WEST POINT – Yes, Rich Ellerson was talking about the Stanford offense. And, yes, it sounded suspiciously like a homework assignment from a calculus class.
“They do a lot of the same things that we’ve seen, they just do it in different proportionality,” he said. “They are going to have I-backs with three tight ends on the field. They are going to challenge you physically like you’ve never been challenged. They are a powerful football team. They will get into that run look, and run zone read with three wide receivers. They have what we’ve seen before, but they are going to do it in larger proportions.”
Got that? Well, Stanford certainly does. In its 34-13 victory over San Jose State last week running back Ty Montgomery, who missed most of last season with a torn knee ligament, returned and rushed for 81 yards. And Tyler Gaffney, who took off football last year to play minor-league baseball in the Pirates’ organization, was back, ending the game with 104 yards and two touchdowns. And quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns. In 10 games last season -- including five starts -- he had an efficiency rating of 147.9 with 1,096 yards passing, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Hogan, who took over as the starting Stanford quarterback last November, succeeded Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft.
What else need Army be wary of? Stanford gave up only 35 yards rushing. And San Jose quarterback David Fales, who threw for more than 4,000 yards last season and completed an incredible 72.5% of his passes, was held to a more modest 29 of 43 for 216 yards and one interception. That interception was the 25th straight game in which Stanford had at least one takeaway, the longest such current streak among teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Last season, Stanford recorded the most sacks (57) and tackles for loss (124) of any team in more than 10 years, yet they didn't have a single player in the NCAA top 25 for sacks. That illustrates the all-around power of its defense.
Great offense. Great defense. Ranked fifth in the nation.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves, and we have to focus on what we are not doing right,” said Ellerson, whose team will host the Cardinal Saturday at Michie Stadium. “Get those things right that we are doing day in and day out, and we’ve been routinely getting right beginning with spring football. We have got to make those things carry into the game. We cannot allow ourselves to be induced into thinking that we are something other than what we’ve been. I want to see what it looks like when we go out there and try to be our best selves because that wasn’t our best self [last] Saturday, not even close. That’s what I want to see. I don’t care who shows up for the game on Saturday. We have to be ourselves. We have to run our offense, run our defense and be that poised, present, competent outfit on every snap. Then we will see what the scoreboard looks like. It’s going to be tough. If we do those things, the scoreboard will be interesting. If we don’t do those things and try to go out there and have some out-of-body experience it will get away from us quickly.”
After an impressive opening-day victory over Morgan State, quarterback Angel Santiago had a disappointing game last week against Ball State, running for 51 yards and completing only 3 of 11 passes. As such, Ellerson has not written off the possibility of getting backup A.J. Schurr into this week’s game. Schurr did relieve Santiago last week in the fourth quarter of Army’s 40-14 loss, completing 4 of 8 passes.
“Obviously, we do some things at quarterback that have given us some mistakes,” Ellerson said. “Angel is not the only one we have. A supporting cast contributes to that effort. We can’t play like that. We have two snaps on the ground, a forced fumble and we’re throwing interceptions. We have another mental breakdown before the half, and then we have another delay of game with A.J. so it’s a team effort there. I liked when A.J. came in the game. He can do all of the things that we want at quarterback. I will say what I said in the beginning of the season -- don’t be surprised if you see two quarterbacks.”
If Stanford’s swarming defense is in full-attack mode, two quarterbacks – or more – may be needed to complete the game. What Army surely must avoid is the turnovers and penalties that haunted it against Ball State. Eight penalties, two fumbles and one interception certainly contributed to the loss, and similar misplay against Stanford would qualify as a disaster. Conversely, the Black Knights committed no penalties and had no turnovers against Morgan State. Why such a disparity?
“I wish I could explain that to you,” Ellerson said.
Ultimately, if Army is to give Stanford a run it must believe it can. Upsets of this magnitude don’t just happen because the superior team’s players decide to take the day off. And if one player does figure he needn’t bring his ‘A’ game with him, the bench is crowded with players who’d be happy to do so.
“We obviously have to move a little bit,” Ellerson said. “You know we have good players too. It’s not going to be easy to stop them, but we’ll have a plan. If you defend yourself on every snap against these guys then you’re not defending anything, but that’s not unique to them. You have to punch and counter everything you need to do against a good football team. We are obviously not resourceless, and we can compete.”