The words used to describe the Stanford Cardinal offense are as traditional and stodgy as the scheme itself: old school, smashmouth, power, physical, tough, grinding. Of course, Stanford is as adept at West Coast passing concepts as any team in the country. But what they are the most well-known for is their running game, because in this era of spread offenses and zone read concepts and chucking it all over the yard, Stanford is a callback to the days of three yards and a cloud of dust. In other words, they are the polar opposite of WSU.
Within the framework of their running game, Stanford does a lot. Yes, at the end of the day Keller Chryst or KJ Costello is just turning around and handing the ball off (or tossing it, in this case) to Bryce Love or Cameron Scarlett. But how those backs get from the backfield to the end zone varies greatly. We’ll take a look at one of those ways this week that, while not revolutionary, is a subtle adjustment to get the backs attacking the hole slightly quicker. The play is Stanford’s Power Toss.
Stanford Offensive Formation: Double-Tight I-Formation Right. Typical Stanford formation, with lots of beef on the O-Line. USC loads up the box to match, with eight defenders in the box at the snap and the boundary safety flying up to, in theory, fill an extra run gap. With that safety blitzing, USC probably had a strongside slant call on with their defensive line, which really helps set up the blocks for Stanford.
The Play: 35 Power Toss
Stanford combines a traditional Big Ten-style Power G blocking scheme (similar to what we saw a bunch of last year in the Holiday Bowl) with a quick toss to the running back. On the playside, the tight end blocks the outside linebacker—walked up in a 4-3 Under front—out, setting the outside edge of the alley. The left tackle and guard combo from the defensive end to the Will linebacker, with the left tackle slipping the block and getting to the second level to intercept the scraping Will. The center manhandles the nose tackle, almost lifting him off the turf to get him sealed.
On the backside, the right tackle and the tight end both hinge block down to fill for the pulling right guard, who slides across the formation. His block is synced up beautifully with the fullback leading into the hole. Between the two of them, they seal off the blitzing boundary safety, the boundary corner (who takes a terrible angle), and the middle linebacker who is primarily responsible for this particular run fit. Not only do the fullback and guard stone their defenders, they seal them outside of the hole, giving Bryce Love more than enough room to run through and past the USC defenders on his way to the end zone.
The replay angle gives us a little better look at how well blocked this play was.
And of course, for maximum Stanford, have your quarterback act as an extra backside blocker because you’re Stanford and everybody blocks at Stanford.
So why the toss instead of turning around and handing the ball to the running back halfway to the hole? The speed of Bryce Love. I was moderately familiar with Love coming out of high school as Wake Forest High, outside of Raleigh, is only about two hours away from where I coach. Also, a previous head coach here is now an assistant at Wake Forest High and coaches have a tendency to stay in communication with each other even after job changes. Love was also well-known in the North Carolina track world. In 2013 as a sophomore, he placed second at the 4A State Championship in the 100 meter dash, clocking a 10.68.
That’s top tier speed for a high school athlete. Tossing him the ball deep in the backfield allows him to turn this typical Power G into a track meet. He’s running a straight line from the backfield to the end zone, and he doesn’t have to worry about meshing with the quarterback’s handoff, reading the fullback’s block, or finding the hole. It becomes see ball, catch ball, run ball, go fast.
Stanford will also run a slightly different variation on their Power Toss. With this version, it becomes more of a toss sweep instead of a Power G. But the principle is still largely the same. We have a really good SkyCam angle for this play, almost like we have All-22 film.
Stanford Offensive Formation: Jumbo Left. Stanford stacks both of its tight ends to the left and brings in an extra offensive lineman to the weakside of the formation. USC basically has eleven defenders in the box. Ready, fight.
The Play: 37 Power Sweep
There are two major differences here, one on the offensive line, the other from Love. On the line, instead of pulling the backside guard across, the playside guard will pull and get outside the three down blocks from the tight ends and left tackle. The center and and right guard fly up to the second level and the right tackle and right end reach block down hard to prevent Love getting chased down from the backside.
The second change is Love’s footwork. In the play above the hole is inside the tight end, so Love takes a step to his left and pauses there before catching the toss and exploding through the alley. With the sweep, the angle is a bit wider, so Love shuffles to get outside before finding a nice cutback lane.
USC actually has this pretty well defended at the point of attack. They have four defenders in front of Love with only two Stanford blockers standing the way. The problem is that Love spots an alley inside and cuts away from one defender while a second overpursues and fits the wrong gap. The other two are accounted for by the blockers and Love is once again off to the races. Linemen are even upfield to cut off any pursuit from redirecting defenders.
Coming into the season, this was the offense that scared me the most (my most sincere and humble apologies to our lord and savior Khalil Tate) because of its propensity to play power football. I wasn’t sure how an undersized defensive front was going to hold up against an offensive line that is built to get you in a phone booth and rough you up. Frankly, I’m still not sure. Considering the havoc that Hercules Mata’afa, Daniel Ekuale and company have created throughout the season, combined with the ineffective play of the quarterback position for Stanford, I feel a little better than I did in August. But if Stanford’s offensive line is able to get its collective hands on the WSU defense and push them around, Bryce Love is going to find some creases and make it a long, cold night for the Cougs on the Palouse. On the other hand, the number one killer of run plays is penetration from the defensive line, and if there’s one thing #SpeedD has been consistently good at, it is getting in the backfield and being disruptive.