Q&A With Rule of Tree

STANFORD, CA - OCTOBER 08: A general view during the Stanford Cardinal game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Stanford Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

I hope everyone has gotten over their turkey coma and/or is in the middle of a leftover-turkey coma.


This week's Q&A is brought to us by Scott Allen from the blog Rule of Tree.  We talk coaching, injuries, and the time period Stanford fans will soon refer to as AL - After Luck.  I answered some questions for Scott, but they have not been posted yet.

Let's dive in.

1.  I wasn't exactly sad to see Jim Harbaugh leave Palo Alto, but it looks like Stanford hasn't missed a beat with David Shaw running the ship.  Assess the job Shaw has done in his first season as head coach of the Cardinal.

Shaw picked up right where Harbaugh left off and is poised to lead Stanford to its second consecutive BCS bowl. It's certainly helped to have had Heisman candidate Andrew Luck, but Shaw's rookie year hasn't come without its challenges. Stanford has dealt with a lot of injuries, none bigger than the one to Shayne Skov in the third week of the season. I give Shaw a lot of credit for helping the team refocus after watching Skov go down in the first half against Arizona. I think the way the Cardinal responded, shutting out the Wildcats in the second half en route to a blow out win, was a reflection of Shaw's keep calm and carry on demeanor. He obviously has a much different personality than Harbaugh, but he showed he has a bit of a fiery side during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference, when he discussed the ridiculousness that is the BCS. From an in-game decision-making standpoint, there haven't been many occasions to second-guess him, though some might argue he's too conservative at times. Overall, I think he's done a great job.


2.  At 10-1, Stanford is having a fantastic season, but it looks like they'll be shut out of the national title game.  What are your thoughts on this?  Are you upset at all or is a likely BCS bowl enough?

There's some disappointment that getting to the national championship is a flickering hope at this point, primarily because Stanford fans have to wonder if the team will ever have as good a shot as it did this season. With a lot of solid players returning and talented recruits on their way to the Farm, the team is set up for success in the immediate future. Still, quarterbacks like Andrew Luck don't come round that often, and Stanford wouldn't be 10-1 without him. A potential berth in the national championship, or at the very least the Rose Bowl, was there for the taking against Oregon, but the injury-riddled Cardinal didn't have the speed to compete. The loss to the Ducks stung a little more after Oklahoma State was upset by Iowa State last week, but oh well. I'll be thrilled if Stanford makes it to another BCS game, which should happen if it wins Saturday. After the dry spell that Stanford endured before Harbaugh rebuilt the program, it's impossible to be too disappointed in that.

3.  What's life going to be like without Andrew Luck next season?  Stanford isn't really a "traditional" power, so is there a foundation for sustained success?

That's the million-dollar question. Stanford certainly won't be BCS title contenders, but I don't think it's unrealistic to think the Cardinal could compete for second place in the Pac-12 North. Whoever takes the reins at quarterback will operate behind a strong offensive line. Wide receiver will be a question mark, but Stanford will return its top three running backs and two of its three stud tight ends. Some younger guys will need to step up on the defensive side of the ball, but the foundation for future success is there. It'll be fun to watch.
 
4.  Losing a player as talented as Shayne Skov is obviously a huge blow to the Stanford defense.  How has the defense performed without maybe their best player?  And who is one player Irish fans should look out for on the defensive side of the ball?

The Stanford defense has responded to Skov's injury -- and the hand injury that sidelined senior safety Delano Howell for three games -- about as well as anyone could have expected. Jarek Lancaster and AJ Tarpley have been solid at inside linebacker in place of Skov, while outside linebacker Chase Thomas has been the defense's best playmaker with 14.5 tackles for loss. In addition to Thomas, keep an eye on defensive end Trent Murphy. He's tied for second on the team in tackles for loss (9) and sacks (5.5).
 
5.  Speaking of injuries, how has the loss of Chris Owusu affected the Stanford offense?  Is there another big-play guy who has stepped up in his place?

Freshman receiver Ty Montgomery has developed into a valuable offensive weapon in Owusu's absence. Stanford really missed Owusu against Oregon. While he wasn't used as a deep threat much this season, he forced defenses to respect the deep pass. Playing without tight end Zach Ertz, who has been sidelined since the opening play of the USC game, has also hurt Luck. Ertz could return on Saturday. If he does, he could provide a big lift to the offense.
 
6.  Give me reason to hope on Saturday.  What are the holes on this Stanford team?  Do you see any way Notre Dame can take advantage of these imperfections, no matter how minor?

Well, Stanford's been prone to slow starts, so I think one key for Notre Dame is to jump on Stanford early. The Cardinal hasn't dominated teams over the last month like it did in the early part of the season. Part of that has to do with the competition, as Oregon and USC are by far the two best teams that Stanford has played this season, and another part is injuries. The Cardinal struggled to put away Oregon State until late in the third quarter and a mediocre Cal team put up a good fight in the Big Game. The defense has had issues tackling and the Cardinal has been burned for a lot of big plays over the last few weeks as a result.
 
7.  And finally, who ya got?

I'm going with Stanford, 38-21. Barring an Oregon State win over Oregon, it'll be Luck's last home game, and I just can't see him losing. Stanford will be wearing its Nike Pro Combat jerseys, which has to give them some sort of advantage, right?

***

Thanks again to Scott and Rule of Tree!  I hope to see everyone tomorrow at our last regular season Open Thread!

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