If there’s any consolation from Stanford’s loss to USC last week on The Farm, it’s that it happened in Week 2. And should the Cardinal run the table, including beating the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game, then reaching the first-ever College Football Playoff is a real possibility.
Of course, if the Cardinal follow up their first home loss in 17 games with a second straight home loss to the Army Black Knights (Saturday, 2pm PDT, Pac-12 Network), then fuggedaboutit. Last week started out with a great drive against the Trojans that got to the 20 before consecutive penalties backed the Cardinal to the 44 and ended with a missed field goal. Almost immediately, a not-so-good feeling among the Big Red faithful. To start that way against the Black Knights would be akin to the Cardinal getting their arm cut off early in battle.
Stanford had eight drives inside the USC 20 last weekend. Eight. And had 10 total points. If you have eight drives inside the opponent’s 20, I don’t care who you are, you need to win while scoring a lot more than 10 points. Head Coach David Shaw can put the blame on himself all he wants, but the players are the ones who need to execute. For the offense, that starts with the quarterback, Kevin Hogan. I don’t want to pile on a kid for getting a scholarship and being a starting quarterback on an elite football team … but I don’t think he’s the guy the Cardinal can have at the helm if they want to run the table and make the playoffs.
On the drive at the end of the first half with the score 7-7, the Cardinal offense had an illegal substitution penalty and a delay of game penalty on consecutive plays. The delay of game is all on Hogan, while illegal substitution can be pawned off on the coaches, somehow. Either way, a drive that was at 3rd-and-1 at the USC 7 with all of their timeouts — a possible QB dive and a timeout would have given them 1st-and-goal — now became 3rd-and-10 and ended with Stanford’s last points of the day on a field goal. If Andrew Luck had 3rd-and-1 at the USC 7, you know damn well he wouldn’t have any penalties in that critical of a situation, especially two as preventable as illegal substitution and delay of game. It happened to Hogan. I won’t get into the fumbles he had that cost the Cardinal excellent field position. You already know about those.
Then there’s the running game. Last week, eight Stanford runners combined for 128 yards, while USC’s Javorius Allen had 154. That’s not a good sign for the Cardinal running game — and for that matter, the run defense. The Army ground game is one of the best in the nation, averaging 370 yards per game last season. (Really, shouldn’t Army have a good ground game? And Air Force should be a passing team, and Navy should, uh, something to do with water.) The Black Knights began this season right where they left off, with 341 yards versus Buffalo, 174 of them and two scores courtesy of Larry Dixon. If you give up 154 yards to one dude on a team that would rather throw the ball, what are you going to give up to a team that makes its bread running the rock?
When the Cardinal and Black Knights do meet, there’s a nice bit of college football history. Old Yankee Stadium used to not only host the baseball Yankees, of course, but college and pro football. Army played 38 games at the place, and their very first contest at The House That Ruth Built was Dec. 1, 1928 against Stanford. The Indians won that game 26-0, and the attendance of 86,000 was the largest crowd to ever watch a football game at Yankee Stadium. What does that have to do with this Saturday? Well, there’s the guarantee that an Army-Stanford game will never have 86,000 people in attendance ever again. And that game is the reason Stanford leads the all-time series 6-5.
The Cardinal are favored by 28 to make the all-time series 7-5 after Saturday. I do expect them to win by a lot, but I am a pessimist about this team. They need to show me something. They need to show me a solid, competent offense. They need to show me a great defensive performance against a team that barely throws the ball. They need to show me that Black Knights don’t always triumph.