Questions on the offensive line, secondary and play-calling jumped out this week.
Diane in San Francisco writes: I just heard Brian Kelly say that Michigan State is Notre Dame's toughest game of the year. Standard "one-game-at-a-time" talk -- or should Stanford fans take that as a slight?
Kevin Gemmell: Diane, I'd be more worried about Nick Foles tomorrow than Notre Dame in November. It could be coach-speak. It could be that he really believes that. Or it could be the fact that Notre Dame has more turnovers than a Main Street bakery and he's trying to motivate his team. I'd get through the next nine games, then worry about the 10th.
Bob in San Francisco writes: Jordan Watkins' commitment is the most recent in a multi-year haul of top Georgia talent to Stanford [James Vaughters, Ronnie Harris, Henry Anderson, David Yankey, Jamal -Rashad Patterson]. What's the root of Stanford's success there? What got it started?
Kevin Gemmell: Stanford has the advantage of being one of the few schools that is a true national recruiter. They are a brand name in education and slowly but surely starting to become a brand name in football. Co-defensive coordinator Derek Mason recruits Georgia and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton recruits Atlanta. Give credit to those guys for hitting the road hard.
James in Basking Ridge, N.J., writes: How do you think our chances of going all the way are holding up? Do you think the lack of offense in the first half so far this year will be a problem in trying to beat good teams like Oregon? I think one of the main problems is the offensive line - we lost a lot of good starters and I think Andrew (Luck) is feeling a bit pressured in the pocket. Go Card!
Kevin Gemmell: I think this weekend is going to be very telling. We'll find out just how much the coaching staff was keeping in the bag offensively through the first two games. I think a lot of the offensive line woes can be attributed to them being young and it being early in the season. I saw improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and expect to see more improvement this week. Yes, Luck felt the pressure. But three of the five linemen had never experienced delayed blitzing in a live-game situation. It took them a half to figure it out. Next time it happens, they'll be better prepared. That comes with time and communication -- something the line is getting better at each practice.
As for going all the way? The only thing Stanford can control is their win-loss record. Keep winning, and they'll make a good case. But the rest of the conference will need some quality wins to bolster their chances.
Kevin in San Jose, Calif., writes: Kevin, with the obvious discrepancy between the pass defense and run defense, what's to stop all of the upcoming opponents from passing the entire game? In this respect, do you think the team is in trouble in games vs. teams like Arizona and USC? The way they are playing, it seems difficult to imagine they'll have any chance at stopping the [Matt] Barkley-[Robert] Woods combination. Your thoughts?
Kevin Gemmell: I too have been a little worried about the secondary through the first couple of weeks. But this isn't the NFL, and teams can't live on the pass alone. When you throw the ball 50 times a game, at least one or two bad things are going to happen. And Stanford has such a good pass rush that eventually it's going to start rattling the quarterback. The secondary really hasn't blown any coverages. They just need to do a better job of tackling. It's a correctable problem. This team was second in the Pac-10 last year with 18 interceptions, so the talent is there to make those plays. This weekend is going to be a very good test for the secondary against Foles. And you have to figure by the time Oct. 29 rolls around and the team faces USC, there is going to be a drastic improvement.
CC in Pennsylvania writes: Long-time Cardinal fanatics love the balanced attack. Years ago, 75% pass, 25% run plays, at an all-time low in the so-called "Buddy Ball" era. (Against Duke), a perfect 50/50. So overall, joy. But it was frustrating to watch the play-calling during the 2nd and 3rd possessions of the first half when the Card looked average and the answer was obvious: run, stop passing altogether. With [Stepfan] Taylor going for a minimum of 4 yards, and at times over 10 a clip, why pass at all? Against teams with lesser girth and lesser athletes (read: Colorado, OSU, Cal), the Cardinal can eliminate the drama with a grinding running attack. The malaise of the first half is as much on the coaches for the play-calling as it is on the lethargy of the squad. I hope that when the film is reviewed, the coaches objectively look at both.
Kevin Gemmell: The reason Stanford ran the flea-flicker on the first possession was to try to loosen up the linebackers and safeties. The first possession was to set up the game plan on the second and third possessions. On the second possession, they ran on second-and-5 and had no gain. Then a blitz forced an incomplete pass on third-and-5. On the third drive, after Taylor rushed for 11 yards and 6 yards, Duke started to go heavy in the box, so the logical decision was to pass. They just happened to be incompletes.
I, too, am a fan of balance in an offense. But not every run is going to be 8 yards and not every pass is going to be completed. I didn't have any problems with the play-calling. The execution wasn't entirely there in the first half. But I give them kudos for making the necessary adjustments in the second half.
As for why pass at all? Look at who you have at quarterback. Look at who you have at tight end. My question to you is why would you disregard that portion of your offense?
Thanks for the letters. Keep them coming.