PULLMAN — Stanford rolled through its first two opponents, San Jose State and Army, with relative ease but without the kind of eye-popping statistics and point totals seen this season in other nonconference games between top-10 programs and weaker opponents.
Prior to Arizona State’s matchup with the Cardinal last week, ASU coach Todd Graham speculated that perhaps Stanford wasn’t showing its entire arsenal against either of its first two foes.
Then it went out and beat the Sun Devils 42-28, and led 39-7 going into the fourth quarter — thanks to several special-teams gaffes — before ASU scored three touchdowns to make the final score more respectable.
So was Graham right? Did Stanford — Washington State’s opponent on Saturday — come at ASU with a more diverse gameplan than previously displayed?
Probably. In Stanford’s first two games, Graham said, “I don’t think they showed anything. I think they were very, very vanilla. Yeah, they had some things that we hadn’t seen, and they do a great job coaching. That’s one of the tough things about playing a conference game that early. But it’s the same for them as it for us.”
Asked to elaborate upon what Stanford showed Saturday that it didn’t in its first two games, Graham referred to the Cardinal’s unorthodox jumbo sets, some of which feature some big dudes aligned in a unique fashion.
“I looked out there (and) at one time there were seven offensive linemen on the field,” Graham said. “You’ve got No. 98 (Josh Garnett) at wingback, who’s 320 pounds. Both those tight ends are offensive linemen.”
Stanford actually released a video earlier this week in which Mike Bloomgren, the team’s director of offense, discusses the installation of a package that features nine offensive linemen. That’s more than WSU even had available to play last season.
WSU coach Mike Leach doesn’t worry a heck of a lot about whether the Cardinal might unveil something foreign, because he doesn’t think Stanford is about deception or reinvention. And he has the film to prove it.
“They were like that the whole year last year, which is something that I think is one of their strengths,” Leach said. “They’ve figured out what they’re going to do. They don’t sit and reinvent it all the time, and they do it all over and over again, and they do it with precision, and they do it with excitement. They’re not elaborate. I’ve got over 12 games on them. They’re not fancy.”
Much was made last week of the boring, lopsided scores that resulted from top-tier programs playing games against overmatched, weaker opponents. Those games — “body bag” contests, played more for financial reasons than for competitive ones — have become commonplace. But might there be fewer of them once the College Football Playoff takes hold and strength of schedule is more heavily considered?
It’s a bit of a quandary for Pac-12 coaches, some of whom insist the league’s 9-game schedule — the SEC, for comparison, plays only eight conference games — makes a slate of nonconference cupcakes more justifiable.
“I want to play good teams,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “I want to play the best teams in the country.”
Stanford coach David Shaw said it’s not the Pac-12 that needs to change.
“Speaking for Stanford in particular, we’re playing nine conference games and Notre Dame every year,” Shaw said. “That’s tough enough. I think other conferences need to address it as far as what they do out of conference.”