Michael Peterson likes to put us on the spot in our weekly football podcasts by having us give a “hot take” at the end of every session, because Michael Peterson enjoys watching the world burn.
Now, I usually hate having to channel my inner Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, but this week I felt pretty confident in making a bold prediction: That if Stanford beat Washington, there is no team remaining on Stanford’s schedule that can beat the Cardinal, and Stanford will win out.
Well, it just so happens that Stanford beat Washington soundly, so…yeah. I hate being recklessly overconfident, but I do feel strongly enough that I’ll risk the public shaming that will ensue if I’m wrong and confidently say that Stanford will finish the regular season 11-1.
The way I see it, the only way that Stanford will lose a game this season is if an opposing defense can take away the Cardinal’s running game and force the quarterback to take the game into his own hands. That’s what’s happened in the past (2012 Washington or 2013 Utah, anyone?).
Stanford has still never won a game in which Hogan has attempted more than 30 passes, and that’s because the Cardinal need to establish the run in order for opposing linebackers and safeties to get forced out-of-position to limit Stanford’s running backs. That’s when the passing lanes open up and Hogan can be the efficient, risk-averse passer that he’s always been.
The fact that Stanford’s offensive scheme is run-based also helps the Cardinal in this regard, because running is inherently a less risky proposition than passing (there are fewer moving pieces and fewer opportunities for error in all phases of the play), reducing the likelihood of any significant momentum-changing plays stemming from mistakes.
Given Stanford’s defensive scheme, I’m also confident in saying that there isn’t any team in the country that can simply “outscore” Stanford in a shootout, especially because this defensive line and secondary have come together over the last several weeks. That is to say, if Stanford does drop a game, it’s going to be one of those ugly 17-14 slugfests in which Stanford continues to shoot itself in the foot on offense.
With the Stanford teams of old, there was actually a significant margin of error and a comparatively higher degree of variability in the outcomes of games because of Stanford’s lack of consistency on offense, but that’s been effectively a non-issue this season.
The Cardinal haven’t played any close games against less talented opponents, and even in winning situations Stanford hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal until late into garbage time, reducing the likelihood that some flukey play or a momentum-changer on special teams could have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
With those points in mind, I think the formula to upsetting Stanford this season is a talented defense with a disruptive front seven and a reasonably strong secondary that can do just enough on offense to win close games.
Sounds a lot like Washington, doesn’t it?
Stanford’s performance against the Huskies showed me that even in the face of strong talent on an opposing front seven, the Cardinal have enough offensive options and looks to overcome adversity and a potential talent gap to still move the ball.
And there aren’t any defenses left on Stanford’s schedule that can even come close to the defensive effort that the Huskies put up against the Cardinal.
Washington State, which Stanford faces next, is notoriously allergic to defense, and although the Cougs have played better as a unit this year (especially in a win over Oregon), they just don’t have the raw talent to compete with a strong offensive line like that of the Cardinal. Same with Colorado.
In fact, the Cougars and Buffaloes are tied for dead last in the conference in yards per rush allowed at 5.06, and although games aren’t played on paper, the discrepancy in the qualities of those teams’ defenses and those of the defenses that Stanford has played already is too large to ignore. I can’t imagine Stanford struggling too much in either of those games.
That last stretch of Cal, Oregon and Notre Dame also looks less difficult as the season progresses, with Oregon not having the defense to match its struggling offense and Cal’s defense having steadily improved in the secondary but not so much in the front lines, particularly against talented offensive lines.
And although I hate to make generalizations and sports clichés, I fully believe that Notre Dame’s defense is too injured to have the talent to match up with Stanford on the lines. True, Stanford-Notre Dame is a fierce rivalry game and it’s been close in the past, but if Stanford executes, I don’t think the Irish have the depth to play four quarters of physical football any better than USC’s talent did.
Of course, these are all gross generalizations and football isn’t played on paper. But I feel that I’m entitled to a brash judgment after a few weeks of more serious columns, and I’ll stand by these words regardless of what happens for the rest of the season. Feel free to call me out — I look forward to it.
After the Washington game, you can now call out Do for the failure of his logarithmic regression of Stanford’s offensive production at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.