As Stanford University’s offensive production has declined, especially in the running game, in recent years David Shaw and offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard have brought up the concept of the “slow net” that has become popular in the Wake Forest. It is as if in every off-season Shaw says he will examine the program from the ground up and assess how it can be improved after a season of poor production with talented players.
Given that they were one of the five FBS schools that didn’t make a single training change this off season, it’s better if his new style is good. Early returns were positive, with a 221-yard dash against USC – the most since 2018 Oregon!
Let’s take a closer look at the players and the scheme that makes them work.
Stanford got some bad news this week when they learned Stead RPEJ Smith will be out this weekend against Washington. Along with QB Tanner McKee, Smith is an important part of this offense and a terrible loss to them. He will be replaced by RB Casey Filkins, a quick, cunning and fast player. The way he keeps his shoulders square and makes quick cuts means he always gets the yards available.
Tanner Mackie is the typical Stanford quarterback that you might recognize from recent seasons. Weighing in at 6-6 and 230 pounds, it stands tall in the pocket, and delivers hits at all levels. He has the arm strength you would expect for a body of this size, too. He can make center throws in narrow windows between the area defenders, before the receiver is open. He can improve his touch a bit, but he’s the classic “pro” quarterback built for the West Coast, and he’s kind of a quick-attack.
WR Michael Wilson is one of McKee’s favorite targets and is a consistent veteran outside. He’s in his fifth season scoring catching Stanford, a very smooth athlete with serious leaps in the mold of Galen Macmillan. Joining Wilson, in classic Stanford fashion, is an army of giants. Wilson is the group’s relative dwarf at 6-2, while second major receiver Jon Humphreys is 6-5 Junior who excels at catching the ball 50-50. Next is Brycen Tremayne, a big 6-4 with enough speed to be a threat on the field. Elijah Higgins makes a slower start to the season with just 66 yards on 5 catches, but has historically been the man McKee has consistently looked up to. In 2021 as a full-time starter, he had nearly double the following WR goals. At the age of 6-3235, he is solidly built and can play both outside and inside the hole. If those wide receivers sound familiar, it’s because they’re all fourth- or fifth-year players who’ve played a lot of football and frightened some good defenders in the UW over the past few years.
Finally, there’s TE Ben Yurosek, the 6-4 target who has the third longest play for Stanford this season – a 50-yard dash at the end around USC. Not only is he Until now else He has a large body that can secure contested hits, and has enough speed and dribbling to get around a corner and rush down the field if the defense isn’t ready. It’s more turning than most 6-4 tight ends and can make defenders make mistakes.
While the slow network is the big news from Palo Alto, this is still Stanford. Meaning, since most college football makes offenses simpler for quarterbacks, Stanford still puts a lot on the Tanner Mackie board. There are calls and decisions the QB has to make every time they get into the line of melee that most crimes don’t ask the QB to make (Kent State, for example).
When they’re not doing something very complex at Stanford, they’re going to make a slow network, identifying it by name. If you imagine the moment QB puts the ball in the back box – the net point – he reads the defense, deciding whether to deliver the ball, run by himself, or pull and pass the ball. While in most RPOs this happens instantly, the slow network makes QB and RB wait an uncomfortable amount of time to see how the defense reacts. When they are in the grid point, QB and RB will slowly take steps towards the line of melee while QB reads the defense – which is “Back exchange causing concern Between the quarterback and back,” SI wrote during the 2019 Wake Forest dream season.
Here’s a collection of slow network plays from Wake Forest:
Another typical element of Stanford’s past offenses is the insanely effective goal line fading. At least against USC, they’ve tried to run their singles jump ball in the end zone a few times and you can expect to see it more this weekend.
Stanford turned the ball four times against USC last week, including twice inside the 5-yard line. It’s stupid to point out that had it not been for those turnovers, Stanford would have won the game, but they were able to drive down the field on multiple occasions only to cough football before they could hit it in the end zone. A day of 441 yards with 33 first touchdowns is a good output, and while USC is hardly a defensive juggernaut, Stanford has more or less moved the ball against them.
In terms of stopping a slow network, defenses take the same approach as offenses. Just as Stanford University will use the slow net to confuse the defense between running and passing coverage, the defense has to use disguised schemes to trick the offensive line into thinking they won’t attack. If Washington wants to stop the slow network, it needs to find innovative ways to get into the backspace. Five sacks and 12 losing tackles by USC should provide hope that top UW players – who have shown an affinity for getting into the backfield – can get the job done.
We’ll see how well Stanford sticks to the slow net – it can certainly cause a lot of trouble for unprepared defences – as we’ve seen Wake Forest take advantage of many teams in this way. But I imagine David Shaw looking at the Washington high school game licking his lips as he imagines Tanner Mackie and his forest of trees bullying the UW high school game.
Lots of fans are expecting a UW blast, but I see this competition getting tighter with the Stanford pass game that keeps them in it. Go burly.