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Opponent Q&A: Stanford Cardinal

Sam Weyen of Channel Tree joins me to talk Stanford football

Stanford v UCLA Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

This week, the Huskies will travel to Stanford Stadium to take on the Cardinal, and Sam Weyen of Channel Tree gave me the rundown on Stanford’s program ahead of the Dawgs’ road matchup:

MS: Troy Taylor took the helm of the Cardinal program after David Shaw stepped down at the end of last year. As a result, the offense has completely shifted from the “intellectual brutality” of the Shaw teams of the past to a more wide-open scheme favoring the pass. What have you seen from this offense that’s encouraging in year 1? Similarly, how has the defensive scheme changed?

The “intellectual brutality” approach, with its fullbacks and extra offensive lineman has given way to a more modern offense of air raid and spread concepts. And boy does the change of pace feel good after a few miserable seasons! Here are some encouraging signs:

· The play calling is miles more creative and varied compared to the rote predictability of the Shaw years. Gone are the days when even my football-illterate mother could guess the play (run up the middle on third and long). We now have a playcalling Michigan might deign worthy of spying on.

· Sophomore WR Elic Ayomanor (#13) has been a welcome bright spot in a position group we were very nervous about, and speedy senior WR Bryce Farrell (#3) has been great in jet sweeps

· We’ve seen many more quarterback runs (in fact, our QBs lead the team in rushing attempts) and rollouts

· And despite the changes, one thing remains constant: we have an NFL caliber TE on the roster in Senior TE Benjamin Yurosek (#84), and the position unit overall is strong.

Still, it doesn’t seem like Troy Taylor is fully able to utilize his system with the current roster. The offensive line in particular has struggled mightily throughout the season. But change and requisite growing pains are upon us. Hate or love it — there are no more fullbacks.

Our defense is improved in some areas, struggling in others. Shaw employed a 3-4 defense for years until switching to a 4-3 in his final year. New DC Bobby April III has returned Stanford to the 3-4 defense. I had whiplash writing that so imagine the players. There are some things to be hopeful about:

· Tackling is improved year over year

· We rank #59 in sacks (16) which is solid given our talent and considering where we were last year

· Junior ILB Gaethan Bernadel (#0) has emerged as a leader of the defense. That man plays with fire and passion… which we certainly need more of amidst a rebuild

On the other hand, it sometimes feels like DC Bobby April III is trying to make guys fit into his system rather than building a system around what he has. The inside linebacking corp has struggled in a lot of our games. And our secondary has been pitiful. We are second last in yards allowed (315.9 yards per game), #126 in passing efficiency allowed (160.69), and last in 3rd down conversion defense (0.548). And while sophomore CB Collin Wright (#6) has done relatively well, he’s given up quite a few big plays.

MS: Stanford uses an interesting system, carried over from Taylor’s time at Sac State, in which there’s a running QB and a primary passing QB. Ashton Daniels is the primary passer, while Justin Lamson is their runner. How does Stanford’s scheme fit these two players, and what can Dawg fans expect from Stanford’s offense when either are on the field?

The Taylor system does call for a primary passing and a primary rushing QB.

Daniels tends to be used as a passer. He is a solid hurler but displays accuracy and decision-making problems. There’s a viral video tweet example of him missing a wide-open Senior TE Benjamin Yurosek (#84) in the endzone during the Hawai’i game. However, the drops from his receivers do not help either. We’ve had more than a few dropped catches in the endzone.

Lamson tends to be used as a runner. He runs hard each time. He’s not afraid of contact and takes a lot of hits each game. When Lamson is on the field, you can expect some tough physical runs up the middle… perhaps it’s a tribute to Shaw’s favorite gameplan.

While Daniels is the passer and Lamson is the runner, they both defy their roles quite well.

Daniels has rushed 37 times this year, which is more than any RB on the roster and second only to his complementary QB. Likewise, Lamson accounts for more than a quarter of Stanford’s passing attempts on the season. Moreover, both quarterbacks are mobile allowing Troy Taylor to run more quarterback designed runs such pin-and-pull concepts. 19% of Stanford’s offensive snaps are quarterback runs. All to say, they both are rather versatile.

Interestingly, while the number of carries (254) and passes (235) are relatively balanced, Taylor is rushing the quarterback duo more than running backs committee.

As a final note, it’s important to mention that it’s hard to gauge quarterback performance behind such a shaky offensive line. We have given up 25 sacks so far this season. Stanford is #118 in sacks allowed.

MS: The Cardinal have some pretty good running backs, with E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins being good options out of the backfield. How have their roles changed in Taylor’s revamped offense?

Troy Taylor has implemented a platoon system, experimenting with different running backs throughout the season. Even true freshman RB Sedrick Irvin (#26) got a start and the bulk of the workload this season (vs. Arizona)—something that never would’ve happened in the seniority-obsessed previous regime. There is no clear bell cow so far, but senior RB Casey Filkins (#2) and senior RB E.J. Smith (#22) might be the leading duo, with similar carry numbers.

Perhaps the offensive line is somewhat to blame. The RB group is so often playing pass protector.

MS: Receiver Elic Ayomanor introduced himself to a national audience in a big way, snagging 13 catches for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns on Travis Hunter and the Colorado Buffaloes. Adding to that, there’s also tight end Benjamin Yurosek, who was All PAC 12 Second Team last year, and preseason All PAC 12 this year. How do their skillsets figure into this offense and who else should Dawg fans watch out for on the offensive side of the ball?

Sophomore WR Elic Ayomanor (#13) leads the team in receptions (36), yards (591), and receiving touchdowns (4) by a landslide. A big and fast 6’2” wideout with a 4.48 40 time in high school, he poses a challenge to defenders. However, he has had some bad drops. He also has had a knee brace which allegedly hampered him. It’s probably no coincidence that once he removed the knee brace during the Colorado game, he exploded. A key weakness in the Stanford offense heading into this season was a lack of talented receiving options. To the delight of Stanford fans, Ayomanor has exploded as a top target and may see a lot of looks against the huskies. As a result, I could see Washington trying to take away Ayomanor during the game to stifle the already struggling passing attack. Then again, Stanford is bad enough to the point where Washington may not need to do so.

A versatile player and excellent blocker, senior TE Benjamin Yurosek (#84) is our best offensive player. A future NFL player, he was difference maker during the season opener at Hawai’i with 9 receptions, 138 yards, and 1 touchdown. However, he hasn’t had as many catches since then instead has had more rushes. Since the Hawai’i game, he has had 7 receptions and 11 rushing attempts. However, Yurosek has been injured and is questionable for this matchup. He may not play this game. If he plays, he may be used heavily as a blocker especially since the offensive line has struggled as late. Perhaps most importantly, his grandfather is credited as the inventor of the baby carrot. Yes, that’s true.

MS: Who are the possible game wreckers on defense that Dawg fans need to keep an eye on?

You do not need to fear Stanford’s defense. Trust me on this one. It is indeed better than last year where we just could not stop anyone. Now we can stop maybe a few teams. Hey, we’ll take it.

We do have a star in Sophomore ILB David Bailey (#23) – the most dynamic player on defense. He is a future NFL player who often gets into the backfield. He leads the team with 5 sacks and had 3 of those in a single game (Hawai’I). Bailey struggled against U$C and can also be a bit inconsistent. He plays his best as a pass rusher but struggles when dropped back into coverage. For reasons still unknown, Bailey sometimes does not start, but always plays a large portion of the game. All part of the Taylor mystery.

I’ve sung his praises above, but junior ILB Gaethan Bernadel (#0) is the heart and soul of the defense, and he’s helping change the culture. Playing almost every defensive snap, he usually plays hard. A solid tackler, he leads the team in tackles. He is not a speedy player but plays with conviction.

Senior SS Alaka’i Gilman (#33) is a hard hitter though he struggles to backpedal and keep up. He often plays all or most defensive snaps. Gilman also intercepted Colorado QB Shadeur Sander’s endzone pass in Stanford’s dramatic comeback victory against Colorado.

MS: It is now time for a score prediction! What do you think the score of the game will be, as the Dawgs will go to the Farm for what is the last conference meeting between these two teams?

We’re not optimistic. Washington 56 — Stanford 14. We used up all of our magic against Colorado. Now go win the Pac-12 a natty for us, okay?

Thanks Sam! As always, for my answers to his questions, be sure to head over to Channel Tree Sports!