FROM SAN JOSE — Tom Fitzgerald, who covers Stanford for the San Francisco Chronicle, was kind enough to answer five questions for us about tomorrow's game between WSU and Stanford. His answers are below.
1. Was Stanford’s defense really that good against Cal? Or were the Bears really that bad?
“Both. Stanford did its usual job of stuffing the running game, and its secondary did an excellent job on Keenan Allen and the other Cal receivers while Chase Thomas and Ben Gardner led a strong pass rush. That said, Cal's quarterback, Zach Maynard, didn't have a good day, and nobody else looked particularly good on the Bears' offense.”
2. How has Josh Nunes progressed since the start of the season?
“He looks more in control and is throwing more accurately, particularly on deep balls. He has run effectively on occasion, even though he's not known as a runner. His teammates say he is more confident and assertive in the huddle. Now, he's still far from a star, but he's not the liability he was in the Washington game.”
3. Everyone knows how tough Stanford is against the run. How has its secondary played this year?
“Aside from some difficulties with San Jose State's Noel Grigsby in the opener and with everybody in the Arizona game — a point-crazy game that Stanford won in overtime — the secondary has played well. They use four cornerbacks in a rotation, Barry Browning, Terrence Brown, Wayne Lyons and freshman Alex Carter. They're all pretty good. Usua Amanam is terrific at nickel back. And safeties Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards have played well too. The secondary was expected to be the weak point of the defense, but aside from the exceptions noted earlier, it has done very well. They kept USC's great receivers pretty well in check, and that's saying a lot.”
4. Have there been any changes to the offense without Andrew Luck, or is it still pretty much the same?
“Luck had the option of calling any of several plays at the line of scrimmage. Nunes doesn't have as many options. But the offense is still the same: run, run, run, then hit them with play-action passes, especially to tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Stepfan Taylor is a remarkable running back. He's not going to wow you with any Reggie Bush-like moves, but he has a knack for making people miss and he's very patient in setting up his blockers. He's also a fine pass blocker and a good receiver.”
5. Do you sense any kind of letdown coming with Stanford coming off two rivalry games?
“I don't, but that's not to say it couldn't happen. These guys know a loss to Wazzou or Colorado would throw the Rose Bowl out the window. They also play better at home than on the road, and even if they give up a few turnovers, I think the defense and Taylor's excellence would get them past Washington State by a healthy margin.”
Follow Tom Fitzgerald on Twitter @tomgfitzgerald.