Chris Marinelli did not lose the game last Saturday. Despite the undue focus on Marinelli, and the suggestion that “next time he ought to keep quiet” from the Notre Dame alums in the NBC broadcast booth—(wait, you mean they weren’t alums? But it makes so much sense!)—the offensive line played a pretty good game. The running game was strong once again, and the five sacks given up were partially mitigated by these two facts: 1) two of them appeared, to my untrained eyes, to be the tight end’s responsibility, 2) Tavita Pritchard is the QB they’re protecting for. No, he’s not slow by any means but still, his decision-making is poor. All this, and we’re down two starting guards: Gustav Rystedt hasn’t played a game this season and Chase Beeler was held out at game time. Whatever they’re paying Chris Dalman for his zone-blocking scheme, it’s clearly not enough.
The same old weaknesses manifested themselves in the Notre Dame game. Let’s start with Tavita Pritchard’s three picks. All of them were in Notre Dame territory, around the 30 yard line. I believe all of them were on 3rd down (I know at least two of them were). And they led to scores. In other words, in a game decided by one touchdown—actually the closeness of that is due partially to Tavita’s dramatic resurgence in the second half, as well as Charlie Weis’s mysterious refusal to continue doing the same things on offense that they were winning with earlier in the game. That brings me to Stanford’s other weakness: defending the pass. Honestly, not being a coach or very experienced commentator, I can’t tell you what, exactly, is the reason for our inability to defend the pass. Is it the scheme? The players in the secondary? The players rushing the QB? Don’t know. I suspect that it’s the players in the secondary, especially with the sight of Osaisai falling down on a deep route burned into my retinas. But I can’t say for certain.
So let’s dwell on something new and interesting for a moment: Big Play Doug Baldwin. Big Play Doug Baldwin has had just that in four out of the six games this season: 38 yard rush off a reverse and a 35 yard punt return against TCU, 38 yard reception against San Jose State, 61 yard reception against Washington and a 38 yard punt return against Notre Dame. Unfortunately—or, perhaps, entertainingly—BPDB has also achieved Stephen Jackson-esque status (well, aside from the crimes or craziness): he giveth (see big plays above), and he taketh away, just as Stephen Jackson did in that wild postseason he played for the San Antonio Spurs. The problem with Big Play Doug Baldwin is that we don’t know who the big play will benefit. For instance: fumble against Arizona State (though that was recovered), fumble against San Jose (which went into the end zone and denied Stanford a TD), and fielding the punt in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame instead of letting it bounce for a touchback. And, trust me, starting Tavita Pritchard in the red zone and asking him to make a last-minute score (no runs!) is not a good recipe, making Baldwin’s mistake more costly. (Though the refs should have called pass interference against Notre Dame on a fifteen yard throw to Whalen, who is emerging but also far more boring than Baldwin. All he does is catch balls.) So, Doug Baldwin, continue to be entertaining, please! Also, it would be nice to have actual weapons on offense not named Toby Gerhardt.
Speaking of Toby Gerhardt, he was not used in the third quarter, when the game slipped away. This was a mistake by Harbaugh or Shaw or whoever’s calling the plays in that brain trust. I suspect we will see a different offense against Arizona, especially since they (apparently) have trouble with big, tough backs—they lost to New Mexico, who had a big, tough back who ran wild. And I don’t know the RB who plays for New Mexico, but I assume he’s no Toby Gerhardt. Hence, if Tavita and the secondary do not conspire against us, Toby Gerhardt will lead us to victory. Sadly, of course, Arizona’s pass offense appears to be explosive and Tavita Pritchard is still, to my knowledge, Tavtia Pritchard (which is to say more bad than good, but good in surprising ways at surprising times), so I would expect this year’s Homecoming game to be somewhat aggravating for those of us who pay attention to football. Stanford 35 Arizona 31 and that’s being very optimistic because I think we’re bowl-team quality, but with a tough sked. But I expect aggravation and I feel very nervous about the pick: nervous about picking us and nervous about picking against us. I expect this feeling to be shared with those of us who are football-inclined. The people who won’t be aggravated by the football, incidentally, will be the big-shot alumni and the schmoozers. They will be concerned with the perhaps-imminent fall of Western civilization.