Stanford Football: Marquess Wilson

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 6

August, 24, 2012
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

6. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford

2011 numbers: Posted 52 tackles (33 solo) including a conference best 17.5 tackles for a loss. He also had 8.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and was second in the conference in forced fumbles.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 5

Making the case for Thomas: It's time to break the stranglehold wide receivers have had on this list for the past three days and look to defense. Thomas is the best outside linebacker in the conference and many would argue in the country. He opted to return for another season to improve his consistency and up his draft status. And both should see significant improvement. Last year Stanford's run defense was tops in the conference, allowing less than 85 yards per game and it was the only team to hold opponents to an average of less than 100 yards per contest. Thomas was a big reason for that number. Expect him to be even better this year with the return of Shayne Skov at inside linebacker. When Skov went down, defenses were keying in on Thomas, which makes his production last year that much more impressive. With six of last year's front seven returning -- plus the return of Skov and young playmakers like James Vaughters and Noor Davis -- Thomas headlines a run-stopping unit that should once again challenge for best in the conference.

No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

June, 8, 2012
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We've looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers and the 1,000-yard rushers in the Pac-12 over the last few days. But this is the conference of wide receivers -- a place for Biletnikoff's boys to run free and unabated up and down the field. So who's going to be in 2012's 1K club?

First, here's last year's 1,000-yard receivers:
With only four returning 1K receivers coming back from last season -- and two of them are on the same team -- how does that bode for the rest of the teams in the conference?

Arizona: The Wildcats lose their top three receivers from last year -- including headliner Juron Criner and his 956 receiving yards. Big boy Dan Buckner (6-foot-4, 214) returns after 42 catches and 606 yards last year, when he averaged 14.4 yards per catch. But the Wildcats will run the ball more this year. Buckner will likely improve on his numbers, but reaching 1K will be tough.

Arizona State: Another team shifting its mentality from pass first to run first, and they lose their top receiver in Robinson. Jamal Miles had 60 catches and six touchdowns last year, but only 361 yards. His yard total should go up as the No. 1 guy, but with more focus on the run game, 1,000 yards might be a stretch.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWith quarterback (and half-brother) Zach Maynard more comfortable, Keenan Allen could put on a show for Cal during his junior season.
Cal: Keenan Allen. Yes. Quarterback Zach Maynard reportedly had a great spring and looks more comfortable in the offense -- and Allen might be the best all-around receiver in the conference (that phrase will be written a couple of times throughout this post). The Bears will lean heavily on Allen and he'll reward them with another 1,000 yard season.

Colorado: Prior to Paul Richardson's injury, it still would have been 50-50 with a new quarterback. But without their top receiving threat it leaves relatively inexperienced players like Tyler McCulloch and Nelson Spruce in the mix. The quarterback position is still in flux and with a pretty good offensive line and a talented running back in Tony Jones, the Buffs' focus will probably be more ground-based.

Oregon: Whether De'Anthony Thomas reaches 1,000-1,000 is a debate for another day. But I like his chances of 1,000 yards receiving. He caught 46 balls for 605 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Coach Chip Kelly finds creative ways to get Thomas the ball in space and then he just takes off. He'll make the new quarterback look good and suck up receiving yards in the process. My crisp $1 bill says yes to 1K.

Oregon State: Markus Wheaton returns after catching 73 balls for 986 yards. He's an extremely gifted wide receiver who is often forgotten among the Pac-12's A-list of pass catchers. But he shouldn't be. Sean Mannion should be more steady in his second year and as Brandin Cooks develops opposite Wheaton, it should open up more opportunities. He'll break 1K this season.

Stanford: Run-first team. The top three receivers (which includes tight end Coby Fleener) are gone and the leading, returning receiver is fullback Ryan Hewitt. Even if Andrew Luck were back it would be tough. The Cardinal spread the ball around so much that it's unlikely one guy would get all the catches. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, however, is a rising star in the conference and should have a very good season. He's Stanford's best chance at 1K.

UCLA: If the Bruins can get the quarterback spot situated and if they take to the new pass-happy offense relatively quickly, there is a good chance someone could emerge as a 1K receiver. Joseph Fauria is the strongest pass catcher, but Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray will have plenty of chances to emerge.

USC: Yes and yes. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are two of the best wide receivers in the country and with the quarterback they have throwing the ball, there is no reason to think both won't return as 1,000-yard receivers. This one is a no-brainer.

Utah: The Utes were dead last in the conference last year in passing offense. That's expected to change with new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson taking a more aggressive approach and quarterback Jordan Wynn staying healthy, they hope. When DeVonte Christopher did catch the ball (42 times) he made the most of it with one of the league's highest averages per catch (15.8). But running the ball is still going to be Utah's bread and butter. The numbers will improve, but a 1K receiver will be tough.

Washington: This is a tough call. Quarterback Keith Price has another year of experience, but there is so much distribution in the Huskies offense -- which includes a tight end who should see the ball at least five to seven times per game -- that there might not be a chance for one guy to separate himself. Kasen Williams and James Johnson both have big-play potential -- which might be part of the problem because they could take yards away from each other. And without Chris Polk running the ball, teams might not be as quick to send safeties down to defend the run.

Washington State: Not if, but when. Marquess Wilson, last year's yardage runner up is in a system that's tailor-made for him. Of the league's top receivers -- Allen, Woods, Lee, Wheaton -- Wilson might be the best of them all (doesn't that make for a fun debate?). There are plenty of other good receivers at Washington State. But Wilson is the guy. He'll clear 1K about the time you're recovering from your Halloween candy hangover.
Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.
Justin Blackmon's athletic ability falls somewhere between brilliant and baffling. You know it. I know it. Stanford head coach David Shaw knows it. The Cardinal secondary knows it. Every NFL scout knows it.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiStanford will be facing a big challenge in Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
So how do you stop Oklahoma State's prolific wide receiver? Ah ... a simple question with a nearly impossible answer.

That's the challenge facing the Stanford secondary when the Cowboys and Cardinal clash on Jan. 2 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Consider Blackmon's résumé this season:

  • Six times he went over 100 yards in a game.
  • Six times he had double-digit receptions in a game (113 on the year).
  • Five times he went for more than 120 yards -- including a 205-yard performance against then-No. 14 Kansas State.
  • Five times he had multi-touchdown games.
  • He scored at least one touchdown in 10 of 12 games.

Pretty daunting stuff.

Stanford's secondary gives up a lot of yards, about 241 per game. Blackmon gets a lot of yards, about 111 per game. He also finds the end zone, with 15 touchdown receptions this year. However, this is where Stanford's pass defense takes a significant turn for the better. The Cardinal have only allowed 15 passing touchdowns all year. Break that down even further and you'll see that of those 15, only eight touchdowns were caught by wide receivers.

Still, Stanford's secondary gets a bad rap for the yards it yields (the most overblown stat in football, by the way) and its lack of interceptions. Safety Michael Thomas said he and his teammates don't deserve the reputation of being the weak link in Stanford's defense.

"We're not OK with that at all," Thomas said. "At the same time, besides going out and playing, what more can you do? You can't change anybody's opinion unless you go out and play. We get one last shot going against a talented group of receivers -- especially Justin Blackmon -- and we're going to try to make a statement this game to show we can play with the best receivers out there."

If you were paying attention this season, they've already shown it. Stanford has already faced six of the top 20 statistical wide receivers in the country this year: Robert Woods (USC), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Keenan Allen (Cal), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), Juron Criner (Arizona) and Noel Grigsby (San Jose State). Against the Cardinal, five of those six performed below their season average. Only Floyd matched (but did not exceed) his season average. Wilson and Grigsby failed to score and Woods, Floyd, Allen and Criner were held to one touchdown each.

Stanford's secondary is also yet to allow a 100-yard receiver this season. That's a major accomplishment the Cardinal defenders are hoping to complete.

"If we stop No. 81, we wouldn't have allowed a 100-yard receiver this season, and I don't know how many other secondaries can say that," Thomas said.

"What's different about him is while he plays physical, he plays bigger than his size and he plays faster than his speed. We've played some very dynamic athletes. This cat brings a whole new dimension. We feel like he plays as fast as he needs to play. There is no flaw in his game whereas other guys we could find something. This guy doesn't have any flaws. But all we can do is prepare for him like we did the rest of them."

Preparation, therein lies another problem. The Cardinal have no one on their roster who can simulate the way Blackmon plays.

"We’ve got about four guys wearing the No. 81 jersey," Shaw said. "It’s hard because we’re trying to practice at game tempo for our team, but there are not many guys in college football that can run full speed eight plays in a row, deep routes, and still come back and not even be out of breath. We’ve been rotating guys in and out because that’s so hard to emulate."

The closest offense Stanford has seen this season to Oklahoma State is Arizona. That's the game the players are going back and watching.

"That's really the only thing we can compare it to," Thomas said. "It's high-tempo, but not like Oregon. But they are like Arizona in terms of depth at the wide receiver position, one stud quarterback who can sit in the pocket and make throws. We're treating them like we did Arizona, but making some tweaks."

Just as Stanford's offense isn't all about Andrew Luck, OSU's receiving game isn't all about Blackmon. Quarterback Brandon Weeden commands the spread offense with precision and efficiency. Tracy Moore has a pair of 100-yard receiving games and four touchdowns. Josh Cooper has gone for more than 100 yards three times.

"They have a bunch of guys who can make plays," Thomas said. "And we'll have packages in place for all of them. But no matter what, you always have to keep your eye on No. 81."

Regular-season report card: Secondary

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
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The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part nine of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.

SECONDARY

Grade: C+

Summary: This was the toughest of all the grades to assign – and therefore deserves the most analysis and scrutiny.

On the surface, when you look at just receiving yards against, the Cardinal secondary was not very good. In passing defense, the Cardinal ranked 78th nationally, allowing 241 yards per game in the air. If that’s your only criteria for grading, then a "D" is justified.

Maybe you look at the interception total – just six. Only 10 teams out of 120 had fewer interceptions than the Cardinal. If that’s your main criteria, than a "D-, F" is justified.

But you have to look deeper. I don’t put much stock in the total receiving yards stat. I think it’s one of the most overblown numbers because it doesn’t take into account the flow of the game – or the fact that most teams were playing catch-up against Stanford and were more likely to throw the ball.

So let’s really break it down. Teams passed for an average of 48.8 yards in the first quarter, 83 yards in the second quarter, 41.9 in the third and 63.3 in the fourth. Most teams fell behind early in the first quarter, so they went airborne in the second quarter. They tried to re-establish the running game in the third, then went back to the air in the fourth – so it stands to reason that the Cardinal gave up the bulk of the yards in the air in the second and fourth quarters.

Stanford faced six of the top 20 statistical wide receivers in the country this season: Robert Woods (USC), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Keenan Allen (Cal), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), Juron Criner (Arizona) and Noel Grigsby (San Jose State). Five of those six performed below their season average against Stanford. Only Floyd matched (but did not exceed) his season average. Wilson and Grigsby were kept out of the end zone and Woods, Floyd, Allen and Criner were held to one touchdown each.

The Cardinal did not allow an individual 100-yard receiving game this year, and they had one of the best third-down conversion defenses in the country – traditionally a passing down.

Of the 15 passing touchdowns they yielded (that’s top 30 nationally, by the way), only eight went to wide receivers. The remaining seven went to tight ends (5) and running backs (2) which can fall on either the safeties or the linebackers.

A good friend and colleague suggested looking at the total quarterback numbers as a way to gauge the secondary: 249-of-409 (60 percent completion percentage), 2893 yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions. If your quarterback put up those numbers, you’d consider that sub-par production.

That’s a lot of information to digest. So what do we make of all of this?

Essentially, they bent, but didn’t break. The tackling in the secondary was suspect all year – and it got worse when safety Delano Howell missed some time with a hand injury. It was clear Stanford was a better secondary when he’s healthy.

Safety Michael Thomas was the glue that held the secondary together. He accounted for half of the team’s interceptions and provided stability and leadership.

Johnson Bademosi is a very good athlete and the best tackler of the cornerbacks. He also led the team with seven pass breakups. But he was flagged quite a bit for pass interference. Corey Gatewood and Terrence Brown rounded out the rotation at cornerback by the end of the season. Gatewood, who moved over from wide receiver, added some much needed depth and athleticism.

In summation, the secondary didn’t win any beauty contests or show much flash or panache. But, for the most part, the defensive backs made the plays when it counted most – in the red zone, on third down and against the toughest wide receivers in the country. They get knocked for the missed tackles and lack of turnovers. But when you really break down their performance, it’s better than most people probably give them credit for.

Backups: Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards both have very bright futures at the safety position. But it was clear they were a downgrade from Howell. That’s not a knock on them, but rather a compliment to how good Howell is. The playing experience they had (Richards appeared in all 12, Carrington in 11) will pay off immensely when they move into more prominent roles next season. The return of Wayne Lyons from a foot injury will also help with depth next season.

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