Tag:Stepfan Taylor
Posted on: January 3, 2012 2:05 am
 

Blackmon, Luck go out with a bang in Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



Justin Blackmon 
hadn't even left the University of Phoenix Stadium field yet. But there wasn't any point to delaying the inevitable; when asked as part of his postgame television interview if he had just played the final game of his outstanding college career, he answered straightforwardly. 

"I think I am going to go ahead and enter the NFL Draft," he said, "and see what happens after that."

We already have some idea what's going to happen "after that"--Blackmon will be selected among the very top picks in the Draft, sign a contract worth millions, and very likely go on to become an excellent professional receiver. But nothing Blackmon will do "after that" will better the excitement of what he's accomplished before that at Oklahoma State, where heading into Monday's Fiesta Bowl he had already rewritten the school's receiving record book and won a pair of Biletnikoff Awards as the nation's best receiver.

Likewise, we can already write most of the "after that" for Andrew Luck. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up is about to go No. 1 overall in the draft and has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Peyton Manning -- maybe even at the same franchise -- as the kind of superstar pocket-passing quarterback NFL dynasties are built around. But before that, there was three seasons of pure All-American brilliance in which his Cardinal set a school record for scoring all three seasons.

For both players, the Fiesta was the final night of "before that," the final game in the collegiate careers of two of college football's most blinding stars. So it was only appropriate that with the rare chance to square off against a star of equal caliber -- in a bowl that employs the sun in its logo, no less -- both Blackmon and Luck went flat-out supernova.

Blackmon's team won, but no one would have blinked if Luck had been named the game's MVP. His numbers were phenomenal, of course:  27-of-31, 347 yards (11.2 an attempt), 2 touchdowns. He went 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, expertly managing drives both fast (the 63-yard drive over the final 2:35 to set up Jordan Williamson's ill-fated 35-yard attempt) and slow (the 13-play, 69-yard TD march that ate up 7:21 of the final period). 

But most impressive was the 10.0 degree-of-difficulty throws Luck uncorked with regularity. Passes like the one delivered to Griff Whalen in the second quarter -- an over-the-shoulder "bucket" throw to a receiver sprinting down the sideline, made with Luck moving to his right -- are referred to as "NFL throws," but we're not sure half the League's starters could make them the way Luck does. You could say Luck showed off "the complete package" against the Cowboys, but that doesn't do justice to how expansive that package is.

And still, Luck might have been the second-best player on the field. Blackmon finished with 8 catches for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns, but again, the stats don't do justice to either his physical dominance -- one-on-one coverage was a lost cause for the Cardinal -- or his knack for making those catches at the best possible time. 

With the Cowboys reeling from a lost first quarter and a 14-0 deficit, it was Blackmon who pulled in a pair of lightning bolt scores (one 43 yards, the other 67) to get his team back in the game. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the Stanford 32 and his team down again late in the second quarter, it was Blackmon who caught a short pass and brushed aside two Cardinal tacklers to set up a first-and-goal (and eventual touchdown). Down seven again after a disastrous third quarter, it was Blackmon scoring to tie it (again) to start the fourth. And finally, 4th-and-3 on OSU's own 40 with under 3:30 to play and the Cowboys in "touchdown or bust" desperation mode, it was Blackmon who again abused his defender for 21 yards.

The 2012 Fiesta Bowl would have been remembered for a long, long time even without Luck's and Blackmon's fireworks; 41-38 overtime shootouts between two top-five teams decided by a heartbreaking field goal miss have a way of sticking around the game's collective memory. But what elevated the contest to stone-cold classic status was seeing two players of Luck's and Blackmon's historic talent both grab the same game by the teeth and refuse for 60 minutes -- and beyond -- to let go. It's maybe not fair to the excellent Brandon Weeden or Stepfan Taylor to reduce the game to a mano a mano battle between that quarterback on that side and that receiver on that side, but Luck and Blackmon didn't give us much choice.

And at the end of each of their respective times in college football, that's exactly how it should have been. "After that" will be interesting. But for a night, Luck's and Blackmon's shared "before that" was as good as it's possible to get.

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Posted on: December 31, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Fiesta Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

OKLAHOMA STATE WILL WIN IF: they can turn Stanford over. The Cowboys' defense has, without question, been an underrated part of their 2011 success; their lethal opportunism and weekly ballhawking ways have never gotten the respect they've deserved. No defense that led the entire FBS in takeaways -- the Cowboys finished with an incredible 42, the highest total not just in 2011 but in any of the past four seasons -- can be fairly called a "bad" defense.

But that also doesn't mean we'd go so far as to call them "good." 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense is 106th in total defense. And considering that the Cardinal rank 11th in total offense and seventh in yards-per-play, it's the safest of assumptions that Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor, Coby Fleener and Co. are going to put up a hefty number of yards. Sorry, Poke fans, but if Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State can all top 430 total yards, an offense with the Cardinals' caliber of weaponry is probably going to as well.

But all those yards don't have to mean "all those points." As mentioned, the Cowboy defense was masterful at bending before breaking the other team with a huge play. (They finished in the national top 30 in sacks, too.) If safety Markelle Martin, corner Brodrick Brown and end Jamie Blatnick can continue to force that handful of turnovers -- if those turnovers, combined with just a punt or two, can give the Cowboy defense just the occasional stop -- the Cowboy offense should be able to do the rest. That's easier said than done, of course, against the Cardinal; only eight other teams turned the ball over fewer times than Stanford's 15, with Luck throwing just nine interceptions and some of those bad bounces off his receivers' hands. But if the Pokes manage it, the hill the Cardinal will have to climb should be entirely too tall even for the future No. 1 draft choice.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: they can run the ball, and not just well--we mean run it spectacularly. Whether by air or on the ground -- as we said -- the Cardinal are likely going to get their yards. But given the explosiveness of the Cowboy offense, it's imperative for the Cardinal to keep Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and Justin Randle on the sidelines for as long as possible. It's not just about limiting the Cowboys' opportunities, either; the more time the Cardinal defense can spend catching their breath off the field rather than battling the Cowboys' no-huddle on it, the better their chances of getting stops. 

Then there's that turnover thing--with only six Cardinal fumbles lost all season, running the ball is even less likely to give the Cowvboys the turnovers they desperately crave than handing it over to LuckThe good news for the Cardinal is that all the pieces in place for such a running performance are in place; the powerful Taylor is one of the nation's more underrated running backs, Tyler Gaffney provides a tailback change-of-pace that averaged 6.4 yards an attempt, All-American guard David DeCastro leads what might be the country's best offensive line, and Luck's presence ensures that overloading the box isn't really an option for the Cowboys. It's no mystery how the Cardinal ran for 180 yards or more in half their games.

But one of those games shows how important getting that kind of production from the Cardinal ground game is so important. Against Oregon -- and a Duck offense with a similar up-tempo philosophy and dynamic athletes as Oklahoma State's -- Stanford managed just 129 rushing yards. The result was an exhausted Cardinal defense giving up 53 points, an overburdened Luck putting together his worst performance of the season, and the end of Stanford's national title hopes. 129 rushing yards against the Cowboys will, no doubt, lead to something similar.

THE X-FACTOR: Another underrated factor in Oklahoma State's historic season? Punter/placekicker Quinn Sharp. Though perhaps most fans outside of Stillwater will remember Sharp primarily for the missed kick at the end of regulation vs. Iowa State, Sharp puntedthe Cowboys to a 14th-place finish in FBS net punting and hit 20 of his 23 kicks. If the Fiesta boils down to the kicking game, Sharp should give the Cowboys an edge.

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Posted on: November 27, 2011 2:25 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Can Andrew Luck still win the Heisman?



Posted by Adam Jacobi

Stanford just put the finishing touches on a 28-14 victory over Notre Dame, and Andrew Luck was his typical self in the victory: 20-30, 233 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for a QB rating of 169.2 (his season rating, by way of comparison, is now 167.5). Meanwhile, Stanford has finished the season at 11-1 and likely to move into the No. 5 spot in the BCS and No. 3 in the AP poll after Arkansas drops in the rankings on Sunday.

So what does this all mean for Luck's 2011 Heisman chances? 

The Case For

Luck's season numbers are stellar. We're looking at 261-373 (69.97% accuracy), 3170 yards, 35 touchdowns, and nine interceptions -- one of the most prolific and efficient lines in the nation. He's been the focal point of the Stanford offense, as tailback Stepfan Taylor has been merely good as the primary rushing threat on the offense (this isn't a situation like Wisconsin RB Montee Ball making Russell Wilson's job incredibly easy, in other words). Luck is an NFL prototype, standing 6'4" at 235 pounds, his reputation is spotless, he's got three quality years of play at QB, and he's intelligent in interviews off the field. He behaves like a Heisman winner and a coach's dream.

Also, as mentioned before, Stanford is probably going to finish in the Top 3 of the AP poll (a pool of people that's not exactly dissimilar to the Heisman voting ranks), and it'll likely be somewhere in a BCS bowl in January, even as a shot at the Rose Bowl eluded the team once again. All the while, Luck has been prominent in his contributions, throwing at least two touchdowns in every game and four touchdowns in three 2011 contests.

Also, Luck strikes a pretty sweet Heisman pose in the picture above.   

The Case Against

Luck's numbers might not be stellar enough this year. He's nowhere near NCAA passing efficiency leader Russell Wilson, and while Wilson's usage numbers are low enough that he's not receiving Heisman consideration anymore, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley, and Boise State's Kellen Moore all have similar amounts of attempts and completions, and aside from RG3 (one fewer passing TD), their touchdowns are all higher and their interceptions are all lower than Luck's. Luck's interceptions are up from last year, and his yardage and efficiency are both down (albeit slightly in all three cases). His rushing in 2011 is nowhere near the level of the last two years -- though voters probably won't mind that last fact.

Further, as mentioned before, Luck's Stanford team is likely to be ranked third in the AP poll on Sunday, but at the same time only fifth in the BCS. While that's not a disqualifier from Heisman consideration by any stretch of the imagination, it may not be high enough for some voters to consider taking Luck over, say, Trent Richardson from second-ranked Alabama. Moore and Keenum also have their teams in the Top 10, and again, their raw numbers are better than Luck's. Worse yet for Luck, regional Heisman voting bias is a very real thing, and the fact that Moore, Keenum, Barkley, and Griffin all play west of the Mississippi may mean Luck can't stand out among his peers in south and west-coast voting enough to overtake the strong showings of Richardson in the east or RG3 in Texas.

The Verdict

There's no question that Luck's going to New York as a Heisman finalist, and he's probably going to finish in the Top 3 or 4. But in such a loaded Heisman pack, it takes a lot to distinguish one's self as the best player in the nation. Trent Richardson's got highlight-reel plays and a likely berth in the BCS Championship. Robert Griffin III has the best efficiency among serious Heisman candidates and two high-profile last-minute victories. Montee Ball has the most touchdowns in one year since Barry Sanders in his legendary 1988 season. Kellen Moore has a 49-3 record and 134 passing touchdowns. Case Keenum rewrote the NCAA record books in career passing totals. In a field like that, what does Andrew Luck bring to the table better than anybody else, and is it a legitimate reason to vote for someone as the best player in the nation? Unfortunately for the Stanford faithful, we don't see how Luck answers that question well enough to bring home the Heisman.



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Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:20 am
 

Keys to the game: Cal at Stanford

Posted by Bryan Fischer

CALIFORNIA WILL WIN IF: The Golden Bears now have a blueprint to beat Stanford even if they don't have the offense or the athletes that Oregon does. The Cardinal is still banged up so putting pressure on Andrew Luck while keeping his receivers from getting separation will be key. Cal has struggled on the road this season (1-3) and even though it's a trip across the Bay, they'll be headed into a hostile environment if last week was any indication.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: The Cardinal have the superior team once again this year but will have to quickly regroup after a tough loss last week. The defense has to do a better job of shutting down the run, a phase of the game Cal has really gotten going over the past few games. Stanford used Stepfan Taylor early and often against Oregon last week but had to go away from him in order to play catch up. If they're the ones dictating tempo and wearing down the Bears defense, Andrew Luck should be able to return to form and pick apart the young secondary on the way to another Big Game victory.

X-FACTOR: Zach Maynard. The Bears quarterback has to play within the offense and take what the defense gives him. If he's forcing throws and turning the ball over, it could be a long day for Cal. The only way the Bears win is if Maynard plays his best game of the season and allows Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele to make some plays in space. He won't be able to top Luck and needs plenty of help from his defense but the only way Cal has a chance to stay close or pull the upset is if their quarterback far exceeds how he's been playing.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:03 pm
 

Keys to the game: Oregon at Stanford

Posted by Bryan Fischer

OREGON WILL WIN IF: The Ducks will have to use their biggest advantage on both sides of the ball, speed, over the much more physical Cardinal team if they're going to come out of Palo Alto with a victory. The offense is close to being healthy with LaMichael James looking like his old self against Washington last week despite a bulky pad over his injured elbow. Unlike some teams, Oregon can run effectively between the tackles and then bounce it outside but only if the offensive line does a good job with the Stanford front four. It will be a test for the secondary against Andrew Luck and his big targets at tight end but something defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti adjusted to last year.

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: The Cardinal are a bit banged up but will receive a big boost with the return of starting safety Delano Howell, who will be key in providing support against both the passing and the running game. Oregon is 62nd in the country in total defense and Stanford should be able to move the ball effectively with running back Stepfan Taylor and the best player in college football in Luck. This game looks like it will turn into an old Pac-10 shootout so getting a key defensive stop or making a big play in special teams will likely be a determining factor in Stanford picking up a win. 

X-FACTOR: Battle in the trenches. Against Washington last week, Oregon's front seven did a great job of blitzing and getting penetration to shut down running lanes and pressure the quarterback. They'll face a stiffer test this week against one of the best offensive lines in college football, which has given up the fewest sacks in the country. On the other side, if Stanford's defensive line can make quarterback Darron Thomas uncomfortable, they could force him into making mistakes.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 5:20 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Stanford at USC

Posted by Chip Patterson

STANFORD WILL WIN IF: They can lock down defense on Robert Woods and shut down the Trojans' passing attack. The Barkley to Woods connection has been phenomenal all season, and the Trojans' rushing attack has not demonstrated enough consistency to really be a threat. Stanford's offense showed off the ground attack in the rout of Washington last week, and as long as the defense can neutralize Barkley they should avoid an upset on the road. The streak of beating their last 10 opponents by at least 25 points may come to a halt against the Trojans, but if the defense can limit USC to less than three touchdowns Andrew Luck and Co. should have no trouble taking care of the rest.

USC WILL WIN IF: They can force Stanford to commit turnovers and claim an early lead. With the NCAA sanctions preventing them from a Pac-12 title game appearance or bowl game, conference showdowns like this take a new level for the Trojans. USC has forced 10 turnovers in their last three contests, and nothing would fire up the Coliseum crowd quite like an interception of Andrew Luck. One thing Stanford has not been forced to do once this season is overcome a deficit on the road. Jumping out to an early lead would break the norm for the Cardinal. When trying to defeat a team in the midst of a 15-game winning streak, you would like to make the situation as abnormal as possible.

X-FACTOR: Robert Woods' health. Head coach Lane Kiffin says the star wide receiver has "a couple of injuries" and will miss some practice time this week. Woods is expected to play against the Cardinal on Saturday, but how effective he can be will play a huge role in USC's chances to pull the upset at home. Woods leads all Pac-12 receivers with eight touchdowns and 72 receptions on the season, while his 128.9 yards per game only trails Keenan Allen's 129.4 for the top spot. Freshman Marquise Lee has served as a talented compliment to Woods on the outside, but has only six receptions in his last two games.

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Posted on: October 23, 2011 12:38 am
 

QUICK HITS: Stanford 65, Washington 21

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

STANFORD WON: So much for the Cardinal getting their first test of the year. Andrew Luck barely had to break a sweat (16-of-22, 169 yards, 2 touchdowns) as the Cardinal rampaged to 247 first-half rushing yards, a 38-14 halftime lead, and their 10th straight win by 25 points or better--the first such streak in Division I college football since 1936. Cardinal tailbacks Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney combined for 245 yards on just 19 carries, averaging an eye-popping timeouts 12.9 yards an attempt, and leading the Cardinal to a school-record 446 rushing yards. 

WHY STANFORD WON: We mentioned the 247 first-half rushing yards and bulldozer job from Taylor and Gaffney, right? It's hard to lose with production in the ground game like that, and essentially impossible when that production is backed up by a passing game managed by Luck. If the Cardinal offensive line -- spearheaded by one surefire All-American in guard David DeCastro and potentially another in tackle Jonathan Martin -- isn't already considered one of the best if not the best in the nation, running for 446 yards against a top-25 defense that was averaging less than 100 yards allowed per-game should change that in a frightful hurry.

But that shouldn't totally obscure the effort made by the Stanford defense. Chris Polk broke loose for a pair of long first-half Huskie touchdowns, the latter a 61-yard burst that cut an early Stanford lead to 17-14. But the Huskies wouldn't score again until early in the fourth quarter (by which point the score was 48-14, and during which span the Cardinal D had outscored the Huskies 7-0), the Cardinal would finish the night up 3-0 in turnover margin, and after collecting more than 100 yards in the first two quarters Polk would finish with just 144. 

WHEN STANFORD WON: Speaking of "outscoring the Huskies 7-0," Huskies were already in a 31-14 hole when they drove to the Stanford 38 and faced 2nd-and-1. Polk was stuffed for a loss of 3, setting up 3rd-and-4 ... on which Keith Price's pass was intercepted by Michael Thomas and housed. The Huskies went into halftime down 38-14, and were never, ever, ever going to mount that kind of comeback.

WHAT STANFORD WON: With Wisconsin going down in East Lansing and Oklahoma in legitimate trouble against Texas Tech as we type this, the Cardinal look more the part of a national title contender than ever before ... and a 44-point bludgeoning of a one-loss, top-25 team is a big, big part of that.

WHAT WASHINGTON LOST: Any real hope of winning the inaugural Pac-12 North, since the odds of the Cardinal dropping two league games while the Huskies run the table seems slim indeed.

Posted on: September 18, 2011 2:42 am
 

QUICK HITS: No. 6 Stanford 37, Arizona 10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

STANFORD WON: 
The Cardinal's first road test of the season -- no, Duke doesn't count, and don't pretend it does -- wound up more of an easily-passed pop quiz down the stretch. Andrew Luck led three consecutive touchdown drives of 80 yards or more in the second half, turning what had been a tight 16-10 game at the half into a laugher. Luck finished 20-of-31 for 325 yards, 2 touchdowns, and -- of course -- no interceptions, while tailback Stepfan Taylor racked up a career high 153 yards on 22 carries.

WHY STANFORD WON: As you might imagine from stats like those from Luck and Taylor, the Cardinal offense pretty much had its way with the Wildcat defense, particularly in the second half. When you've finished the evening with 567 total yards of offense and no turnovers, that's not a bad night's work.

But it wasn't just the Cardinals' skill position marvels ... and in fact, it was maybe less those marvels than the Cardinal offensive line, which led by All-American guard David DeCastro took over the game after halftime. Three times in the first half, the Cardinal took long drives deep into Wildcat territory only to come away with a Jordan Williamson field goal. In the second, with DeCastro and Co. exerting their will on a clearly tiring and undersized Arizona line, those long drives turned into touchdowns. And the game? It turned into a rout.

WHEN STANFORD WON: Despite a Williamson field goal with 1:22 left in the second quarter and Jaime Salazar's errant try from 45 yards at the halftime buzzer, the Wildcats still came out of the locker room with momentum after briefly looking like Stanford might run away and hide at 10-0. And tailback Keola Antolin capitalized on that momentum, rushing for 49 yards on two plays to set the Wildcats up at the Stanford 19.

But Nick Foles missed on a pair of passes and the Wildcats' old bugaboo -- the placekicking game -- reared its ugly head again. Salazar came on to try a 36-yarder that would cut the lead to 3, and from the middle of the field, no less. But he missed, and the "here we go again" body language from the Arizona sideline was unmistakable. By the time the Wildcats put together another drive featuring more than a single first down, they were down 30-10 and the game was well over.

WHAT STANFORD WON: Their Pac-12 opener, nothing to sneeze at, and on the road no less. But the comfortable nature of the victory showed that yes, the Cardinal are still going to be a championship-contending force to be reckoned with, Jim Harbaugh or no Jim Harbaugh.

WHAT ARIZONA LOST: Their second straight game, which given the competition -- Oklahoma State last week, Stanford this week -- isn't so bad. But to lose by 27 points at home even with Foles enjoying a productive night (24-of-33, 249 yards, no picks) can't provide a lot of encouragement for this coming Saturday's visit from Oregon.

 
 
 
 
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