It feels pretty darn good to be 1-0. The ‘Cats shocked the #21 Stanford Cardinal on Saturday 16-6 behind a dominant defensive performance. The youth on the team showed what it could do, and with a very manageable schedule for the rest of 2015, the future looks bright. After watching a replay of the game, here are five observations from the huge opening win.
Anthony Walker is a star. The redshirt sophomore was all over the field on Saturday. Dropping back in coverage, blitzing, playing spy on the QB, defending the run. No matter which, he pretty much always made the right play. He was constantly in the passing lane – if he can develop a pair of hands to pick off more throws, then watch out. Walker almost seemed like he knew what the offensive play was going to be before the ball is snapped. His anticipation and instincts are great, and he will be a joy to watch the next few years. I thought he was the best player on the field against Stanford.
Our offensive and defensive lines outplayed the Cardinal. We won this game in the trenches, plain and simple. Since line play was supposed to be Stanford’s calling card, this was hugely encouraging. 225 yards rushing for the ‘Cats, and 85 for the Cardinal – enough said.
Clayton Thorson was clutch. Of his 12 completions in the game, seven went for third down conversions. His cross-the-field bomb to Shuler late in the fourth was a huge throw at a huge time, and helped us seal it. To be fair, he had some fluttering throws that almost looked Tebow-esque, and a few boneheaded decisions that looked Cutler-esque. Luckily the Stanford secondary had almost as bad a case of the dropsies as the Stanford wide receivers on Saturday. So yea, maybe he got a little bit lucky, but the point is he came through when it mattered…and we won. He played within himself, managed the game, and delivered in crunch time. Not bad for a 19 year old making his first career start.
The defense didn’t miss a tackle. OK they probably did at some point, but I didn’t notice any missed tackles when watching the replay. The entire defense swarms to the ball as the play develops, and once they get there they make sure it stops. There were several huge open field tackles by Walker, Henry and Lowry that stood out. This D has attitude, talent and speed – they will keep us in games this year.
We might be pretty good. The ‘Cats came into this game with low expectations for the year (at least from fans and media), but this win turns it all on its head. We just beat the best team on our schedule, and did so in decisive fashion. Yes, Stanford was sloppy and had some big drops that could have flipped the momentum, but all in all we looked the better team. What’s most encouraging is that we have an identity – we’ll run the ball down your throat, play suffocating defense and not make mistakes. Clayton Thorson and JJ together in the backfield is very tough to defend. While Thorson may not be as shifty or agile as former QBs like Kain Colter, he has more downhill speed. Once he gets going, he can hit another gear – I loved to see him actually pulling away from the Stanford secondary on his TD run. He may have made a few tough decisions on Saturday, but that part of his game will only improve with more experience under center. He’s going to keep getting better, and guess what – so are the rest of the ‘Cats.