Debniak's play has surged in the front 7
Even despite its win at Washington State, Colorado is still regarded as the weakest team in the Pac-12. That makes a strong showing for Stanford's struggling offense all the more important in Boulder.
Common sense says that Stanford should not have a problem with
Colorado this weekend. Then again, common sense also said that the
Cardinal would not face many difficulties against Washington State
at home last Saturday. The Cougars ended up outgaining the Farm Boys
385-256 and coming within two plays of knocking off David Shaw's
heavily favored squad at home.
Even against bad teams, playing behind an anemic offense is
tantamount to playing with fire, and the Cardinal ended up singed -
but not burnt - against Washington State.
Colorado trailed 55-10 at the half to Fresno State. That suggests
that the Buffaloes are awful, but their 35-34 win at Washington
State - the same team that just dominated Stanford in the yardage
department - suggests that they're dangerous, particularly if the
Cardinal struggle to score again. Here are the ingredients to a
Stanford victory at altitude:
Prolong Colorado's Quarterback Instability
Buffaloes head coach Jon Embree had become so displeased with
the play of starting quarterback Jordan Webb that he announced an
open competition between the incumbent and sophomore Nick Hirschman
this week at practice. Despite posting a slightly higher completion
percentage (56.1) than Stanford's Josh Nunes (who, at 52.8, is last
in that category), Webb is at the very bottom of the Pac-12 passer
efficiency ranking (109.8).
Embree just announced that Webb will hold onto the starting reins Saturday,
but it appears that both competitors may see opportunities under
center. Of course, seeing Hirschman and Webb splitting snaps may
mirror the situation on Stanford's side: sophomore Kevin Hogan is
expected to man 12-20 plays at the quarterback position to pressure
Nunes into improvement.
Unlike Colorado, though, the Cardinal have a defensive juggernaut
capable of turning a quarterback controversy into an utter
quarterback disaster. Buffalo quarterbacks have been sacked 35 times
already this year, a figure that can balloon to an even uglier
number once the Stanford front seven is finished with its work in
Boulder. The Cardinal recorded a school-record 10 sacks against
Washington State, and they'll certainly be looking to allow that
record to stand for less than a week while throwing another "party
in the backfield."
Stop the Run
To be fair, breaking last week's 10-sack record against Colorado
will be very difficult, no matter how bad the Buffaloes are in pass
protection. Unlike Washington State, Colorado actually has a
semblance of the running game. When functioning, this can take some
steam away from the Stanford pass rush.
Bruising running back Christian Powell, who attended the same high
school as Nunes (Upland, CA), is a straightforward running back
averaging almost 4.6 yards per carry. Tony Jones and Josh Ford have
both spelled a good change of pace, racking up over five yards per
carry in their 75 combined rushing touches.
The problem for Colorado is that their strength plays right into
hands of the Stanford defense, which has stonewalled its last two
opponents (Cal and Washington State) into negative six combined
yards the ground. It's remotely possible that Cardinal will tire
enough in Boulder's mile-high air to allow some ground success for
Embree's club. After all, Stanford traveled less than 24 hours
before kickoff, so the Farm Boys won't have much time to acclimate
to the thinner air of the Rocky Mountains. Even then, it would take
a major front seven letdown for the Cardinal to be gashed Saturday.
The muscle difference between these two teams is marked.
Command a Semblance of Respect Downfield
Washington State mocked Stanford's passing attack, stacking
defenders in the box and daring Nunes to throw last Saturday. The
Cardinal couldn't take advantage of the Cougars' offer. Stepfan Taylor ended up having nowhere to run. He averaged only 2.8 yards
Shaw's announcement that Hogan will play 12-20 snaps almost
certainly means that the sophomore will no longer be used
exclusively in a Wildcat-like run package. He's going to have to
rear back and show off that canon arm
downfield. The accuracy to hit Levine Toilolo high and Zach Ertz in
stride must be present from either him or Nunes to create some
breathing room for Stanford's rushing attack.
The simple fact of the matter is that Colorado is surrendering 46
points per game. One of the Buffaloes' defensive lineman is a true
freshman who began playing football his senior year of high school.
In other words, a Stanford lack of offensive proficiency on Saturday
would be ghastly.
"You guys will see in the next few years, we have an awful lot of
depth at the quarterback position," Cardinal linebacker Alex Debniak
said this week.
The time for that depth to shine comes a bit earlier than expected.
It's needed right now.
"Great teams play great all the time," Debniak said, emphasizing
that Colorado's puny play leading into this game is irrelevant to
Stanford. "We were disappointed as a team last week."
Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA are looming. It's time to turn on the
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. HHe can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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