Fisher: Not time to panic, but close win is cause for concern
Well that was close.
As senior Ben Rhyne trotted out to punt the ball back to the Huskies with Stanford only leading by 3 and two minutes remaining in the game, I started mentally preparing myself for a Stanford loss. Washington’s offense was going to score.
It wouldn’t have been the defense’s fault either. Yes, Stanford had scored 31 points, but special teams was directly responsible for 14 of them. After showing up briefly for the end of the second quarter and most of the third, the offense disappeared down the stretch to the tune of three consecutive three-and-outs to end the game.
Now I don’t care if you’re taking on the vintage Pittsburgh Steelers, a good offense has to be able to get one first down in that situation. Stanford couldn’t get it done, and that left Stanford’s championship hopes hanging in an awful balance.
But somehow, in classic Stanford fashion most recently reminiscent of the end of regulation against Arizona in 2012, the fatigued and short-handed defense came through and the Cardinal survived.
So, how do we move forward from that? Should we take a deep breath and say, “A win is a win,” and move on? Should we go into full panic mode and start making Alamo Bowl plans? I think the answer is somewhere in between, but much closer to the former than the latter.
Every team is going to have bad games. Most of the time, great teams can get away with this due to huge matchup advantages. As we saw up close on Saturday night, Stanford did not have that large of a talent gap over the Huskies, so the Cardinal’s mistakes were very apparent.
Anyone who watched the game could notice that junior quarterback Kevin Hogan was off his game. To put it mildly, he did not look very good, with the exception of a perfect deep ball to junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery at the end of the first half. But that was Hogan’s first truly bad performance in 10 games at quarterback, and Stanford still got the win to bring Hogan to 10-0 as a starter.
I think Hogan will bounce back with a good performance against Utah. He’s a lot better than he played against the Huskies, so there’s no reason to panic over his poor performance, but there was one trend that is a bit troubling: Hogan’s jitters in the pocket.
Washington barely pressured Hogan. For most of the game, Washington brought only four or five rushers and dropped the rest of their defenders in coverage. For the most part, the offensive line was stout in protection, but that message never got to Hogan, who seemed to be in a rush against a three-second clock to get the ball out of his hands.
The problem with this strategy was that the Huskies secondary shut down Stanford’s receivers. With six or seven good defenders in pass coverage, the Cardinal receivers needed a little extra time to get open. Hogan had the time, but wasn’t waiting. He forced throws before he needed to get rid of the ball, and for that reason had serious trouble getting anything going.
Still, as I mentioned earlier, those mistakes are no reason to panic. While Hogan has had similar struggles in the past, he is rarely held down for too long. We know that Hogan is a competitor, so a weak performance on a big stage will be an effective motivator as he prepares for Stanford’s upcoming games. And who knows? Maybe that scare was exactly what the Cardinal needed to avoid complacency, which has been a challenge since Stanford burst onto the national stage in 2010.
If that doesn’t happen, Utah could give the Cardinal a serious scare, and I’m not sure my heart can handle two of those in one week.
Sam Fisher wandered around campus all night after the game to try to find some way to relax. Ask him how he eventually calmed down at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.