Thursday, October 13, 2011
What to watch: Stanford-Washington State
By Kevin Gemmell
A few things to keep an eye on Saturday when No.7 Stanford travels to Martin Stadium to face the Washington State Cougars.
Inside the 20: Stanford has been unstoppable once it enters the red zone -- and that's not just hyperbole. They are 27-of-27 in red zone chances. Last week against Colorado, they entered the red zone five times and came away with a touchdown all five times. Only three other teams in the country can boast that average. They have 22 touchdowns on 27 trips inside the opponent's 20 -- including 12 touchdowns on the ground and 10 via the pass.
Stanford coach David Shaw judges a successful pass rush not on sacks, but on how many times his defense hits the quarterback.
Inside the 20, take 2: Only Michigan and Oklahoma can tout a higher red zone defenses than the Cardinal, who have turned opponents away 43.9 percent of the time they get inside the Stanford 20. Of the 14 trips inside Stanford's red zone, teams have scored just eight times, six of those have been touchdowns. In the past two weeks, the defense has flexed its muscles early in the red zone. Last week it was a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. Two weeks ago against UCLA it was a goal-line stand. Few teams are tougher backed up against their own goal line.
Heavy hitters: Stanford coach David Shaw said he doesn't judge a successful pass rush by the number of sacks his team tallies. It's the number of times the opposing quarterback gets hit. And so far he's been very pleased with the pass rush. While Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael is having a very efficient season, he has been sacked 12 times. With Chase Thomas and Co. busting through the edges, look for Lobbestael to spend some time on the ground this game.
Thievery emerging? The Stanford secondary got the proverbial interception monkey off its back last week with a pick by safety Michael Thomas. Are there more to come this week? Lobbestael does a pretty good job taking care of the ball. He's only thrown four picks to 15 touchdowns this season. Shaw said he was pleased that the defense finally got a turnover in the air, but stressed that his team will continue to keep to its scheme and that freelancing will not be accepted.
Check-down in affect: Against Colorado, Luck looked to his running backs to catch the ball more than any other time this season. He targeted his backs 12 times -- more than any other position group. The previous high had been seven times against Arizona, then six times against UCLA and five against Duke and San Jose State. I don't know if this was by design, it's what the defense was giving or if it's just Luck's progression in the offense. But it's a good thing. The more diverse you can be, the tougher you are to defend.