Earlier this week we had the opportunity to speak with Hank Waddles From the Stanford website Go Mighty Card Regarding this week’s game with the huskies.
Here’s what we learned in the Q&A:
UWDP: Tanner McKee has been marked by the UW defense staff as one of the best guns in all of college football. Is this just a coach talking or are they right? How do you rate his play so far? What did pass protection look like against two vastly different opponents?
Hank Waddles: Maki is definitely a difference maker in the middle. He looks like a typical NFL sign with good height and movement and a strong arm that can do all the throws. It wasn’t quite as accurate against the USC as it was against Colgate, but it was still successful and was able to take advantage of talented, healthy receivers. Offensive linear play was a big problem last season (the last few seasons, if we’re being honest), but things looked better against the Trojans. USC doesn’t have the league’s scariest defense, but it was still a positive step for the streak.
UWDP: The backhand duo of EJ Smith and Casey Filkins was the Cardinal’s first holeshot of the season. Now it appears that Smith is out. Does your running game look better than it did a year ago?
Hank: EJ Smith’s loss to this game is disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. He has proven to be incredibly versatile and clearly the best comeback in the team. However, Casey Filkins is also fairly versatile and has had a decent amount of playing time, first in a win over Colgate and then in the second half against USC as Smith was dealing with his injury. The running game has been a lot better than the last couple of years, thanks to a surprising new wrinkle.
David Shaw has been widely criticized (obstinately or persistently) for continuing to stick to his offensive blueprint while the rest of the world has moved into the 21st century. Against USC, however, the Cardinal introduced a new “slow grid” scrolling option game, similar to what Wake Forest had been doing for a while. It starts like any option format, but it’s…slower. McKee puts the ball back in his arms, then they stand along the line of scrimmage for a long second or two, which is enough time for McKee to read the linebacker and safety and decide whether to shoot the ball on his back or pull it back and forth. It was refreshing to see something new and encouraging to see something new working. Had it not been for the many unfortunate transformations, the cardinal’s transgression would have gone along with the crime of Troy.
UWDP: Tell us about the WR group at Stanford. It looks like Mackie is spreading the ball as he did last season. Will TE Benjamin Yurosek be special in Saturday’s game plan?
Hank: Stanford’s broad reception corps is talented and profound. Michael Wilson has developed a reputation as a great road runner, and he’s in good health after a missed season last year. Brycen Tremayne has miraculously recovered from a horrific ankle injury he suffered against Oregon last season and is back in his role as the most consistent receiver of the group. The previous round would probably be McKee’s favorite target in the red. Elijah Higgins may be the most talented member of the group, with excellent hands, NFL size, and deceptive pace. He is one of the fastest players in the Stanford attack.
Given all that talent, Yurosek isn’t necessarily a focal point, but it’s still a weapon. He surprised everyone a couple of weeks ago when he took the ball back and ran for fifty yards. If Stanford’s running game was effective, Mackie would get the singles matches he was looking for, and the cardinal would be able to put the points on the board. Assuming they can bypass the employee turnover problem.
UWDP: The defense did a good job closing out Colgate in the season opener, but lit up poorly in the first half against USC. How was the defense play in your opinion? Who are some of the players you should keep an eye on?
Hank: I think this match will tell us everything we need to know about Stanford’s defense. I think USC probably has the best attack in the conference, so frankly it wasn’t surprising that they scored five touchdowns in the first half, even if they were buoyed by Cardinal’s errors. Stanford only got them two field goals in the second half, but that probably had as much to do with USC taking gas as it did with Stanford’s defensive tweaks, but there was definitely an improvement after the first half, and there is definitely an improvement since last season. However, this is a far cry from Stanford’s dominant defenses of ten years ago. Kyu Blu Kelly is a solid linebacker, and the rest of the minor is good, but the front seven is… porous. Perhaps the best player in that group is junior David Bailey. This statement says as much about older players as it does about Billy. He’s the star of the future, but unless we’re talking about Jadaveon Clowney, the best defender on the team shouldn’t be a true rookie.
UWDP: Give us the “State of the Program” for Cardinal David Shaw’s soccer team.
Hank: Well, that’s a loaded question, right? I’m still one hundred percent in Xu’s corner, but increasingly I belong to the minority. I think most fans have decided the game has outgrown Shaw, and they’re ready for a change. But the truth is, Shu isn’t going anywhere until he wants to, and he clearly doesn’t want to. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any rumors about the NFL, and aside from the fact that he desperately wants to win, he’s comfortable at Stanford. Stanford’s success during the early part of the last decade has been driven by an incredible streak of talent on both sides of the ball, and I don’t think it’s realistic for this school to have such an affinity to happen with any kind of regularity. What we’ve seen over the past few years is that while there have been some good recruitment chapters, there haven’t been any great ones, and usually one position or another that isn’t addressed. (The current lack of volume in the defensive line is a prime example.) There’s also been less high-end talent in the West lately, and although Stanford is a national recruiting firm, it’s always easier to get men closer to campus.
Critics also resent the staff under Shaw. When Stanford was going to the Rose Bulls, their coordinators were routinely set away, but that hasn’t happened in a while. At first, this was thought to be an advantage, but this remarkable stability now seems like a stagnation to some. Tavita Pritchard has been the offensive coordinator since 2018, and Lance Anderson has been in charge of defense since 2014. While many have been calling for, at least, changes to be made in both positions, Shaw made it clear that this is not the way he conducts his business.
I don’t think we will again see a series of three conference championships in four years, but I also don’t think we will see a dismal season like 2021. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
UWDP: What’s your prediction for Saturday?
Hank: Two weeks ago I was very optimistic about this game. It felt weird to watch my team lose decisively to USC and come out feeling optimistic about the season, but that’s exactly how I felt. The attack looked better than I’ve seen since before the pandemic, and it was easy to blame the defensive struggle on the elite attack from USC. However, the insult to Washington sounds rather frightening. But at some point in the season we still don’t really know how good anyone is. Was Michigan really one of the best teams in the country? Does that make Washington now one of the best teams in the country? Those answers will come out over the next several weeks, so we’re left with a little guesswork.
But I believe what I saw of the Stanford crime two weeks ago. Stanford currently has the worst turnover margin in the country at -7. This is either a symptom of systemic failure or it is an incredible coincidence. Since no team can be so flawed that they turn the ball four times in every game, I think that’s at least a little disappointing. If the Cardinal’s attack can play a clean game, which is something they haven’t come close to doing yet, I think they’ll be able to stay with the Husky at least into the second half. If that happens, things will get interesting.
I still think the Cardinal will lose soon, like 34-30.
Thanks Hank. To learn more about Stanford, be sure to check out Go Mighty Card