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Getting to know the Stanford Cardinal: Q&A with Various Provocations

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What? A Stanford blog? YES! We found one! It was tough work scouring the depths of the internet, but we found a real life Stanford fan who writes about the Cardinal online! We caught up with Darius, whose blog is Various Provocations, and asked him a few questions about the Cardinal. Many thanks to Darius for giving us a bit of insight into how Cardinal fans are looking at the upcoming game.

There's been some debate among Oregon fans about the strength of the Stanford offensive line. What are their strengths and weaknesses and how will they be able to handle a quick Oregon defensive line?

The Stanford offensive line is excellent all-around. It run-blocks very well and pass-blocks pretty well too; statistically, they match up pretty well with the Pac-10. Mostly it's a zone-blocking scheme that's being used, though I think they switch sometimes to man blocking. In terms of specific players, we start two redshirt freshmen. David DeCastro at RG (#52) is excellent on traps and pulls (particularly on the classic "Power" play) and very very strong; he matched up pretty well with Brian Price and Lawrence Guy, whom I see as the premier DTs in the conference.

The other redshirt freshman starting is Jonathan Martin (# who's been starting off-and-on at LT due to Allen Smith's injury problems (who's truly an unfortunate player: a first-day NFL pick two years ago, he's had two years destroyed due to knee inuries) Martin is maybe a bit undersized, but very mobile--Harbaugh has sent Martin into motion pre-snap to block on running plays. If there's a weakness in the line--and I see it as a minor weakness--it's senior RT Chris Marinelli, who's a natural guard, not a tackle; he's gotten beaten a few times while pass blocking.

I expect the Stanford OL v. the Oregon DL to be the most favorable matchup for Stanford: departed OL coach Chris Dalman was a disciple of Mike Shanahan, who favored lighter, more mobile offensive lines. The line is built in that image; moreover, it's very strong. I expect Martin and DeCastro to be NFL players when they leave Stanford (barring injury)

Andrew Luck has been very efficient this year, but has not excelled when the game has been put in his hands. What do you expect from him on Saturday?

I guess I'd quibble with the premise here, that Luck has been bad when the game has been placed in his hands. There are three games where the passing game took the forefront: Oregon State, Wake Forest and Arizona. Luck passed for 270+ yard and 430+ yards against Wake and Arizona, with pretty good accuracy; meanwhile, against Oregon State--Owusu, our handsless WR, dropped an 80 yard bomb on the first play of the game. Obviously, Stanford won neither game, but that wasn't Luck's fault. It was the defense's in both of those games, along with weird fluky stuff that happened in each game that I won't burden your readers with; suffice it to say both of those games could have been wins with changed circumstances. You might say a win's a win, and that's true, but never confuse achievement with performance. The hype for Luck is entirely justified: his arm strength is superlative; his accuracy is improving. A lot of the time, he hits receivers with passes that are catchable, but don't lead them well. That could stand to improve. He is surprisingly mobile, though obviously not as good as Masoli. He sometimes has problems sensing the rush, and sometimes has problems checking down. But he doesn't really throw interceptions or force the ball that much. We mostly have Luck throw deep, which accounts for his 58% completion rate (but 9.4 yards per attempt!).  In my opinion, Andrew Luck's the best young QB in the Pac-10, better than Barkley and Foles (haven't seen Tuel, so who knows about him).

The main question in my mind, offensively this game, is whether or not Stanford is able to keep it close. Watching a few games of Oregon's, I think Stanford ought to be able to run the ball (USC had 5.9 ypc once the sacks are filtered out; last year against Oregon, Stanford's Anthony Kimble, the since-graduated backup, ran for 4.4 ypc with a dramatically worse QB piloting the offense at Autzen). The question is whether we'll be able to; obviously you can't run down by a substantial margin, which happened to USC last week. Oregon's defense's best weapon is Oregon's offense.

Toby Gerhart: best running back in the state of California?

Simple one here: yes. Jahvid Best might get more hype and NFL love, but he doesn't perform particularly well against the best defenses. Gerhart always performs. Against last year's awesome USC defense, he ran for 100+ yards and 4.4 ypc. He isn't just a grind-it-out back either; he's had multiple 40+ yrd gains and a 60 yard gain. He can win footraces. He's also impossible to tackle high, and his feet are nimble enough to get out of the way of tackle attempts low. He's just great.

The Stanford defense has a monunental task in front of them. What are your expectations this for them this weekend?

My expectations are that Stanford's defense will get gashed. As far as I can tell, dealing with Oregon's offense is about discipline: not biting on the myriad fakes, sticking to your gap or assignment, and tackling surely in your one-on-one assignment. The defense should be fine on the first two; it will suck at the last one. Stanford defenses have sucked at tackling for as long as I've watched Stanford teams (2005, when I was a freshman there). Moreover, if you love watching bubble screens, I bet you'll see a lot of them against Stanford on Saturday: our corners give up big cushions because otherwise we'd be too slow. To be fair, there's been a lot of shuffling on defense towards younger players who were better recruited--Delano Howell at safety is a huge, disciplined hitter; Shayne Skov (#11) is a true freshman who's done good work--but I don't expect much. If Stanford wins, here's how we'll do it: a key turnover or two, combined with limiting Oregon to a FG on a drive it could've gotten a TD in, then scoring 35+ ourselves. I feel pretty decent about the chances of scoring 35+; the odds of holding Oregon in that range are low.

Jim Harbaugh has done a great job turning around a program that was very low for quite a few years. Will he be able to push Stanford into the upper echelon of the Pac-10?

The only thing that can stop Stanford from consistently being an upper-echelon team is Jim Harbaugh leaving. Who knows what the odds of that are. I've heard conjecture about that in both directions, so I really have no read on how likely that is. I will tell you that the places he'd leave to are these: San Diego Chargers, because he has a relationship with the owner, Oakland Raiders, because he and Al Davis hit it off when Harbaugh coached there, and Michigan, if only because that's his alma mater (assuming they'd have him, after that controversy where Harbaugh dissed their academic standards). But if he does stay, you can expect continued success. Harbaugh's an increasingly creative offensive coach, now that the cupboard is filling up, and a great recruiter, at least on the offensive side of the ball. I have my worries about his defensive recruiting, but I guess time will tell (or it won't, if he leaves).