We got together with Willys DeVoll, editor of The Daily Axe, the student-run Stanford sports site to get some answers about the fourth ranked Cardinal as they get ready to head into Reser Stadium Saturday to try to continue their 16 game winning streak, the nation's current longest, and try to avenge the loss they suffered, one of only 5 losses their Heisman Trophy and NFL Draft #1 pick candidate Andrew Luck has suffered as a starter, two years ago when the Cardinal last visited.
And following are some things we were wondering about.
Stanford has suffered some key injuries, most notably to Shane Skov and now Zach Ertz. It doesn't appear to have been a problem looking at it from afar, but how well do you feel the Cardinal have adjusted?
Times are good right now, but how confident is Cardinal Nation that David Shaw can keep Stanford playing at a high level once Andrew Luck and a lot of Harbaugh's other recruits leave the farm? More importantly, what are your reasons for that opinion?
The team has adjusted well, as the record and the overall play show. But there's no doubt that the injuries are mounting, and that makes a negative impact on both on-field performance and depth as the season gets into November. Other important Stanford injuries include those to defensive back Delano Howell and Chris Owusu, who's been knocked out of multiple games in 2011. Overcoming the injuries will probably be the most difficult obstacle for Stanford as the BCS race really gets going.
I think the overall confidence is high, and right now that's justified. Yes, he has Harbaugh's players, but Shaw played a key role in recruiting a lot of those offensive players. And what is he supposed to do, cut everyone good just to prove that he can coach? He's winning when he's supposed to win, and that's praiseworthy if not exceptional.
Unless Stanford wins the National Championship (better than expected) or loses more than 2 games (worse than expected) the jury will be out on Shaw until at least midway through 2012. I'm in the moderates' camp for now. I don't think Shaw has the personality, charisma and smarts that Harbaugh does, but I see that more as a statement of how good Harbaugh is rather than an insult directed at Shaw. (Look at what Harbaugh is currently doing in San Francisco.)
I think Stanford will be a perennial bowl team and regularly crack the bottom of the Top 25 during Shaw's time on the job. I have very little doubt, though, that Stanford will not be this good again for many, many years, if ever. This team is loaded with potentially elite NFL talent, and that's very difficult to do on the Farm.
Luck has been spectacular when he has needed to be, and last week was a great example. But there's always a danger of part of a team being in awe of their own leader, at least subconsciously. How does Stanford prevent that, and keep the rest of the team at a high level as well?
I don't think it's a problem, although I understand the concern. Put simply, I don't think many insecure kids get to Stanford on a football scholarship, given the athletic and scholastic requirements for admission to the program. As good as Luck is-and relative to his competition he's the best player I've ever seen who's not named Michael Jordan-I think the important players for Stanford all have sufficient egos (in a healthy way) to avoid counterproductively fawning over Luck.
The Stanford defense did look gassed in overtime against USC. Any concerns that a tough USC team, an Oregon St. team that tries to use the whole field, and then the lightning fast Oregon team, will over-extend the Cardinal defense? And what is Stanford doing schematically to keep opposing offenses contained as much as controlled?
You've raised the main anxiety for Stanford fans and, I think, the coaching staff. As I mentioned before, the defensive depth is vanishing by the game, and it wasn't outstanding to start with. Stanford has to stay healthy to have a chance to compete with Oregon.
Schematically, Stanford has to continue bringing effective blitz packages and putting the fear of God in opposing passers. Luckily, the best quarterbacks on the schedule are now done with unless Stanford meets Oklahoma or Wisconsin in a bowl game. So the defensive staff has to keep getting pressure on quarterbacks with the defensive line, but primarily with the Chase Thomas and his fellow linebackers in the 3-4. When Stanford knows whether the other team will run or pass, the defense is great. It's when the opposition has both options working that the Cardinal defense can implode.
Will Stanford open the playbook up any more than absolutely necessary this week? The standard company line is never about style points, and probably less so at Stanford than almost anywhere else. But its impossible to ignore what playing for the National Championship means, or getting an at-large BCS bid (assuming something goes wrong for the Cardinal against Oregon), and that could come down to impressing a few voters more than a more "spectacular" team, like Oklahoma St. of Alabama. And then there is that matter of the Heisman Trophy. A monster day in Corvallis wouldn't hurt, and could even mean substantial additional $ and exposure for the whole conference. Will coach Shaw consider the bigger picture?
The pattern for Stanford has been, almost without exception, to get off to a very shaky start and turn it on in the second half to record a win that looks mighty impressive to observers that only read the box score. But keep in mind that no team had come within 25 points of Stanford by game's end before last week's thriller in Los Angeles.
I think Luck will have a big day against Oregon State, and I think Stanford will win by 30 or so, and the team probably won't have to worry too much about producing that result for it to become so. Shaw likes to leave Luck in until the 4th quarter regardless of the score (which as far as I'm concerned is flirting with disaster), so the Card will score.
Finally, what in the world will that whacky band of yours do this week?
I've given up trying to outguess LSJUMB (the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, as they call themselves). Apparently last week's show at USC was pretty lousy and the last outing to Corvallis ended in serious disappointment for Stanford, but smart money's probably on beaver jokes. That's right up their alley.