It's game week, Rose Bowl Edition. Jack Blanchat from SB Nation's Stanford Blog, Rule of Tree, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Cardinal and Wednesday's game. You can check out our Q&A from a few weeks ago here. You can see my answers to his questions here.
1. It's no secret what Stanford want to do on offense. Who are some players to watch, and how do you think the loss of MSU middle linebacker Max Bullough will affect things?
Because it's too obvious to pick the starting running back and quarterback as "players to watch," I think some bellweather players for the Stanford offense are wide receiver Ty Montgomery and left tackle Andrus Peat. Stanford's going to have to pass the ball against the Spartans' physical corners at some point, and Ty Montgomery is the guy that can handle the rock on the outside. He's a superb athlete and can get deep or create on his own. Left tackle Andrus Peat, a true sophomore, has done a great job of protecting Kevin Hogan's blind side this year, but he'll need to be on his A-game against a rugged MSU D.
2. Defensively, what kind of gameplan do the Cardinal use, and what are the strengths and weaknesses?
Stanford runs a base 3-4 defense with a lot of nickel against passing teams and the classic "Bear" front against running teams. Stanford pretty much always blitzes a linebacker, and the linebackers are the strength of this defense. Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy form one of the most deadly inside-outside linebacker duos in the nation, and the other backers aren't bad at all either. The weaknesses this season have been the interior run D (at times) and running teams that can attack the edges. The way to score a lot of points on Stanford is to mix running it up the middle and hitting the edges of the defense with quick swing passes (or something like that). Trying to throw deep usually leads to sacks (Stanford is 2nd in the country with 40) and trying to run off tackle puts you right into the teeth of Skov and Murphy.
3. What are three keys to victory for Stanford?
Establish the run, connect on play-action, and force 3 and outs. If Stanford can control the clock with the run game and the defense - and keep itself fresh on both sides of the ball - as well as hit a few deep passes, the Cardinal should be in great shape. That was the plan utilized to beat and Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game, which may have been as complete a game as Stanford played for 4 quarters this season. I think the biggest key of those three will be hitting a few play-action passes to keep the MSU D from teeing off on the Cardinal offense.
4. Given Stanford won the Rose Bowl last year, would you be surprised by any less focus? Or does the familiarity make it a business trip? Are these narratives easier to determine after the game?
I'd be truly shocked if Stanford came out with any signs of unsteadiness. This team has been extremely well-prepared in both of its last two BCS games, and the senior class - which has never missed a BCS bowl - will assure that the team is ready to go. In both the 2012 Fiesta Bowl and the 2013 Rose Bowl, Stanford got on the board first, so I wouldn't be shocked to see more of the same this time around.
5. Score prediction and why?
I think Stanford wins, 23-17. I think it's going to be a total slugfest and wouldn't be shocked to see this game go Michigan State's way, but I think Stanford can get the run game going and just grind the clock in the second half. I think the veteran leadership for Stanford will be a big element in determining how the Cardinal plays, and would expect Stanford to be on its A-game as a result of that.
Thanks to Jack for taking the time to answer some questions. Check out Rule of Tree for all things Stanford.