Blanchat: Week ahead spells a chance at redemption for the Cardinal

Nov. 17, 2011, 1:45 a.m.

Well, that stunk. It turns out that the West Coast version of the “Game of the Century” didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned it, either.

On the whole, there just aren’t many good things to reflect on after the Cardinal football team fell flat on its face on Saturday. But now that I’m past the shock/denial/pain/guilt/bargaining/depression phase of that game, it’s worth mulling over a few things before we fully move on to Big Game and those loathsome Cal Bears.

This week, I’ve given you a random smattering of things that stuck out to me this weekend, one for every letter of STANFORD. Just as my colleague Jacob Jaffe takes on the numerical side of things in his “Stat on the Back” column, I’ll take on the alphabetical side of things. Let’s get started, shall we?

S is for “Sky is falling.” As in, it is not. Yes, I know that loss was brutal. But with two victories over Cal and Notre Dame, Stanford is pretty much assured of going to a BCS bowl. And even though the Fiesta Bowl and Phoenix are less fun than the National Championship and New Orleans, remember that two BCS bowls in two years is about all a fan could ask for. (That fact was the only thing that kept me out of the bottom of a big, noxious bottle this past Saturday night.)

T is for The Heisman Trust. “Andrew Luck, Superstar” struggled to keep the offense in a groove this weekend, and there’s reason to believe that his flat performance on the biggest stage of the year may have cost him his chance at the trophy. His performance wasn’t exactly what Cardinal fans hoped for, but I don’t think his chances are up in smoke yet. His main competitor, Oklahoma State senior quarterback Brandon Weeden, still has a major test against Oklahoma coming up in two weeks, which means it’s far too early to count the neck-beard out. (As an interesting side-note, Luck’s completion percentage, QB rating and passing yards per attempt are all down slightly this year. Seems crazy to think that his stats were better last year, right?)

A is for Aquatic misadventures. For some reason, the slick turf was a game-changer for the Cardinal, which had serious trouble staying upright on Saturday. This particularly seemed to afflict Levine Toilolo, whose legs mysteriously flipped out from under him every time the football touched his fingertips, much like the famous “fainting goats” that fall over whenever they are startled. Did they forget to turn the sprinklers off the night before the game? More importantly, why did the water seem to only affect the Stanford players? I bet Phil Knight has a hand in the Ducks’ near-perfect traction…

N is for No more field goals, please. Eric Whitaker’s 48-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter was easily 25 yards wide of the target — you could hear everyone in the stadium thinking to themselves, “Juuust a bit outside” — which gave an otherwise awful kick a little sense of levity.

F is for Field goals, again. All jokes aside, what was head coach David Shaw thinking when he decided to kick that field goal? Earlier in the week, Shaw said that “time of possession plus touchdowns” is what you needed to beat Oregon. And then he elects to attempt a low-percentage kick after Oregon got a touchdown on a fourth down earlier in the game? Something ain’t right with that.

O is for Offensive records. With just four more touchdown passes, Andrew Luck (74) will pass John Elway (77) for the most touchdown tosses in Stanford history and set a new single-season record for most touchdown passes. Just something to consider these next two weeks — will the Cardinal throw more often in the red zone in order to etch Luck’s name a little deeper into the record book and bolster his Heisman campaign? Stay tuned.

R is for Rebound. This weekend against Cal, Andrew Luck will be trying to rebound from a loss for just the sixth time in his career. In his time on the Farm, Luck is 4-1 when coming off a loss. If this pattern holds true, it looks like the Bears might be in for a long night on Saturday.

D is for Defensive showdown. In years past, Cal has always had a major offensive threat — Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, Jahvid Best — but this year, the Bears have a “no-name” defense that has put up the best stats in the conference. Cal is first in the Pac-12 in total defense and pass defense, allowing fewer than 200 yards per game through the air. Does this spell trouble for the Cardinal again this weekend? I sure hope not — I don’t think I can take another weekend like the last one.

Jack Blanchat is thrilled to be your Official Resident Educator on Games Of Note (OREGON) for Stanford football this season. Help him think of other unfortunate titles at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.

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