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The Trials and Tribulations of Jim Harbaugh
Stanford part ways with controversial head coach.
Even with the low expectations traditionally placed on the shoulders of the Stanford Cardinal, the fiery coach was dogged with a whole array of problems from the moment he set foot in the John Elway Stadium – injuries, arrests, academic suspensions, underclassmen declaring early, recruits changing commitments at the last minute, almost every problem that could have occurred did occur. Even Pete Carroll added to his misery; aside from crushing the Cardinal three times in the past three seasons, he stayed with USC and thus thwarted Jim’s bold claim that Carroll was going to bolt to the NFL at the end of the 2007/2008 season.
And you have to feel badly for him, he was hired with the intention being that he could turn Stanford into a competitor of some sort within the Pac-10 and maybe get a bowl invite from somewhere, but he had to do it with the conference’s closest equivalent to a mid-major team, at least in terms of quality. In fact, even that might not be fair to some of the more prominent mid-majors, the Hawaiis and the Boise States. So it’s not unfair to say that Jim Harbaugh probably got the short end of the stick, and he didn’t deserve to get fired just because of his record.
At the same time, there’s no denying that he didn’t do himself any favours. His first swipe at Michigan won him no friends in the Big Ten – although the humiliating loss to the Appalachian State Mountaineers undoubtedly made him smile – and he only solidified his reputation with his rant against Oregon State in the 2008 off-season regarding tight end Marc Hubbard, who had allegedly made a commitment to come to Stanford before the Beavers stole the highly-regarded prospect from under the Cardinal’s nose. When it comes to coaches and players who like to run their mouth, they have to be able to back up their claims to keep any semblance of credibility, and in Harbaugh’s case, it just never happened. He may well bounce back into the NCAA somewhere else, and that somewhere else will show up on the map as a result, but he’s done Stanford a great deal of harm. Did he dig his own grave? It’s hard to say, there are too many factors about college football to accurately say what another coach could have done better and worse; one thing can be taken as certain though, and that’s that whoever succeeds Harbaugh as coach of the Cardinal is going to have a tough task ahead of him.
Adios Jim. It’s certainly been interesting.
I keep a copy of that article pinned to my desk solely to remind me that, no matter how bad I ever feel, it could always be worse. I’m Erik Strong, and I was brought in to replace Jim Harbaugh here at Stanford.
Welcome to the hardest job in the NCAA.
Of course, to call a job hard is not always to call it unpleasant. Few people would argue that Peyton Manning’s job is hard but equally few would call it unpleasant – since he broke his duck and won Super Bowl XLI, he and the Colts have been on what can only be described as a tear; they won twenty-six straight games in the 07/08 and 08/09 seasons, beginning after losing a shocker to Vince Young and the Titans in the second week of 07/08 and only being beaten in the tenth week of 08/09 by the resurgent Arizona Cardinals, winning Super Bowl XLII against New Orleans 45-39 in the end. And with that historical tangent done with, let me be the first to assure you that there are jobs both hard and unpleasant, and the good folks of Sports Illustrated elected to make mine a little more so.
Stanford hire unknown high schooler for head coach position
Unless you’re linked with Texan high school football, you probably only know of the Calhoun Sandcrabs through Texas A&M’s quarterback Tyler McAfee, and really you can’t be blamed for it – McAfee is the most prominent recruit to come out of Calhoun since…well, ever. But now you have to make room for someone else in the equation, as to fill the shoes of recently-departed Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal elected to look deep under the radar and came back with Sandcrabs coach Erik Strong. If you’re wondering who he is, don’t worry – we were too. Hence, we dredged up some statistics about him and the Sandcrabs, and they make for interesting reading.
1) Two Calhoun players have received scholarships from Division 1-A teams – quarterback McAfee was recruited by the Aggies, while cornerback Jay Summers played four years at Arizona State before breaking both legs in a car accident just after graduating; before that, he was projected as a first-day NFL draft pick – along with tight end Drew Shelton, who initially attended Hawaii to study economics but made the team on his second attempt.
2) In the sixteen-game 2009 season, the Sandcrabs defense amassed seven shutouts, twenty-eight interceptions, forced fifteen fumbles and forty-five sacks. These numbers were not only school records, but also tied or broke, with the exception of the fumbles forced, the Texas high school records.
That’s where it ends. We know virtually nothing about Erik Strong except for what can be found on a coaching resume, and that’s not a good sign for the Cardinal because it basically ignores the intangibles. Take, for example, Rob Ryan – the Oakland Raiders may not have topped 8-8 during his time, but their defense has matured into one of the league’s best because of his work ethic and penchant for practises that verge on the inhumane; with the help of Lane Kiffin, the man has managed to turn Tyler Brayton into the first-round pick he never was for Norv Turner or Art Shell. The stats show that Brayton and his cohorts have improved, but only by watching the defense practice and by watching Ryan on the sidelines of Raiders games would you see why. In this case, the stats only go so far; they could be the product of Strong’s fantastic defensive mind, but if that’s so then why hasn’t he registered before? They could be the product of a star-studded lineup, but then why would only two players he coached play in college? The most likely scenario, sadly, is that their opponents were just creampuffs. We don’t mean to insinuate that Stanford didn’t do any research, just that the quality of their research was lacking. It’s always a mistake to empirically say failure is on the cards, but they’ve only cut their chances of succeeding still further.
Everybody loves getting a vote of confidence, right? After all, there’s nothing quite like knowing that you have the backing of the nation and your fans before the season gets started and there’s even a reason for them to hate you. With that said, I can hardly blame them for feeling down on our chances of success - a combined record of 11-22 (and only THREE conference wins out of 24 games) screams "mediocrity" more than anything else, but it wasn't solely the fault of the players; last year, for instance, the recruiters had pulled off the biggest coup yet in convincing Josh Posey to come to Stanford, and considering every team in the Pac-10 had made serious attempts to prise him from us since, that was a real accomplishment. Yet, in someone's eyes, redshirting him when he could have played AND started was the best course of action.
People wonder why the Cardinal failed with decisions like that?
The biggest question facing me today is something nice and easy – namely, where do our strengths lie? After a couple of fairly good recruiting classes, the team is definitely better than it has been in seasons past, and since only two of the defensive starters from last year have left – one of which played end and so will be easily replaced by Josh Posey – there’s a strong possibility that I can push our ranking higher than the 44th position the defense finished with last season. The offense has a couple of holes in it, and lacks a definable star, but is generally more consistent than I’d first thought it would be. Let’s take a look, shall we?
#2, Nathan HICKS - 6'4/187, Sophomore - 3.0/4.5
#3, Heath BOSWELL - 6'2/189, Sophomore - 2.5/3.5
#5, Darrin JONES - 6'2/182, Senior, 1.0/1.0
#6, Louis VU - 6'1/210, Junior - 1.0/1.5
#14, Jesus AVILES - 6'1/191, Senior - 1.0/1.5
#18, Jack GOODEN - 6'0/192, Senior - 2.5/3.0
This position is fairly cut-and-dried. Hicks is going to be the starter by virtue of being better and having more upside, with one of Boswell or Gooden playing as backup and possibly getting some short-yardage reps. The other three are just warm bodies at the moment; Jones was pushed into football by his family - he's a third-generation Cardinal, as his grandfather played receiver in the 1950s and his father was an All-Conference linebacker in the 1980s - whereas Aviles just joined to get fit for basketball. Vu, however, was actually offered a scholarship by some dumbass who liked wasting money, and if I can cut him he'll be cut so hard his children will feel it.
#22, Roman DAVIS - 5'8/185, Freshman - 3.0/5.0
#30, Lawrence DAVIS - 5'11/199, Senior - 1.5/2.0
#33, Henry TRIPLETT - 5'10/185, Freshman - 1.5/3.0
#36, Frederick GIBBS - 5'9/200, Sophomore - 3.0/3.5
#44, Duane ALEXANDER - 5'9/210, Senior - 2.5/3.5
Roman Davis basically ended his older brother's college football career. Before then, the elder Davis was third in the depth chart and was used as a receiver on stretch plays, but nothing else - after the recruiting class came in, he dropped all the way to fifth. Fred Gibbs is the starter, but will probably be bumped down into a third-down role towards the end of this season, and if Alexander sees any playing time, it'll be as an impromptu fullback.
#27, Nick MCCRACKEN - 5'11/242, Junior - 2.0/4.5
#32, Harry BOYER - 6'1/220, Senior - 1.0/1.5
#38, Steve DIAZ - 5'11/232, Senior - 3.0/3.5
Diaz is going to be doing a lot of work this year, as, not only is he starting but he'll also be called into action plenty of times to catch passes. McCracken may well get some reps on the ground, but this season is going to just be yet another one wasted for him to "mature".
#42, Jason GABRIEL – 6’1/199, Junior - 3.5/5.0
#81, Steve BYERS – 6’1/189, Freshman - 3.0/4.0
#82, Anthony BURNETTE – 6’0/171, Junior – 3.5/4.0
#83, Michael STALLWORTH – 5’11/196, Freshman – 2.0/4.0
#84, Kenneth BOOKER - 6’5/192, Sophomore – 2.0/3.5
#85, William JONES – 5’10/190, Junior – 1.0/1.5
#87, Jimmie ZAMORA – 6’2/202, Senior – 1.0/1.5
With the exception of the latter pair, we have a talented group of receivers. Gabriel and Burnette are going to be the starters in two-receiver sets, with Byers joining in for slots and Booker ready to take over in case of injuries; Stallworth will probably be red-shirted for this season, and the scrubs will be scrubs, players I’d rather shoot myself than play.
#80, Benjamin PHILLIPS – 6’0/231, Junior – 1.0/2.0
#86, Howard WRIGHT – 6’2/243, Senior – 1.5/2.0
#88, James FORD – 6’1/243, Junior – 2.5/4.0
#89, Kevin GLASS – 6’7/244, Freshman – 2.0/4.0
It’s too late for Wright or Phillips, so the needs of the tight ends will be dealt with by Ford and Glass. Both are primarily blockers, but Ford has far better hands and route-running skills, so he’ll be the one passes get hucked to.
#66, Mickey MEYER – 6’4/318, Sophomore – 2.5/3.5
#67, Matthew MOLINA – 6’6/315, Senior – 1.5/2.0
#68, Richard RAY – 6’0/278, Freshman – 2.0/3.5
#69, Jose PETERSON – 6’2/319, Senior – 1.5/2.0
#73, John DUARTE – 6’0/301, Junior – 1.5/2.0
#75, Brian WAITE – 6’5/344, Sophomore – 3.0/4.5
The offensive line is pretty useful, but the tackles are the weakest part of it at the moment. The sophomores Meyer and Waite are starting, but beyond Rick Ray there’s not much depth; worse, neither have real finesse at the position and are more akin to cracking a walnut with a bazooka.
#60, Thomas ADAMS – 6’3/303, Sophomore – 3.5/5.0
#66, Dwight PETERSON – 6’6/282, Junior – 3.5/5.0
#71, Dwight BUTLER – 6’0/280, Sophomore – 1.0/1.5
#72, Jose VELAZQUEZ – 6’8/271, Freshman – 2.0/3.5
#77, Joseph BUCHANAN – 6’7/294, Freshman – 1.5/2.5
#79, George BROWN – 6’7/303, Freshman – 2.0/4.0
Our best pairings will probably be to put Peterson alongside Meyer so the tackle can take advantage of the guard’s greater experience and Adams with Waite, but whatever way it goes will generally be money; of course, there isn’t a single guard who has any conception of key blocks, and so like the starting tackles they will all just attempt to brutalise the opposing line. Oh well.
#55, John BROWN - 6’1/290, Senior – 1.5/2.0
#61, Jaime WHITE – 6’1/289, Sophomore – 3.5/4.5
#62, Arlon CASTRO, 6’3/300, Sophomore – 3.5/4.5
I can’t say much else about the centres that hasn’t already been said about the guards and tackles except to mention that I’d have preferred one decent centre and another **** one just to solve the problem; of course, that would mean that if one got injured the offense would be nicely dead.
#90, Ralph WASHINGTON – 6’5/263, Freshman – 2.5/3.5
#91, Jerry ROWLAND – 6’2/268, Sophomore – 3.0/4.0
#93, David EVANS – 6’2/281, Junior – 3.0/3.5
#97, Glen PARNELL – 6’7/252, Freshman – 2.0/3.5
#99, Joshua POSEY – 6’1/278, Freshman – 4.0/5.0
There’s only one way Josh isn’t going to earn All-Something honours, and that’s if he just gets double-teamed by every single offensive line we face; if that happens, of course, whoever’s starting opposite him will just reap the benefits. Jerry has the experience, David the upside, so the simplest solution is to play both in rotation.
#92, George GIBBONS – 6’3/285, Freshman – 1.5/4.0
#94, Calvin BOLDUC – 6’0/289, Junior – 3.0/4.0
#95, Patrick WEEKS – 6’7/274, Freshman – 1.0/2.0
#96, Kevin ASH - 6’5/276, Sophomore – 1.0/2.0
#98, Richard HAWTHORNE- 6’7/274, Junior – 1.5/3.0
If we’re going to be beaten on the ground, it’ll be because of guys running between the tackles. Calvin is a decent enough run-stopper, but no matter who I play alongside him, they’ll struggle and probably bring down the rest of the defensive line. The logical course of action would be, of course, to switch from the current 3-3-5 formation to 3-4 for running plays, but then that would also require a five-star cast of linebackers to work properly.
#45, Philip STRICKLAND – 5’10/232, Senior – 1.5/2.5
#48, Timothy GOODE – 6’2/223, Sophomore – 2.5/4.0
#50, Ernest MACIAS – 5’11/231, Freshman – 3.0/4.0
#53, Kenneth CROOK – 6’1/224, Senior – 1.0/1.5
#57, Nick BERRY – 6’0/241, Senior – 3.0/3.5
#41, Russell KERN – 6’2/226, Sophomore – 3.0/4.0
#49, Julius LAKE – 6’0/248, Junior – 2.5/4.0
#54, Curtis WILLIS – 5’11/231, Senior – 2.0/3.0
#56, George TURNER – 5’11/221, Freshman – 1.5/3.5
#58, Arthur CURRY – 5’11/223, Freshman – 1.5/4.5
See? The linebacking corps, in a word, is satisfactory, nothing more. Ernest and Nick will start at the SAM and WILL positions respectively, and I see good things in Ernest’s future, whereas Russ will probably be our MIKE linebacker assuming he’s not redshirted – since both Arthur and George are freshmen with upside, it’s not likely. Primarily, this group is comprised of run-stoppers and they’re unlikely to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks or rack up pass deflections, and in a 3-4 formation you really want as much help from the linebackers as possible.
#23, Anthony HOBBS – 5’9/181, Sophomore – 2.5/4.0
#28, Dennis ELDER – 6’0/157, Junior – 2.5/3.5
#37, John GREEN – 6’0/191, Freshman - 1.5/3.0
#39, James WILLIAMS – 6’0/176, Freshman - 2.0/4.0
#40, Clifford HURT – 5’8/169, Junior – 1.0/1.5
#46, Miguel PAYNE – 5’8/173, Freshman – 2.0/3.0
Here, of course, is the best argument for getting the hell away from the 3-3-5 one can ever have; a set of mediocre corners. Like much of our team, these guys will be great in a year, but for now, I’m not so confident. If the ends can’t keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks, then we will not have a pass defense to write anywhere about.
#24, Benjamin TAYLOR – 6’0/172, Junior – 1.5/3.0
#25, Jonathan DOSS – 6’0/192, Sophomore – 2.0/3.0
#35, Houston BERUBE – 5’11/181, Sophomore - 3.0/4.0
#43, Russell RASMUSSEN – 5’11/185, Senior – 3.0/3.5
#31, Blaine BATTLE – 6’2/202, Junior – 3.0/4.5
#34, Andrew GREER – 5’11/177, Freshman – 2.5/4.5
#47, Andreas ORTIZ – 5’11/191, Sophomore – 3.0/4.0
While the corners are lacking, the safeties are actually pretty damn good, and diverse in their strengths. Starting free safety Blaine is a blitzer by nature, while Russell is a cover player who could easily move to corner if needed. If the situation warrants it, he’ll shift across and Andreas can take his place at FS.
#8, John PITTS – 6’3/207, Senior, Punter – 1.5/2.5
#11, Abel NUNN – 5’9/192, Freshman, Punter – 3.5/5.0
#19, Billy LOPEZ – 5’9/200, Senior, Kicker – 2.0/2.0
#20, Tommy GONZALEZ – 5’8/177, Freshman, Kicker – 3.5/5.0
The beautiful thing about kickers and punters is that you’re either good at it or not. Lopez and Pitts aren’t going to get any better because they were bad to begin with, whereas Tommy and Abel are going to be great because they’re great to start with. Cut, dry, paste. All in all, it’s a nice roster, and it really does put the blame for the terrible record in the lap of my predecessor. It’s my job now to simply motivate everyone into performing at the level I know they can perform.
Of course, gearing players up for any games is always much easier said than done, and it can’t be denied that having to face highly-touted teams can be a serious burden on any player, no matter how old or how experienced they are.
Week 1 – At Arkansas State Indians
With the schedule we have, it’s almost a blessing that we get to start off at Indian Stadium. Despite winning the Sun Belt championship in 2007 and having a 14-20 record over the past three years, the Indians are probably the closest thing we have to scheduling a punching bag. Their offence is based around running back Karl Marvin, who is for them what Larry Johnson was for Kansas City before he got traded; he is the lone bright spot on their side of the ball, and it’s common for him to have to face nine or even ten men in the box. Defensively, the 3-4 scheme they insist on running would have worked so much better if they still had Jerry Hamilton – the defensive end transferred to Fresno State and exploded, winning the Outland Trophy in 2009 and being an All-American in 2008 and 2009. In his last year, he captained the Bulldogs defence to the fifth spot in the nation, leaving ASU kicking themselves in frustration.
Week 2 – At Duke Blue Devils
While the Indians are bad, Duke is worse. They did manage to halt their infamous losing streak eventually, going 1-11 in 2007 and only beating North Carolina in the last game of the year to stop it at thirty-one games; they did improve on this in the later years, finishing 4-7 in 2008 and 3-8 in 2009, but to describe Duke as good would be a gross overstatement. The Blue Devils changed their defensive scheme for the fourth time in four years, this year elected to go with a 3-3-5 in an effort to bring their secondary to the front, and it actually might work on another team. Victor Sanders is an impressive player who could probably make the majority of Division 1-A teams, but he’s stymied by the fact that Duke have the second-hardest schedule in the nation. I thought ours was tough, but they get to play Miami (#3), Virginia Tech (#7) and Florida State (#8), as well as tough unranked teams like Georgia Tech, Maryland (who haven’t finished below #23 offensively) and even Syracuse (who have appeared in the BCS the past three years and took down the fifth-ranked Florida last year in the Sugar Bowl).
Week 3 – At Boise State Broncos
It was unsurprising that the Broncos couldn’t match their fantastical 2006 performance in 2007 and beyond, but Boise State are by no means going to roll over for us. They’re the defending WAC champions, having just beaten out Hawaii last year – and I mean beaten out; the conference came down to the Boise State/Hawaii game in Week 15 that saw eight players ejected for brawling as well fullback Philip Day fill in at quarterback in the final quarter and throw a touchdown pass to his tight end John Nix – and last year’s Hawaii Bowl winners, to add icing to that cake. They’re projected to finish in the top three of the conference, but I can only see them gunning for a repeat title. FB Day returns to bring some power to their running game, and receiver Chris Smith looks like this will be his breakout season, but that will all be for nought if the Broncos can’t solve their quarterback dilemma – which, I will add, I am in no hurry to see fixed. They really do have to pray that they get good performances out of their cornerbacks and linebackers though, because their defensive line is a MESS; the only player there really of starting quality is Tom Ryan, the end, and if I have my way, he’ll get double-teamed until the cows come home.
Week 4 – Vs. USC Trojans [#1]
Bye-bye potential undefeated record. The Trojans are anticipating a top five finish in the nation, another Pac-10 championship to go with their collection of three so far and an appearance in the BCS, and since they’ve only lost twice to Pac-10 opposition in that time, I’d be insane to predict us winning. They have too many ways of winning to list them all, but I will make mention of David Tran, their junior running back, who could conceivably declare for the Draft today and have teams scrambling over themselves to tank the season and pick him; even in an injury-curtailed 2009 season, he had 502 yards in five games while sharing carries with then-freshman Jonathan Miller.
Week 5 – Vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh is one of those teams that you never realise is dangerous until you’re 21-0 down – they’ve quietly assembled an astounding defence and, had they not been in the same conference as Syracuse, would have won at least one conference championship anywhere else. They’re expected to finish in the top two and make a good crack at the nation’s top twenty-five, which they are more than capable of doing, particularly since they return seven starters from last year’s #1 defensive unit. Yes, you read that right, the Panthers’ defence gave up just 268 yards per game, and you wouldn’t think it to look at the individuals involved; while strong-side linebacker Edward Werner is top class, the defensive line looks porous in comparison and the safeties are the glue that keeps the secondary together. As if that’s not enough, quarterback Sterling Smith can make a genuine case for calling himself the best quarterback in the nation, and is helped by a more-than-adequate receiving and rushing attack.
Week 6 – Vs. Oregon State Beavers [#13]
This is going to be a real grudge-match, and not just because it’s a conference match-up. The Marc Hubbard debacle is still fresh in most Cardinal minds, but between him, senior quarterback Roger Watson and their stout left offensive line, our corners are going to be run off their feet trying to cover the guy. Like seemingly 90% of all teams, the Beavers are devotees of the 3-4 formation and its success is on the shoulders of wek0side linebacker Michael Smith and middle linebacker Chris Suarez, who last year combined to create the #3 ranked run defence; it’s a good thing that the secondary is lacking, because if they beefed that up they’d be unstoppable. Still, I’m thankful we aren’t facing the 2008 Beavers – they finished #10 offensively and #13 defensively across the nation and saw senior running back John Robertson – who rushed on us for 268 yards in one game - win the Doak Walker Trophy before falling to the 8-8 Texans with the 19th pick in the 2009 Draft.
Week 7 – At Washington Huskies [#22]
Speaking of good picks, the Huskies are now without their offensive stud – wide receiver Mark McFarland went to Jacksonville with the 2nd pick of the 2010 Draft, and rightly so; he was a two-time All-American, made the All-Conference team three times and ended his three-year college career with 2813 yards and twelve touchdowns. With him gone, however, the Washington offence looks a lot less threatening; they do have Charles Taylor and Billy West able to provide a one-two punch on the ground, but there are no top-quality targets for Rob Hart to throw to. They don’t look nearly as threatening to us as they used to, I can tell you that. Touch on wood and ignore the #22 ranking, I think this is one of the few conference games we’ve got a serious chance of winning.
Week 8 – Vs. California Golden Bears [#21]
On the other hand, I don’t see us getting any love here. While the Huskies are over-rated in the preseason polls, the Golden Bears are under-rated, if anything, because there is not one position in their lineup that can be truthfully described as a problem area. Their receivers are not spectacular, but they are consistent; ditto the offensive line. Their defence lost two All-Conference players in strong safety Jeremy Lawrence and defensive end Matt Beach, but doesn’t look any the worse for it, and indeed their three starting linebackers look positively beastly – middle linebacker Gregory Henderson was being heavily courted by the NFL after a fantastic sophomore season (86 tackles, 8 tackles for losses, two sacks, two fumbles forced) without much help from the defensive line, and is poised to explode this year.
Week 9 – At UCLA Bruins [#6]
In keeping with the theme of rankings, the Bruins aren’t as good as their #6 would indicate – with three decent seasons but an uninspiring recruiting class, there are holes that the nation’s truly top teams can exploit. We won’t, clearly, but other teams could. The problem is mainly that they lean far too heavily on their defensive line – their 4-2-5 formation requires the line to do plenty of work to pressure the quarterback and force him into making a poor pass, but neither the line nor the secondary has enough of a constant talent level. While defensive end Wes Hardy and nose tackle Chris Lunsford are great players, neither Earl Johnson nor Robert Spencer are at their level and it creates a glaring mismatch. Similarly, while the two safeties are fantastic, the cornerbacks aren’t quite so good and an astute quarterback will pick on the weakest corner of the bunch on each play. The Bruins can’t rely on their vaunted Sergio Richardson-Jordan Arroyo partnership either, as Frank Brock was drafted in 2010 – aside from his receiving qualities, Brock allowed Richardson to keep hitting Arroyo because Brock was always a persistent deep threat, and to ignore him was suicide; the receiver racked up 3238 yards and 30 touchdowns taking advantage of defence who ignored that. Interestingly, despite his higher stat count, Brock wasn’t picked until #27, when Baltimore chose him to replace the retired Derrick Mason.
Week 10 – At Washington State Cougars
The Cougars are aiming nice and low this year, just planning to finish above the cellar – problem is, with the players in their skill positions, the cellar is probably the right place for them. The offensive line is very solid, anchored by left tackle Timothy Ames, but he’s shown injury troubles in the past and could be a significant factor in Washington State’s season. Sophomore quarterback Bobby McCarty has potential, but he’s stymied by a lack of credible targets to throw to, and defences in the past have enjoyed bringing the safeties up close and forcing him to throw deep, which he is not good at. The defence suffered big-time with the loss of star middle linebacker Robert Mann, and they have three players vying for his vacant spot – freshman William Roach is expected to start, but he could honestly do with being redshirted.
Week 11 – Vs. Oregon Ducks
Oregon will be a very interesting match-up, as they had a great recruiting class but under-performed over the past couple of years – a 7-17 conference record speaks for itself. While most of their new recruits are unlikely to start or even play this year, the word is that Nathanial Mahan might be splitting snaps at quarterback with senior Jacob Smith as the two are very different players. Mahan fits the Michael Vick mould – that term’s been mostly retired since Vick’s prison time, “Vince Young mould” being more in use – with lightning-quick feet, while Smith has made his career out of being completely calm in the pocket no matter what. Even with a young, underdeveloped offensive line he was unflappable, no matter how often he got sacked.
Week 12 – Vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Thanks to the leadership and poise of Michael Chong, the Sun Devils are possibly the most underrated team in the nation. Their own star freshman running back Rick Palmer beat out previous starter Jason Hernandez to give the offence the real gamebreaker it lacked for the past seasons – Chong is good, but he could only do so much without a better receiving corps. The defensive line is not particularly solid, but the sentiment is that anything they let through, the linebackers will deal with; sophomores to a man, Rob Stewart, Jonathan Clifton and Albert Yates somehow made up the All-Pac-10 linebacking corps last year and could well do it again this year.
Week 13 – BYE
Week 14 – BYE
Week 15 – BYE
Time, the greatest enemy of them all. The downside to scheduling three bye weeks at the end of the season, of course, is that if by some glorious miracle we make it into a bowl game, the team will be a lot rustier than whoever we get.
After the bevy of upset victories we’ve had over the past years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the nation’s teams had learnt to treat nobody as a certain victory, and to afford Florida International the same respect as Florida. If it meant beating a lesser team by a fifty or sixty-point margin, so be it – who was going to complain about such a crushing victory anyway? Apparently, the memo that nobody was to be underestimated hadn’t quite reached Palo Alto just yet; I’d informed the team at the morning meeting of the “expert” opinions that had seen Vegas giving us a sixteen-point handicap and the key match-up being exactly how Roman Davis and Fred Gibbs handled the Indians’ front seven (or vice versa), and the vote of confidence looked to have done its job in practice. Nathan Hicks made the longest completion I’ve ever seen him make in the scrimmage – finding Steve Byers on a long slant play that saw him lob the ball a good fifty yards – and displayed surprising mobility a couple of times when the pocket collapsed. Since the passing game is a bigger question mark than the rushing game, I was very pleased with the improvements they’d been showing, and the line-up was pretty much set. Despite objections, I’d decided that to throw Roman in at the deep end was a little tough on him no matter how much talent he showed, and so Fred would be taking the majority of the snaps, with the freshman coming in on short-yardage situations and third downs. A lot of teams run a two-back system – take Indianapolis, for example, with the Joseph Addai/Kenton Keith tandem – and it seemed the best way to let Roman get his feet wet in the college game.
Enter Frank Michael.
Michael was one of Arkansas State’s defensive tackles, and in this game had been given the nod to start at the nose tackle position. In the first drives of the game, he was not outstanding; he made one tackle behind the line of scrimmage that stopped a drive that could have gone all the way, but did very little else. However, on Fred’s third rush, Michael took advantage of a handy double-team and dropped him for only a single yard gain with a very questionable hit – the replay indicated that it wasn’t a deliberate helmet-to-helmet hit, but Fred still left the game as a precaution. So much for getting his feet, Roman was happy to jump into the action head-first; on his first play, he bounced outside and evaded the linebacker to reel in a 21-yard pass, and his first carry gained a crucial first down that lead to Tommy Gonzalez getting close enough to make the forty-yard field goal that broke the tie. Nathan rose to the challenge beautifully as well, having two drives cut short by desperate defence from the Indians that led to chip-shot field goals, and tagging Anthony Burnette out of a goal-line formation for a three-yard touchdown pass. The game was pretty much done by the end of the third quarter, four field goals and that touchdown giving us an 18-0 lead, and ASU’s lone points coming from a field goal of their own were rubbed out by a fantastic 49-yard touchdown run from – who else? – Roman. If any rookie freshman out there had a better game, I’d like to see that.
Final Score: Arkansas State Indians 3 – 25 Stanford Cardinal
Stat-Lines: Nathan Hicks – 30/39, 321 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 sack
Roman Davis – 34 carries, 166 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.88 YPC
Anthony Burnette – 8 receptions, 85 yards, 1 touchdown
Dwight Peterson – 1 key run block, 2 pancakes
Tommy Gonzalez – 4/5 field goals made, 1/2 extra points made
Blaine Battle – 6 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass defences
David Evans – 2 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 hurries
To describe myself as anything other than pleased with that performance would be a lie. I could have done without Fred Gibbs being knocked out of the game early on, but the guy suffering most is him because his career as starting rusher is basically over – Roman Davis showed absolutely no hesitation in getting used to the speed and aggression of college play, and had the third-most yards in the nation; only Fresno State’s Marcus Jefferson (176) and Oklahoma’s Brian Edwards (211) had more and he’s apparently shot into contention for the Doak Walker Award. Defensively we were just as good, if not better, with Russ Rasmussen and Anthony Hobbs both making interceptions while the defensive line terrorised the Indians’ pass protection to the tune of seven sacks – one for Nick Berry, one for Josh Posey along with a pair of tackles for losses, two for David Evans and three for Jerry Rowland, who didn’t even start the game at end. Duke lost 46-14 to Syracuse and in a dismal performance, Chad Harris and Daryl Cox combined for just 53 yards…passing. The Syracuse defence ate the Blue Devils alive, and I was confident we could do the same; we’d escaped mostly unscathed, as Fred’s suspected concussion had turned into a minor headache by the next day. I say “mostly”, of course, because we did suffer a loss. Anthony Hobbs went off with an elbow injury, but nobody realised how serious it was until he had it X-rayed – he’d fractured it cleanly, and the result was that he’d be out for at least four weeks. For a secondary already a problem, this was terrible news. In his place came redshirted freshman Miguel Payne, and that’s not something I was particularly confident about.
As it happens, I was wrong to doubt my boys. It may only have been Duke, but a shutout is a good result against any team.
Offensively…it wasn’t so great. Roman seemed to take the mention of being eligible for the Doak Walker in training as a personal quest, and he did himself no harm today – his YPC number took a small hit, but that’s just because he was given the ball so often, thirty-eight times in total. The majority of his carries actually came in the first half, with Nathan throwing passes more and more as the game wore on – he could break the nineteen-yard barrier on any individual rushes, but came away with 180 yards and a fourteen-yard touchdown run towards the end of the first quarter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t where his influence ended – he somehow managed to haul in six passes, most in the backfield, and turn them into 74 yards; by comparison, this was enough to make him simultaneously our top rusher and top receiver, as Steve Byers had 73 yards. I do have to say, however, that the Blue Devils defence proved oddly stubborn when it counted, as aside from the previous touchdown drive, they bottled up Nathan well enough so that all of our other promising drives fizzled out. Three of them were good for field goals, albeit Tommy Gonzalez missed a fourth from just under forty yards out, but as I already said, shutouts are good no matter who the opposition. Posey brought his sack total up to three, taking out Cox twice for a total loss of 15 yards, but Blaine Battle ran him close for the unofficial defensive MVP title with 11 tackles and a crucial interception of Cox that came on the 18-yard line and preserved the shutout bid. The D-line wasn’t as authoritative as I’d originally hoped, but they were definitely solid enough and let the linebackers and the safeties make their plays perfectly. And in the end, that’s all I need.
Final Score: Duke Blue Devils 0 – 16 Stanford Cardinal
Stat-Lines: Nathan Hicks – 21/34, 255 yards, 2 sacks
Roman Davis – 38 attempts, 180 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.74 YPC; 6 receptions, 74 yards
Arlon Castro – 3 key run blocks, 2 pancakes, 1 false start
Tommy Gonzalez – 3/4 field goals made, 1/1 extra points made
Blaine Battle – 7 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1 interception
Josh Posey – 2 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 deflected pass
09-20-2007, 12:21 AM
10-11-2007, 09:43 PM
And the Posts stopped ????
What happene to Coach Eric Stong ??
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