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Lakshman: The fun is just beginning

Six games removed from that stunning season-opening loss in Evanston, Illinois, the Stanford Cardinal have hit their proverbial stride en route to becoming the class of the Pac-12 thus far. In these past six games, Stanford has resurrected its dormant running game, revitalized its physicality on both fronts and has found ways to get the ball into the hands of dangerous playmakers.

These past six games have also spawned the birth of another creature that seemed equally unlikely following that Northwestern loss: that of the overconfident Stanford fan.

Yesterday morning, I opened up the pages of this fine newspaper, skipped straight to the sports section as I always do (it’s nothing personal, news) and came across a headline by our very own Do-Hyoung Park that can only be described as gag-inducing: “With Washington hurdle cleared, Stanford is poised to run the table.”

Over the past three years, I’ve heard Do make some awfully bold predictions (“hot takes” if you will), and I would argue that he has been correct far more often that not. Moreover, his coverage of the team is better than any other writer out there, the vast majority of whom do not also do 20 units of chemical engineering as a day job.

In short, Do has earned the right to publish whatever thought — no matter how ill-advised — that creeps into his mind, but I can’t help but think that this line of thinking is flat-out dangerous; it stirs up a perfect storm of hubris requisite for any classic Greek tragedy. We all had a good laugh at the expense of The Daily Trojan when it thought it was wise to publish a piece asserting a USC blowout over Stanford, and look what Olympus has done to the team.

The pendulum of overconfidence swings both ways, and you don’t want to be standing underneath when it decides to reverse course.

Ultimately, the notion that the hardest portion of Stanford’s schedule is behind us remains completely counterproductive: It underplays the fierce and almost certainly entertaining battles remaining on the Cardinal’s slate, starting with a fight against Washington State for Pac-12 North supremacy. In addition, Stanford still awaits Cal for what will be the most important Big Game in years and a closing act with a top-10 Notre Dame team with equally lofty playoff aspirations.

Stanford’s far from out of the woods. While the Cardinal should be favored in every matchup henceforth, that doesn’t mean victories will be foregone conclusions. As we all found out on that Saturday morning in Evanston, even a Stanford team as consistent and immune to letdowns as this iteration can have its terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. The Cardinal turned their season around by rallying around a newfound sense of urgency and underdog mentality. Taking the foot off the gas now could be disastrous.

And don’t think for one second that Wazzu isn’t capable of pulling off said disaster. Stanford has yet to face a true, unapologetic Air Raid offense in all its glory this season, and the Cougs will present precisely such an unprecedented defensive challenge.

College Gameday or no College Gameday, the fans in Pullman will be out in full force, trick-or-treating for blood on this Halloween night game. Mike Leach very well could emerge from the tunnel of Martin Stadium wearing a pirate costume, and the thought of that image, by itself, is enough to put Stanford on upset alert.  

The most pass attempts Stanford has defended this season came in the UCLA game as Josh Rosen threw the ball 42 times. Wazzu’s Luke Falk has thrown the ball under 42 times just once this season (and he attempted 41 passes in that game). Although Stanford has defended the Cougs as well as anybody in the Leach era, the Air Raid has its advantages. First and foremost, it neutralizes Stanford tackle machines, the inside linebackers, as swing pass after swing pass has reduced Shayne Skov, AJ Tarpley and Blake Martinez to the role of spectators on the majority of snaps.

Instead, the onus falls on an inexperienced secondary to get the job done defensively. Last season, Zach Hoffpauir used this game as his coming-out party last season by recording 15 tackles. How will Alijah Holder, Quenton Meeks, Justin Reid, Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd respond in their expanded roles in a hostile environment?

After Saturday’s game, Martinez told reporters he expects big things from Stanford’s DBs against Wazzu, and I share the same sentiment. But the overarching point is that the Cougars have the tools and the circumstances to give Stanford a real test, and the road only gets tougher after Pullman.

Could Stanford run the table and finish the regular season 11-1? There’s no question, but there’s also no reason to dismiss the Cardinal’s remaining opponents so readily. The fun, after all, is just beginning.

 

Vihan Lakshman is currently debating whether to fly out to watch the game against Washington State or stay on campus so that he can Uber to the nearest houses in Palo Alto to trick-or-treat this Saturday. Remind Vihan that he is too old to knock on doors for candy at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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