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Friday, October 14, 2011
Stanford mailbag

By Kevin Gemmell

Scott in Redwood City, Calif., writes: OK, so "sleeping giant" is an overused cliché. But now that Stanford has proved that their admissions criteria does not preclude a Top 5 team on the field, and considering what Stanford offers outside of football, aren't they truly the sleeping giant who has awakened?

Kevin Gemmell: Hmmm. Sleeping Giant? Not so sure. You've enjoyed a tremendous amount of success partly because of what Jim Harbaugh was able to do with this program. Yes, David Shaw is leading the ship right now and doing a fantastic job. But I'd wait until he gets his recruits in and they have a few years in the system before really handicapping the long-term health of the program. It might be that this is the dawn of a Golden Era for Stanford football and for the next five decades you'll never leave the Top 10. Or you could be 1-11 in three years. Chances are you land somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. But I know if Shaw can recruit like he can coach, there are good things ahead.


Manny in Fremont, Calif., writes: What are the chances that Luck stays for his final year? It has to be slim, right?

Kevin Gemmell: As the old saying goes, slim just walked out the door.


Steve in Bel Air, Md., writes: With teams 2-for-10 on field goal attempts, that means the Cardinal have outscored the opposition 7-6 (following last week's blocked field goal-turned touchdown) on field goal tries through five games! Has any team ever done that over the course of a whole season?

Kevin Gemmell: Steve, I looked around and couldn't find an answer. I know I've never seen anything like this before this deep into a season. Three phases to this game. And Stanford is good at all three.


Jamey in Burlingame writes: Five games into the season the excitement level is off the charts. Sold out games, Luck playing better than ever, and an air-tight run defense. But taking a step back, they've played five teams that are mediocre at best. The only offense so far that even remotely resembles Oregon was UCLA's pistol attack, which ran for some big plays. So my question is what do you take from the first five games to predict how Stanford will fare against much tougher opponents like Washington, USC, and especially Oregon?

Kevin Gemmell: Great question Jamey. I see a team that has gotten better every week in all phases of the game. I see a team that hasn't even allowed itself to be put in a position where it could fail in any of those games. We saw a few teams fall to weaker opponents early in the season, but Stanford didn't. I see a team that's taken care of business. Now, with all of that said, I'm curious to see how they'll react the first time they are down in a game. They're yet to be punched in the mouth. But I have a feeling they'll be able to punch right back. So what I take as a predictor is the steady improvement on both sides of the ball. The team that beat Colorado is significantly better than the team that beat San Jose State. Plus, in these first five games, they have put more formations on film to keep make even the most devout defensive coordinators insomniacs.


Stephen in Jenner, Calif., writes: Is Wayne Lyons out for the year? He could make a difference against USC/Oregon/Washington. Seems a waste to redshirt him even if he can play a few games.

Kevin Gemmell: Still not sure if they are going to shut him down for the year with his foot injury. But even if he could play, who knows if he'd be at 100 percent. Remember, he's just a true freshman. You don't want to force him back into a game with the magnitude of Oregon or USC if he's not 100 percent physically -- or mentally. He's only played in two collegiate games and he's spent the past four weeks out. If he gets a medical redshirt, that's great, because it means he's got another year to grow physically and within the system. An old coach, who I consider one of the sharpest minds in college football, once told me the positions that are furthest from the ball are the positions where true freshmen have the best chance to play. He also said just because they can play, doesn't mean they should. Lyons has a long, shining career ahead of him. No need to rush it if he's not ready.


Erik in Mountain View, Calif., writes: Jamal-Rashad Patterson came into Stanford as a huge prospect, and has shown glimpses of star potential, including the catch he made in the Colorado game, but for some reason has not seen consistent playing time or targets from Luck. What is the reason for his lack of playing time in the eyes of David Shaw? Does it have to do with lack of consistency in blocking down field or during practice? It would be nice to see him and Ty Montgomery to make a huge impact in some games this year like their potential suggests they can.

Kevin Gemmell: When it comes to playing time, Shaw answers the question the same way: If you practice well, you'll get opportunities on game day. Now, practice is closed to the media, so I can't say for sure what's happening there. But I do know that there are so many targets for Luck to look at between the three tight ends, Chris Owusu, Griff Whalen, the running back, Ryan Hewitt etc., that it's tough to break into this offense. Stanford leans more toward the run than the pass, so opportunities are rare even for the regulars.


Brandon in Lodi, Calif., writes: Can you provide us any information on Anthony Wilkerson this season? Has he been hurt or is he just plain MIA so far? Would you call this season a sophomore slump for A-Dub or just being out played? He had such a promising close to the season last year. Thanks.

Kevin Gemmell: As far as I know, he hasn't been hurt and he's appeared in every game. I wouldn't call it a slump, he just really hasn't gotten it going. He's averaging less than five carries per game, and bigger backs like Wilkerson (6-1, 218) usually need a few consecutive carries to establish a rhythm and he's yet to find it. I think the emergence of Tyler Gaffney has cut into some of his carries while Hewitt and Jeremy Stewart have carved out their own niche on the short-yardage plays. It's about finding the right time for Wilkerson. For example, the 24-yard touchdown run against Arizona on fourth-and-1. That was the perfect play at the perfect time and Wilkerson looked blazing on his way to the end zone. But those types of plays are few-and-far between so he's going to need to be more productive more on the not-so-perfect plays.