On this snowy, windy, and plain old crappy Wisconsin winter day it's hard not to be thinking of the sun and fun that will happen in just a few short days as Badger nation takes over LA and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Just the thought of sun and tailgating on a golf course make things so much better.
Well, that and the fact that after the coaching carousel has finally stopped going round and round we can finally turn our attention from rumors and baseless speculation to an actual football game at hand.
Before things got totally crazy we began our breakdown of the Badgers vs. Cardinal with our friends from Go Mighty Card and today we bring you Part 2 of that breakdown as we look exclusively at the offensive side of the ball for Stanford. So, enjoy an in depth look at what the Badger D will face on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013.
MTB: People point to the skill positions as they put up the numbers, but how good is the Stanford Offensive Line and who are the names we should be watching for?
Go Mighty Card (GMC): Even though the offensive line lost first-round NFL pick David DeCastro and second-rounder Jonathan Martin this past spring, there were enough quality linemen left behind to form one of the best units in the Pac-12. Consensus All-America David Yankey is the star of the group. Although he's played some left tackle out of necessity, he's probably at his best when he's pulling from the left guard position in the power running formation. Center Sam Schwartzstein has also been strong all season, but you should also watch out for two true freshmen, Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy. Murphy often comes in as part of Stanford's Hulk package (six linemen, a fullback, a tight end, plus another lineman in a tight end's jersey), but Peat will see some time at left tackle in the base offense. Both will be huge stars in years to come.
MTB: Stepfan Taylor is obviously a beast on offense, but who else could be a difference maker in the rushing game for the Cardinal?
GMC: Here's how one-dimensional the Stanford running game has been this year. Kevin Hogan took over as starting quarterback for the final four games of the season, and he's now the second-leading rusher on the team with 209 yards and three touchdowns. Hogan is definitely a threat, good for at least four or five designed carries per game, plus a few read-option plays. You'll also likely see Stanford's version of the Wildcat formation with either Taylor or backup tailback Anthony Wilkerson at the point. If they run it five times, the tailback will keep it four times, but on the fifth you can expect to see hybrid running back-wide receiver Kelsey Young take the ball on a jet sweep. With this much time between games, though, I bet we'll see something unexpected out of that formation on New Year's Day — maybe a double-reverse with the ball coming back to Hogan for a flee-flicker. As conservative as Coach Shaw is, he likes to pull out a crazy play like that every once in a while.
MTB: How would you describe the passing game – big play, quick strike, dink and dunk, possession… you know is it a part of the game that can lull you to sleep or be a difference maker?
GMC: Kevin Hogan is definitely a difference-maker at quarterback. His yardage numbers in his four starts aren't terribly impressive (254, 211, 160, and 155), but with the running game as strong as it is, he doesn't have to throw for 300 yards. The Cardinal will definitely look to establish the run first, it isn't unusual to see four or five passing plays in a row, either. In his limited time as a starter Hogan has gained the trust of the coaching staff, so the entire playbook is open at this point. Look for him to throw roughly 25 times, and expect him to go deep once the safeties start cheating up to stop the run.
MTB: How special of a player is Zach Ertz and is he a glorified wide receiver in a bigger body or is he a true tight end – you know, one that can block and still get out in space?
GMC: Stanford has suffered two injustices at the hands of Notre Dame. The first came on the field as the Irish somehow secured a phantom win back in October, but the second came when Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. Ertz's numbers dwarfed Eifert's (66 receptions, 837 yards, and 6 TDs compared to 44, 624, and 4 for Eifert), and while Eifert's TDs were largely window dressing in games the Irish had in hand, Ertz had huge fourth-quarter go-ahead scores against USC and Oregon State, plus a late game-tying score to force overtime against Oregon. Even with all those receptions, however, Ertz is still a true tight end. He is the biggest Stanford receiving threat, so he'll lineup in the slot or even out wide from time to time, but he's more typically lined up on the end of the line where you'd expect to find a tight end. He's an important part of the blocking game, but I'd say he's still a receiver first, and a blocker second.
MTB: Finally, looking at the Stanford offense vs. the Badgers defense what is the one thing Stanford must do well in order to win and why?
GMC: This is kind of obvious, but I think Stanford has to limit turnovers. In the two games against the Oregon schools, they turned the ball over seven times while getting the ball back only twice. They managed to win both of those games, but I don't know if they'll be that lucky if they can't hang on to the ball against a ball-control team like the Badgers.