Stanford beat writer Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle joins us this week to resume our Five Question, Five Answers series around the Pac-12 Conference. Many thanks to Tom for the insights on the 16th-ranked Cardinal (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) leading up to Saturday’s kickoff against Washington (4-0) at Husky Stadium (1:15 p.m., FOX).
1. There was so much personnel turnover on Stanford’s defense after last season. How has Stanford been able to maintain its level of dominance with a new D-coordinator and all those new starters?
TF: There was certainly some trepidation among Stanford fans after they lost Shayne Skov, the great linebacker; Trent Murphy, the great pass-rusher; Ed Reynolds, an outstanding safety; and Ben Gardner, a terrific defensive end. But Stanford has, so far, been able to plug people in who had played some last year but we certainly not featured guys. It speaks to the depth they have acquired in the David Shaw era. Everything started with Jim Harbaugh, of course, but the depth in the program really didn’t come until Shaw took over. A few guys who have emerged this season: defensive end Henry Anderson, inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, inside linebacker, safety Jordan Richards and cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons.
2. In general, what has made Stanford’s defense so good against the spread teams — and Oregon, specifically — the past couple years?
TF: It all comes down to convincing the defenders to stick with their jobs and not worry about other people, not leaving their lanes, not doing too much. It sounds simple. Against a team like Oregon and a lot of the hurry-up offenses that use deceptions and run so many plays, it can be easy for a defense to get off-track. One thing Stanford has done well against Oregon is hold the ball (when Stanford is on offense), but it remains to be seen whether they can do that with this new-look offense.
3. What happened in Stanford’s 13-10 loss to USC?
TF: Stanford marched the ball all over the field. Stanford went up and down and never even punted in that game. The biggest thing were the two fumbles by quarterback Kevin Hogan in the final minutes, plus a lot of other uncharacteristic things for Stanford: eight penalties penalties, two missed field goals, including a 26-yarder; they were held on downs on fourth-and-a-foot inside the 10-yard line. It was just one thing after another. It was a bitter, bitter disappointment for Stanford.
4. Stanford doesn’t have that standout featured back we’re used to seeing from them. How is there back-by-committee approach working?
TF: They don’t have the workhorse this year. They also have four new starters on the O-line. It’s a different team this year. They’ve opened things up a little bit, which sounds strange to say for Stanford. I think they’re comfortable with the by-committee approach at running back. But they don’t have a bigger guys like Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney or Toby Gerhart that they can throw at defenses. That’s not the reason they lost to USC; they lost because of other mistakes.
5. How are they utilizing Ty Montgomery this season?
TF: They can’t wait to get him the ball. They’re running him out wide, they’re running him in the slot, running him in the backfield in a Wildcat formation (which they have run several times this year). They’ve always had him on kick returns and now they’ve added him on punt returns, too. He’s very good. He’s good at everything. He’s a legitimate 220 pounds. The guy is one big muscle. A tremendous athlete — great speed, great toughness and he can shake off tackles. He’s basically a running back slotted out wide.