A few things to keep an eye Saturday as Stanford hosts Oregon.
Missed tackles: You don’t change who you are in the 10th game of the season. You are who you are. And Stanford is a team that struggles at times with tackling. That simple. They’ve allowed lesser teams to continue drives or break away for big plays because of missed tackles. Some of it is injuries and some of it is the other guy making a play. But -- perhaps more than any other team in the country -- Oregon makes you pay for those missed tackles. The emphasis this week at practice has been on gang tackling and proper angles. Good angles can help neutralize speed. Bad angles, well, are just plain bad.
The funnel theory: Think of the Battle of Thermopylae. Stanford will have a better shot at slowing down LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner if it can force them back in between the tackles -- or The Hot Gates -- keeping with The 300 comparison. Of the 18 rushes of 20 yards or more between the two backs, 10 of them have come outside of the tackles, where the duo combines for 9.9 yards per carry. They can still run effectively up the middle (6.6 yards per carry), but it forces them into the teeth of Stanford’s defense where Terrence Stephens will be eating up blockers and Jarek Lancaster, A.J. Tarpley et. al will be waiting.
Play-action: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season out of the run fake. He has 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions coming out of play-action – and he sells it as well as any quarterback in the country. His footwork is precise every time and he has the same motion handing off the power as he does tucking and throwing.
Double up: More than likely, tight end Zach Ertz will not be available for this game. But as long as Luck has at least two tight ends to work with, he should be fine. The quarterback’s accuracy and efficiency skyrocket when he has at least two tight ends on the field at the same time (see chart). And fullback Ryan Hewitt -- a converted tight end -- showed his versatility last week against Oregon State in the absence of Ertz and Levine Toilolo, splitting out, lining up in the slot, tight end and fullback. At 6-foot-4, he’s a sapling compared to Coby Fleener (6-6) and Toilolo (6-8). But there’s no reason he can’t be a Tree Amigo for a game.
Taylor time: Luck has so much success with play-action because he has a steady, reliable running back in Stepfan Taylor. Over the past four games, Taylor is averaging 108 yards per game on 15.75 carries for an outstanding 6.8 yards per carry. He’s got three rushing touchdowns and a 27-yard touchdown reception to boot. Head coach David Shaw said he’s planning his usual running back rotation for this game. And Taylor turning in his usual, steady performance will be pivotal for the Cardinal.