A year ago, the 0-1 Blue Devils welcomed a top-10 Stanford team led by QB Andrew Luck to Wallace Wade Stadium. They were able to hang with the Cardinal for much of the first half before Luck exploded and Stanford cruised to a 44-14 victory.
This year, it’s a bit of a different story. The Blue Devils enter their week 2 matchup at 1-0 after a convincing defeat of a talented FIU team in their opener. By all indications, Duke is a team that looks much improved from last season. Stanford enters Saturday’s showdown in Palo Alto after narrowly surviving a second half surge by former Duke Defensive Coordinator Mike MacIntyre’s San Jose State team, 20-17. With Luck now taking snaps for the Indianapolis Colts, and his top three receivers also departed, questions surround this Cardinal team as they look to maintain their previous level of success.
At the end of the day, both teams enter week 2 at 1-0, and only one will remain unbeaten after Saturday.
So with a strong defense and a talented senior RB in Stepfan Taylor, just how good is this Stanford team? BDN welcomes back Hank Waddles of GoMightyCard to give us the Stanford perspective on Saturday night’s matchup. Be sure to visit his site later this week for a BDN take on the Duke-Stanford game.
BDN: Despite the loss of QB Andrew Luck and 8 other starters from last year’s 11-2 squad, Stanford remains ranked in the top 25 nationally and is predicted to challenge USC and Oregon for a PAC-12 title. What are your expectations for the Cardinal this year?
This is an interesting question, because the answer has changed dramatically since last Friday night. Heading into that opener against San Jose State, most in the Stanford fan base were targeting something in the neighborhood of 8 or 9 wins and a trip to a respectable bowl, probably the Alamo Bowl. The idea was that even though Andrew Luck was gone, as were two highly-drafted offensive linemen (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin), the talent left behind, combined with an infusion of talent from a tremendous recruiting class would make up for it. The team might not make it to a third straight BCS bowl, but it would still be one of the top fifteen or twenty teams in the country.
Ten minutes into the San Jose State game it looked like that outlook was dead on. Even new quarterback Josh Nunes looked good. But then it all came apart in the third quarter as the Spartans mounted two long touchdown drives, converting long third downs at will, and the Stanford offense sputtered. While the Cardinal managed a 20-17 win, it was far from what was expected.
At this point, there’s a huge range of expectations. Some fans see the worst ahead, and worry that the losses will mount once Pac-12 play begins. They maintain that Coach David Shaw chose the wrong quarterback (junior Brett Nottingham battled with Nunes until losing the job only two weeks ago), mangled the offensive line, and crafted a game plan that was too conservative. Some have even suggested that he be fired.
The more rational have pointed out that a team never improves more than it does between game one and game two, so it might be better to withhold judgment. The offensive line, specifically, will benefit from a week of film study and practice, and they’ll also hope to have freshman Andrus Peat, who may or may not be healthy enough to start at left tackle.
That might not be the straight answer you were looking for, but it’s really hard to know where this team will be eleven games from now. It’s hard enough to know where they’ll be on Saturday.
BDN: This year, the Cardinal offense loses its leader in Luck, but also its top 3 receivers from 2011. Leading rusher Stepfan Taylor appears poised for a big senior season and QB Josh Nunes has shown he can make some throws, but the Cardinal offense struggled at times in their opener against San Jose State. What does Stanford need to do to improve their offensive production in week 2? Which players will be relied upon to step up?
I touched on this above. Obviously, the offensive line needs to shape up. Coach Shaw has been typically tight-lipped about this, but most observers feel that there are two people playing out of position on the offensive line, and that a lot of the problems we saw against San Jose State will be solved once David Yankey moves back to his old guard spot and Andrus Peat (or maybe fellow freshman Kyle Murphy) takes the left tackle position. Starting fullback Ryan Hewitt was also held out last week, although he likely would’ve played had the opponent been more formidable, and his loss impacted the running game as well.
Another player to watch on Saturday will be sophomore Ty Montgomery. He emerged at the end of last season as the one game-breaking threat on a team full of possession wide receivers, and he is the clear number one receiver this year. He played well for most of the game last week, but his drop of a possible long touchdown that would’ve iced the game cannot be ignored. The best way to make a new quarterback comfortable is to catch the ball. He needs to do that.
BDN: Last year, the Stanford defense was able to shut down the Blue Devil offense in Durham, holding them to just 30 rushing yards and 14 total points. San Jose State did manage 17 points against this year’s unit in week 1. How do you expect teams will try to exploit the Cardinal defense?
Much has been made of Stanford’s front seven, and some (including me) have called them the best in the Pac-12, possibly the best in the nation. With that in mind, it was stunning to watch San Jose State march the length of the field on consecutive possessions in the third quarter. After those two drives, however, the defense remembered who they were supposed to be and completely dominated the rest of the way. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov returns this week from his one-game DUI suspension, so they should be even stronger. Also, they should be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders.
Because of the talent in that front seven, particularly the six linebackers that will rotate through the 3-4, teams will attack the secondary. Even last year’s team often gave up large chunks of yardage through the air, and it’s possible that this year will bring more of the same. What they lack in experience, though, they’ll make up for in talent. Sophomore cornerback Wayne Lyons has the potential to one day be amongst the best in the nation, and fellow cornerbacks Barry Browning and Terrence Brown have definitely shown improvement. Also watch for true freshman Alex Carter in nickel situations. If the secondary comes together, this defense has a chance to be special.
BDN: Duke hung with Stanford briefly in Durham in 2011, before Andrew Luck got rolling and put the game quickly out of reach in the third quarter. What do you expect to see in this year’s matchup?
I think the Cardinal will come out with a sense of urgency. Coaches always preach that every game is the biggest game on the schedule, but everything about last week’s game — the conservative play calling, the lack of intensity, the resting of players — seemed to indicate that this maxim was thrown out the window. Stanford’s overconfidence almost cost them a victory, but I don’t think they’ll make that same mistake this week. I expect that Shaw is letting Nunes grow slowly into the job, and that’s probably not a bad idea. We should see him open things up a bit. Also, I’m betting the coaching staff will want to establish the run. Stepfan Taylor carried the ball seven times on the opening possession last week, and I bet we see something similar this week. When the dust clears, I think it will be a comfortable Stanford win, perhaps even enough to quell the rising tide of discontent spreading through the fan base. Stanford 34, Duke 13