Matt Vassar was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule of what I assume was nerd stuff (burn!) to talk to Ralphie Report about the Saturday showdown between the Buffs and the Trees. We talk about Christian McCaffrey, Ryan Burns, Solomon Thomas, and the player to watch on offense if McCaffrey can’t go.
Is Christian McCaffrey going to be back at 100% on Saturday? And if not, who should the Buffs be worried about on offense?
Christian McCaffrey is still questionable. Like last week, Head Coach David Shaw announced that McCaffrey's status will not be known until at least Friday, and could even be a game-time decision.
On Wednesday, however, McCaffrey returned to practice and completed full-speed drills on the field. Shaw said that McCaffrey "passed the first test" and that McCaffrey "feels a lot better."
Even if McCaffrey is out again, Bryce Love sure proved that he can fill that void. Prior to the Notre Dame game, Love only had 21 carries over his entire career, but in his first career start, he would get the ball 23 more times. He would also go for over 100 yards in that game, averaging 5.6 yards/carry.
And, yes, that came from Stanford's backup runningback. That backfield is deep.
Ryan Burns has struggled a bit this year throwing the ball and has been sacked fairly often. Is the best way to beat him through pressure? How does CU shut down this Stanford offense?
Yes, Stanford's porous offensive line is certainly the biggest vulnerability in the offense, and is also the surest-fire way to take apart Stanford's offense.
This was how Washington beat Stanford in the biggest defeat of the Harbaugh/Shaw era. There were plays when Ryan Burns was facing pressure almost as quickly as he snapped the ball. And the eight sacks that Washington got in that game is just insane. Even more insane is that Washington got each of those eight sacks without blitzing.
This season, Stanford's 3 sacks allowed/game ranks 108th in FBS. If you can exploit this vulnerability, Stanford's offense will have a very difficult time.
Defensively, Solomon Thomas is a one-man wrecking crew and it looks like the Cardinal get their starting CB’s back just in time for the Buffs. How will CU move the ball against this D?
Man, are you right about Solomon Thomas. He's the first player on either offense or defense for the entire Pac-12 to have been named Player of the Week twice.
And I never thought I'd say this after his many career highlights, but in the most recent game against Notre Dame, he just might have had yet another breakthrough. Prior to that game, his career high for tackles was five; in the Notre Dame game, however, he more than doubled that with 12 tackles. He seemed completely unblockable and wreaked havoc on the Notre Dame offense throughout the game. Is it possible that the one-man wrecking crew is getting even better?
More broadly, the entire defensive line unit is very solid, getting a sack in 17 of the last 19 games.
As for the secondary, CB Alijah Holder is still doubtful for the game against Colorado.
Quenton Meeks, however, returned for the game against Notre Dame and made a critical pick six (the last time he did that? When Stanford won the Rose Bowl). He'll be joined by Frank Buncom IV, who led the team in tackles against Washington State and got a pick six. Oh, and Buncom did that in his first career start. So, even without Holder, the secondary is still pretty deep.
Put all of this together, and you have a Stanford defense that has scored five times in its six games so far this year. And although the offense has struggled, it's Stanford's defense that allowed the team to remain 4-2 on the season; in fact, in the most recent game against Notre Dame, Stanford's defense scored more points than its entire offense.
Who is the one player to watch on offense, sans McCaffrey?
In addition to Bryce Love (whom we talked about above), WR Michael Rector is another player to look out for. At the 11th hour, he unexpectedly forewent the NFL Draft and returned to Stanford to play his redshirt senior year. He's a speedster, has made catches in 14 consecutive games, and is always a deep threat (he put up that 40-yard touchdown against Kansas State).
He might also have a bit of versatility: he surprised everybody in the USC game when he scored his first rushing TD (56 yards). And especially if Christian McCaffrey is out, we might see him fielding some kick returns as well (he previously returned one for 28 yards against UCLA).
By the way, he's also a flipping genius. I kid you not; he dreams of one day becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon, and spends his spare time in the laboratory conducting stem cell research.