars if it hopes to win the game.

Ariana Rollins (AR): Make no mistake, there were a couple of factors at play in Thursday’s game, but it still showed Stanford’s reliance on Love for those big plays, and honestly, just to convert on third downs, as they only converted on five out of 16 third downs. The absence of Love did more than just slow down the offense though, it also allowed Oregon State to put more pressure on Chryst, who doesn’t do well without time in the pocket. The Cardinal can still survive against Washington State without Love, but they need to work on styling their run game for backs that aren’t Love, and keep the passing simple and efficient.

Sam Curry (SC): Before this game, part of me still believed a lot of Bryce Love’s success was due to the offensive line. Thursday night showed me it was quite the opposite. Love elevates this offense to levels it couldn’t dream of without him. He makes an average offensive line look elite and makes a very average passing attack perform much better due to the attention he commands when he’s on the field. Thursday night, in a strange way, bolstered Love’s campaign more than anything he could have done on the field would have in my opinion, considering Oregon State’s porous defense. The Cardinal rely on Love much more than I thought going into this game, and I’m not sure they stand a chance against the Cougars without him after witnessing Thursday’s performance.

 

Stanford without a doubt struggled Thursday night in Corvallis, but Washington State has been struggling of late as well, losing 37-3 to Cal a few weeks ago and then falling 57-38 to Arizona last Saturday. How have the last few weeks changed the context of Saturday’s matchup?

MG: I would still not discount the Cougars despite their lack of success in their last couple weeks. They lost to a talented Arizona team with a rising superstar in quarterback Khalil Tate, and had the turnover bug on a Friday night game in Berkeley. However, the most intriguing thing to watch for in this game is the confidence of Luke Falk. Falk, a Heisman candidate at the beginning of the year, was benched against Arizona in favor of sophomore Tyler Hilinski who threw four interceptions. While Falk has already been named the starter for this week’s game, it will be intriguing to see how he carries himself to open the game.

AR: As Washington State head coach Mike Leach said, they played hard, but they played dumb against Arizona. When Tyler Hilinski replaced Luke Falk, he threw four interceptions, which negated his efforts to get them back in the game. Falk is starting this game, and while he looked bad last week, the Cougars are still a threat. However, one thing we learned from their loss was that they struggled with covering the option, having less of a power-based defense than a speed-based one. If the Cardinal play well, the offensive flexibility will help in this game.

SC: I must say I am viewing this matchup much differently than I would have three or four weeks ago. Washington State looked unstoppable at times on offense early this season, and the way the Stanford defense responded to talented quarterbacks in its first few games had me fretting about this game for the Cardinal all season. Not to mention they had the 11th best defense in college football in yards allowed per game before October. But Luke Falk has proven to be very human these past few weeks, and as Matt touched on, I question his confidence heading into this one. I like Stanford’s chances in this game a lot better this week than I have the rest of the season, and I’m excited to see how they respond to the unique challenge that is Mike Leach’s offense.

 

Head coach Mike Leach and the Cougars are known for their effective passing attack. With Alijah Holder likely out this week, how do you see the Cardinal secondary faring against prolific quarterback Luke Falk?

MG: As somebody that doubted the secondary at the beginning of the season, I feel rather confident about this group going into the game. Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid have looked good all year (let’s forget about USC) and there is no reason to believe that they would not continue to improve in this game. There is still no doubt in my mind that the Cougar offense will throw for hundreds of yards, but I feel that when the Cardinal defense gets onto their side of the fifty yard line they will be able to come up with stops and force field goals.

AR: Luke Falk started this season as a Heisman candidate, and still is to some extent. Any defense is going to struggle against him, he’s thrown for 2,576 yards this year. With playmakers like Reid and Meeks, it’s easy to forget that the Stanford secondary does have depth to it, with players that would probably be starters at other schools – Alameen Murphy comes to mind. Holder’s injury will no doubt be a loss, especially against Washington State’s prolific offense, but the Cardinal defense has continued to improve as the season goes on, and will hopefully shine against Washington State – barring any more penalties like last week.

SC: Losing Alijah Holder is a big blow for the Cardinal defense considering the potent passing attacks they’ll have to face in the next few weeks, but they’re a deep unit and have proven to have a propensity for forcing turnovers, which seems to be the key to beating the Cougars (Cal and Arizona forced them to seven and four turnovers, respectively). With the Cougars throwing the ball an atrocious number of times each game, 54.6 to be exact, Luke Falk is bound to burn the Cardinal at least a few times Saturday, but I feel good about Stanford’s chances of containing him enough and forcing enough turnovers to give the Stanford offense a chance to carry them to victory. Also, assuming Bryce Love is back, the forecasted snowy conditions in Pullman favor the Cardinal, who like to keep things on the ground. I’m interested to see how the Washington State air attack performs in less than ideal conditions.

 

Contact Matt Gutwald at mgutwald ‘at’ stanford.edu, Ariana Rollins at arianar ‘at’ stanford.edu and Sam Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.