The Stanford Cardinal are pretty well-proven at most positions. Their quarterback continues to be, you know, excellent at what he does. The offensive line has shored up its losses and hasn't missed a beat. The receivers and tight ends have shown that they can catch most footballs that come their way. The defense has not lost any pep in their step even despite losing perhaps the most talented individual on the starting eleven.
Where they aren't proven is at head coach. And that could be the main weakness for the Cardinal on Saturday when they face off against the best coach in the conference.
David Shaw has yet to really prove himself. There haven't been really many situations where he's had to be tested. He'll definitely have to show he can match up with Chip Kelly on the field this weekend.
Except for maybe the Washington game, Stanford has started off slowly in almost every conference game they've faced this season. Perhaps some of it is the opponent getting amped up to face the Pac-12 favorites, but the Cardinal just haven't looked quite as good.
The only real glimpses of how good a coach Shaw can be is how well his teams have come out in the second half and piledrived inferior opposition, which is also a Chip Kelly trademark. It seems to show a coaching staff that makes the proper in-game adjustments to try and blow the opposition off the blow.
Shaw has only had to make a few important decisions, most of them coming against the USC Trojans. And he made some ... questionable decisons.
- Taking the ball out of Luck's hands on a 3rd and 8 deep in USC territory in the fourth quarter, and lining up Tyler Gaffney in the Wildcat early in the fourth.
- Calling timeouts late in the fourth quarter with Stanford deep in the USC red zone and plenty of time on the clock, nearly giving the Trojans a chance to drive back down the field with a chance to win.
- Putting out a gameplan that involved Stanford running the football and hitting the short checkdown routes for most of the game, making sure the Cardinal didn't do a lot to lose the game and take the easy things. Safe, and ultimately the Cardinal prevailed, but this game ended up being a lot closer than it should have been.
The first two issues aren't too bad. The third one could very well be.
Stanford is going to have to prove they can attack the pressure schemes of Oregon, and there's no way they can play it safe against Big Balls Chip. Oregon is going to throw the kitchen sink out in this one if needed to try and gain the competitive advantage. The Ducks feel like they're underdogs this one, and they'll play like underdogs.
Shaw needs to have his team ready to respond. Beating the unconventional gameplanner with the same ol', same ol' might not get it done. Not with these Ducks, not with these coach. He's got to be ready to fight right back, like he showed with that Wildcat pass by Luck against the Trojans. Chances must be taken if he plans to win this one.
Shaw is in his first season in coaching at the Farm, and not much will be known about his talents until Andrew Luck and the rest of Jim Harbaugh's players filter out. There's a lot on the line for a lot of people this Saturday, but Shaw is the one who might have the most to gain. He can prove that he can stand with the rest of the conference if he comes out and puts down an Oregon team that's dominated the conference for the past two and a half years.