What does the loss of tight end Zach Ertz mean for Stanford over the next two weeks? Here's five things to keep an eye on as the Cardinal move forward without one-third of the "Tree Amigos."
Don't expect the offense to be as shell-shocked as it was against USC in the opening half. Realize that losing 25-30 percent of your playbook 10 seconds before your offense takes the field is a very difficult adjustment to swallow. All things considered, it was pretty impressive the way they pulled it all together under strenuous conditions.
Assuming Ertz is out for the Oregon game, Stanford will have two weeks and one game to prepare. We've seen all season long Stanford experiment with different schemes and formations -- especially in games that have already been decided by the end of the end of the third quarter. Head coach David Shaw said that about another 25 percent of the offense involves two tight end sets. That leaves Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener on the field at the same time, and that's still as good a double-threat as you'll find in college football.
Look for Ryan Hewitt to get more involved in the passing game. The tight-end-turned-fullback has already been outstanding coming out of the backfield. But I wouldn't be surprised to see more of him lining up in the slot with Geoff Meinken lining up at fullback. Luck has targeted Hewitt 21 times and Hewitt has 19 catches (90.5 completion percentage) for 171 yards and four touchdowns. He's averaging 7 yards after the catch per reception and of his 171 yards, 133 have come after the catch (77.8 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information).
Between Griff Whalen and Ertz, quarterback Andrew Luck had two very reliable options on third down. Who is going to be the second guy to fill that role? Fleener is best used stretching the field. Could be Toilolo over the middle, or Hewitt out of the slot. Ty Montgomery also came on strong last week with five catches for 87 yards. Luck can use all the receiving options he can get and Montgomery is starting to emerge.
The Cardinal have plenty of other formations to work around. Not only are the Cardinal innovative in their three-tight-end sets, they also do plenty of work with their jumbo packages -- adding extra offensive linemen like Kevin Danser and Tyler Mabry to an already stout offensive line. The mid-range passing game might take a temporary hit, but the running game shouldn't.