To get a Stanford point of view on Saturday's match-up against the Cardinal in Boulder we sat down with Rule of Tree for a quick Q&A.
Even though this was a year of transition for the Cardinal, with Andrew Luck and a number of other key contributors leaving for the NFL, expectations were still high for Stanford coming into this season. Two disappointing losses and two strong wins over USC and Arizona later, how do fans feel about the course of the season so far? What do you expect the rest of the year?
I think if you had told me at the beginning of the year that Stanford would be 6-2 and 4-1 in conference at this point in the season, I'd be pretty happy. It's funny how we got here, though. The win over USC raised the bar in term of expectations, so it was very disappointing to follow it up with a loss in a very winnable game at Washington. I've still got a bitter taste in my mouth from the way the Notre Dame game ended, but Stanford more than made up for it with a dominating win over Cal in Big Game. I don't think many fans expected to compete for a BCS bowl this season, and while Oregon looks unbeatable and winning at Oregon State is a tall order, the Cardinal can win the Pac-12 North by winning out. It feels good to be in that position.
Obviously there was going to be a drop-off from Luck to new quarterback Josh Nunes, how has he done so far? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
The offense as a whole has been rather disappointing this season and it starts with Nunes. He outplayed Matt Barkley in the win over USC and he was fantastic in the overtime win against Arizona, but outside of those two games, he's struggled. Stanford's receivers haven't helped him out much, but his accuracy hasn't improved. He's proven to be a decent scrambler when the pocket collapses, but he misses too many wide-open throws. Most Stanford fans were happy to hear that Kevin Hogan will see more action on Saturday. He's only thrown one pass this season, but coaches raved about him during the fall and he's obviously done enough to supplant Brett Nottingham, once considered the frontrunner to replace Andrew Luck, as the next in line.
Stepfan Taylor is the star of this offensive, what other Cardinal players do Buffs fans need to watch out for?
Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have been Nunes' favorite targets and for good reason. Their size and athleticism create matchup problems for opposing defenses and Stanford lacks an elite wide receiver. Top leading wideout Ty Montgomery, who has missed time due to injury, could return this week, but he's probably dropped more passes than anyone. Fullback Ryan Hewitt hasn't been as big a part of the passing game as he was last season, but that could change with Hogan getting his first significant playing time.
The Cardinal have another strong defense helping to carry a still coming together offense. Who are the playmakers and leaders of this defensive unit?
It all starts with the Cardinal's front seven. Linebacker Trent Murphy leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks and defensive end Ben Gardner isn't far behind (11.0, 5.5). Linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov are a big reason the Cardinal ranks second in the county in rushing defense. The biggest playmaker in the secondary has been Usua Amanam, who made the transition from running back to cornerback last year.
If you were Buffaloes head coach Jon Embree how would try and attack this Cardinal defense?
Pass, pass and pass some more. Washington State had a chance to tie or win the game on its final drive despite rushing for minus-17 yards last week.
How do you see this game playing out? Could Colorado put a scare into Stanford, similar to last week's game against Washington State? Could Stanford be overlooking the Buffs with Oregon State up next?
I think Stanford wins this game comfortably, as I don't think the Buffs will get good enough quarterback play to keep things interesting. The Cardinal shouldn't be overlooking anyone after last week and I think giving Hogan more playing time could give the offense a jolt. I expect Stepfan Taylor to get back on track after a tough game against Washington State.