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The Gekko File: Stanford

Perusing of the Gekko File archives bring us to the enigma that is Stanford.  This historically challenged football program is currently the highest ranked Pac 12 program in the nation.  They sport the nation's number one pro prospect in QB Andrew Luck and they roll out a physical team that mirrors the style of play their old coach preaches as gospel to the football fans of the Bay Area. 

Many of my DawgPound colleagues are smitten with the Cardinal.  They extend to these wonders of the football world a level of respect that is normally reserved for real college football teams (you know, the types of programs who have actually won a Rose Bowl since the 1971 season). They love to preach the gospel of Ted Miller and to highlight the overrated underratedness of phenoms such as Shayne Skov, Chris Owusu, Delano Howell and Stepfan Taylor.  Quality players?  Sure.  Championship players?  Not sure.  World-beaters?  No.

This is a good team that is amplified by a stellar QB - the likes of which Stanford won't see again for decades.  They come into the Husky game having feasted on the weakest possible schedule they could have hoped for to this point.  They face the prospect of more dining on a middling Husky D but challenged by an offense the likes of which they have yet to face.  The key, of course, is Andrew Luck and whether or not his underlying humanity will care to make an appearance at home on Saturday.

More Gekko File after the jump.

  • Stanford has not won a Rose Bowl since the 1971 season, but they played in one under Ty Willingham.  They lost to #7 Wisconsin 19-7 in what was the last respectable moment in Ty Willingham's football career.
  • Andrew Luck is so good that he is changing the way academics think about Physics.  Quantum physicists are currently in the process of submitting a paper that reworks Einstein's Theory of Relativity to account for the Luck affect.  Apparently Luck's awesomeness expands at a rate greater than the speed of light.
  • Since that fateful Rose Bowl run of 1971, Stanford has only won the Pac title twice.  Ty's Rose Bowl season was one.  The other was Bill Walsh's 1992 team that went 6-2 in the Pac 10.  UW, as it would be, crushed Stanford in that year by a score of 41-7. 
  • Andrew Luck is such a manly man that he has reportedly fielded requests from the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Patrick Dempsey, Brian Wilson, George Clooney, Rosie O'Donnell and Grizzly Adams on tips for growing and grooming a beard.
  • Stanford has a long football history and, as such, has actually garnered an all-time winning record against every team in the Pac 12 North EXCEPT for Washington.  UW holds a 40-37-4 edge versus the Tree.
  • Andrew Luck is so charming that the panhandlers of East Palo Alto beg him to take their money.
  • Stanford has all-time losing records to USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona St.  They are exactly .500 against both Utah and Colorado.  So, yah, they are pretty happy to not be in the South Division
  • Andrew Luck is so hunky that even Ellen DeGeneres has said that she'd like to sleep with him.
  • With 81 wins, Ty Willingham is #3 on the Stanford all-time wins by coaches list ahead of names like Bill Walsh, Jim Harbaugh and Jack Elway.  Chew on that and you'll understand how bad Stanford Football has been for a long period of time.
  • Andrew Luck is so smart that he speaks twelve different languages fluently, including two that he made up on his own.
  • While John Elway is their all-time best player and Andrew Luck is their most celebrated player, Jim Plunkett remains as the only Heisman winner in Stanford history.
  • Andrew luck is so handsome that even Steen wants to date him.
  • You may not have heard, but Stanford now has its own blog on ESPN.  Seriously. This is yet another Stanford phenomenon that nobody will care about once Andrew Luck is gone.
  • Andrew Luck is so precious, his mother got a heart tattoo that reads "Son".
  • Andrew Luck is so reliable, that no Volkswagen that he has ever driven has ever leaked oil or broken down.
  • Andrew Luck is so hot that Playboy has announced that whomever he chooses to date next year will automatically be crowned 2013 Playmate of the Year.
  • Andrew Luck is such a big draw that he makes even Pullman a cool road trip.
  • Andrew Luck is so good that he calculates the best odds on any passing play to the fifth decimal point ... in his head.
  • Andrew Luck is so awesome that Batman wears Andrew Luck underoos.
  • Andrew Luck is so fearsome that it is now a widely held belief that Andrew Luck is the reason that Sasquatch is hiding.
  • Andrew Luck is so wholesome that Megan Fox, Tara Reid and Britney Spears have pledged to remain sex free until he loses his virginity.
  • Andrew Luck is such a big deal that astronomers have determined that the moon actually has started to rotate around him.  
  • Andrew Luck is such a momma's boy that even Jake Locker's mom wants to kiss him ... on the lips.
  • Andrew Luck is such a leader among of men that even Crazi and Lear are compelled to join hands and sing "We Are the World" in unison when in his presence.
  • Andrew Luck is such a terror that even Lord Voldemort refuses to speak his name.
  • Andrew Luck is such a sure thing that KirkD has predicted that he will win the intangibles advantage in every endeavor that he will undertake for the rest of his God-given life.

Washington at Stanford:  A Preview

My frequent assertion that Stanford is an 11-win team in an 8-9-win team's body has been overplayed ad nauseum in these pages to the point where it is widely assumed that I think Stanford sucks.  To the contrary, I'm envious of how Stanford plays:  with discipline and physicality led by a dominating QB.  Outside of some freaks at TE, O-Line and QB, Stanford is not really even in the top half of Pac 12 teams in terms of sheer athleticism across the board and vertically among the two-deeps.  What they lack in hops and gate, they make up for in intellect and muscle.  This is a team that executes.  They just keep going and going like water pressure building on a bowing levee.  Eventually, they make the teams they are playing submit to their will.  It is the sign of a dominating team.

That said, this is not an unbeatable team.  WSU demonstrated last weekend that Andrew Luck can make mistakes.  He got picked on an underthrow on the second play from scrimmage and he got WR Chris Owusu knocked out of the game when he led him too close to S Casey Locker on a poor pass in the second quarter.  The key to solving the Stanford puzzle, if it can really be solved, starts with matching the physicality of David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin on the line of scrimmage.  Stanford's entire game plan is premised on establishing the run and protecting Luck so that he can pick apart opposing defenses.  The confidence that the offensive unit establishes is derived from the physical punishment that Martin and DeCastro exert upon their opponents.  The second element of the Stanford offense is the versatility and deception that comes from playing two to three TEs on any given play.  It is rumored that Stanford is a no-nonsense, shove-it-in-your-face offense.  This is true but not the whole truth.  They thrive on creating mismatches and getting their TEs, RBs and Fullbacks into space through motion and misdirection.  Finally, the offense relies, not surprisingly, on the headiness of its QB.  There hasn't been a QB in CFB since Peyton Manning that has been given so much freedom at the LOS.  Luck is uncanny in his approach and decision-making.

The much-maligned Husky D will have its hands full.  Some of you like this matchup because you assume that our run-stoppers will give us some of an advantage.  I think there is some merit here.  But the secret is in how good our Safeties and LBs are in playing sound assignments and tracking the whereabouts of the trio of TEs that Stanford rolls out there.  To date, we have only been so-so in that regard.  Stanford doesn't really have any playmakers outside of Chris Owusu, but guys like Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen are big enough and physical enough that they will be able to create mismatches.  The key is getting to them before they can get into space - a task that involves pressuring Luck AND playing your assignments. I would note here that every team Stanford has played this year has, at times, shut down this offense.  It is not impossible - but stringing together four solid quarters remains the challenge that none of the teams on Stanford's relatively weak schedule have been able to accomplish.

Defensively, Stanford is not exactly as stout as they were a year ago despite the gaudy statistics.  They've been challenged by the graduation of some nasty D-linemen and, especially, by the season-ending injury to the sexy beast (and Sundodger's erotic fantasy) that is Shayne Skov.  The strength of this defense lies in its defensive line and through the defensive playbook that is called by Stanford's defensive coordinators Jason Tarver and Derek Mason.  If you've watched Stanford's games, you will note that they play defense like the Pittsburgh Steelers in that they are an effective blitzing team and they tend to overload different sides of the line of scrimmage to create pressure.  Again, deception is their game.  They have a decent LB crew headlined by hustle backer Chase Thomas.  It is my belief that their secondary is not very deep and not very athletic.  Delano Howell is heralded by the masses as something special, but the brother of one-time Husky Dan Howell is a LB in a S body.  He is not an effective cover man and he can get caught out of position when he gets overly agressive looking for a big hit.  He is, however, effective in the run support game and he's going to be a big part of Stanford's gameplan in stopping Chris Polk.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how that situation plays out given how Polk was bottled up last year.  I am expecting Polk to lay some lumber.

The Huskies are going to be unlike any offense that the Tree has faced this year.  There has yet to be a team that has so many playmakers on the field at the same time against that Stanford D.  I really don't know how Stanford is going to play it, but my instinct is that they are going to start the game by taking some chances and seeing if they can lay some hits on Keith Price in order to shake him up or to rattle him.  UW will, of course, counter with a lot of Chris Polk, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and formation trickery.  A lot will ride on whether or not the improvement we've been seeing in guys like Erik Kohler and Colin Porter are true leaps forward or mirages built on the backs of the weaker competition that we've seen the past few weeks.  Regardless, it should be exciting.

Prediction:  UW 24 - Stanford 34

I really do think UW has a chance at the upset this weekend.  Stanford has what may be the weakest home-field advantage in the PAC 12 and, let's face it, they haven't really been challenged by quality opposition since their Orange Bowl victory against Virgina Tech.  We really don't know how dominating they really are.  However, when you consider the things that Stanford has to have happen in order to win the game versus the things that UW has to have happen, you can see why the odds favor Stanford and why they were installed as a 20 point favorite.  Basically, Stanford wins this game if a) they pressure Keith Price, b) they keep Luck standing upright and c) they get the ball to their TEs/RBs in space.  On the flip side, UW wins this game if a) Price gets time to exploit the Stanford secondary, b) our young O-Line stymies the Stanford front and effectively picks up on their exotic blitzes d) UW establishes a real running game and d) UW finds a way to put pressure on Andrew Luck.  Given that Luck has been sacked just twice all season and that they have been stellar in controlling turnovers, you'd have to be nuts to not pick Stanford.  That said, I'm certain that UW's offense will make plays and that this will be a game that will make defensive enthusiasts squeamish.  I predict another three TD passes for Keith Price and another 100 yard day for Chris Polk - although it might be combined passing and rushing.  I expect that this will be a physical battle for both teams and that we'll both go into the following week down a player or two.

Other Predictions:

- UW will lose the turnover battle 2-1 and leave fans dreaming about what could have been
- The Refs will blow a big call somewhere along the line and it will undoubtedly be to the benefit of the Golden Child, Andrew Luck
- Lear will call for Nick Holt's head somewhere along the line
- The front seven of the Husky D will avail themselves well and leave Duck fans secretly a little nervous about their visit to Seattle in a week
- Josh Shirley will sack Andrew Luck
- Alameda Ta'amu will rip someone's head off
- Stanford TE's will score all three of Stanford's TDs
- Our special teams will really help us out with field position, only to have our often stone-walled pass rush give it back
- UW will have a better third down conversion ratio than Stanford
- Crazi will say something ... crazy

On a side note, I'd like to point out that this will be a pivotal game in the ongoing PAC 12 North division evolution regardless of the outcome.  The winner of this game will have a clear line of sight to the Pac 12 Championship Game and will be in position to control their own destiny.  For UW, this could be our biggest step forward in an evolution of a program that has been burgeoning under Sark.  For Stanford, there is something more desperate at play.  After this season, Stanford will lose Luck (probably), DeCastro, Martin, Thomas, Whalen, Howell, Fleener, Owusu, Jeremy Stewart and possibly Skov.  This team has already lost the coaching staff that made those guys into the team that they are.  I respect the players that are there, but I think we all expect that Stanford will be coming back down towards the middle of the pack in a big way in 2012.  This is their chance at the greatest season in Stanford history and UW is now squarely in the way.  I am curious how this dynamic affects the players on the field and the fans in the stands.  It ought to be fun.

That's it, Dawg fans.  What say you?