Another week, another ugly victory for the Cardinal. Stanford’s 7-point win against Washington State was anything but pretty; the Cardinal had no excuse to let the Cougars hang around, but the game came down to the last drive. Now, Stanford heads to Boulder to take on the woeful Colorado Buffaloes, whose only win of the season came against the very same Washington State team that challenged the Cardinal a week ago.
To be fair, Washington State has come a long way since that disastrous loss in Pullman, and in that same period, the Buffaloes have shown little life. However, Stanford has consistently demonstrated that it can play down to competition.
With the exception of Cal, Stanford’s road games have been an adventure of offensive futility. Earlier this week, Coach Shaw indicated Kevin Hogan will see more playing time, which could help. Fortunately for the Cardinal, since Colorado is so overmatched in this game, Hogan won’t have to be a miracle worker for Stanford to get out of Boulder with a win. If Stanford executes even moderately well, it should be a long afternoon for the Buffaloes, and here’s why:
Colorado’s Quarterback/Offensive Line Issues
Stanford isn’t the only team with a bit of a quarterback controversy this week. Colorado head coach Jon Embree declined to name a starting quarterback for the Stanford game at his weekly press conference.
The current starter, Kansas transfer Jordan Webb, has been very disappointing. Webb is completing just over 56 percent of his passes with seven interceptions and only eight touchdowns. Those numbers are not good enough to win games in the Pac-12–unless, of course, you have Stanford’s defense.
The trouble for Colorado is that its backups might not be any better. Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman, who both lost the competition to Webb earlier this year, have been pretty bad in limited action. Neither has completed more than 50 percent of his passes on the year, an ugly sign even given the small sample size.
The biggest disappointment of the unit has to be Connor Wood. Wood originally attended Texas but transferred after losing out in that quarterback competition to David Ash and Case McCoy. Wood, a redshirt sophomore who actually considered Stanford in his initial recruiting and transfer search, started the US Army All-America Bowl as a senior in high school but just hasn’t panned out in the college game.
To be fair to all three quarterbacks, they haven’t been helped too much by Colorado’s offensive line. The Buffs have allowed 35 sacks, and with Stanford’s aggressive front seven coming to town it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the starter doesn’t end up on his back for most of the afternoon. Even if Stanford struggles offensively, I just can’t believe Colorado can survive the defensive onslaught the Cardinal brings. And that brings me to my defensive key: Continue getting good pressure and it won’t matter who plays quarterback.
Colorado’s Porous Defense
For Colorado, it all starts with attacking on the ground. The Buffs allow opponents an average of 5.32 yards per carry and 204 yards per game rushing. Those numbers are absurd, and (though slightly inflated by some great running offenses) signify a gaping hole that Stanford should be able to exploit.
I know that I made a similar argument last week about Washington State, which ended up stopping Stepfan Taylor as well as anybody. However, as bad as Washington State’s run defense was, Colorado’s is still much worse.
Amazingly, Colorado also allows over 300 yards per game through the air. This comes out to an average of 505 yards allowed per game, and a very balanced attack by the Buffs’ opponents. Stanford has struggled maintaining a balanced offense for much of the season, but if there’s any game to find a remedy, Colorado’s the choice.
The one caveat to all of these numbers is that Stanford still has to execute. Against Washington State, whose run defense was disastrous for much of the season, Stanford could not move the ball. This came from a combination of missed blocks and inability to throw. Washington State’s safeties were flying to meet Stepfan Taylor in the backfield. Stanford can’t let Colorado or anyone else on its schedule commit so strongly to stopping the run.
That’s where my wildcard, Kevin Hogan, comes in. Teams are going to key in on Hogan as more of a running quarterback, as Hogan’s only thrown the ball one time in his career. However, Hogan has a great arm and the ability to use it on the run. Look for Hogan to hit Colorado with a big play-action pass to break open the game. Stanford needs just a few key successful play-action plays to bring the running game together. That’s the key to the offensive game plan to beat the Buffs.
If Kevin Hogan’s first game with significant playing time goes well, Sam will be picketing Ike’s to put a “Hogan Hoagie” on the menu. Suggest some game-day sandwich fillings for our very own Sam “Food-Friendly” Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @SamFisher908.