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49ers 2011 Preview: Reviewing The Stanford Game Tape

Over the summer, nocal81 put together a couple posts looking at the statistical performance of Jim Harbaugh's teams at the University of San Diego and at Stanford University. A look at the numbers can give us an idea of some of the tendencies, but they don't always tell the whole story.

In order to get a better handle on Jim Harbaugh's recent offensive work, I took a look at three games from last season. Josh from Mocking the Draft has put together a video library from the 2010 season, which includes Stanford's games versus USC in October, versus Cal in November, and versus Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Josh created one video for Stanford offense versus opponent defense and a second video for Stanford defense versus opponent offense. The linked videos above are to the Stanford offense. They also are cut down to the bare minimum, removing commercials, most special teams plays and any idle time between plays. You can watch all three in less than 40 minutes.

In reviewing the tape, there were a few interesting tidbits that were actually reflected in last Thursday's game against the Chargers. Jim Harbaugh developed a strong passing attack at Stanford, but the passing attack was effective because it was built on the back of a dominant power rushing attack. Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and a little bit of Tyler Gaffney were the engine that made this offense run. Andrew Luck was important to the offense, but the rushing attack put Luck and the rest of the offense in a position to succeed.

Frank Gore has been the engine that has made the 49ers offense go, and it will only be more so in the upcoming season. What will be interesting is how well the team is able to mix Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon into the rushing attack. At Stanford, Wilkerson and Gaffney combined for 149 carries behind Taylor's 223. Anthony Dixon and Brian Westbrook combined for 147 last year, but that was due to Gore missing so much time at the end of the year. The previous year Glen Coffee and Michael Robinson combined for 86 carries behind Gore.

It is worth noting that we can expect to see a sizable number of pitches and sweeps. Under Jimmy Raye, we'd see a sweep maybe once every two weeks. While a sweep doesn't always work out it can at least soften up the interior defense just a little bit to open up the interior runs.

The other interesting facet of the Cardinal offense was how Luck rolled out fairly frequently. It was predicated in part on play action passes, but even from the shotgun you can see Luck moving outside the pocket on occasion. This past Thursday Alex Smith played all his snaps from under center and mixed in some roll outs. We sometimes hear how Smith needs to spread things out to be effective, but in this shorter passing attack he was fine coming out from under center (assuming he doesn't get killed by blitzers on a regular basis).

Along with the rollouts, the Cardinal offense made excellent use of Andrew Luck's legs this past season. The team used designed runs every so often, but they also seemed to include pass plays where there was a run option fairly early on. I'm sure of Luck's scrambles were his own decision, but in reviewing the tape, it would be interesting to know for sure how quickly Luck was expected to tuck and run on some of the plays.

Although Alex Smith is no Michael Vick in the running game, he is athletic enough to the point that he can be an effective scrambler at times. I'm actually kind of excited to see how Coach Harbaugh utilizes this aspect of Smith's game. The threat of a QB scramble can be just as effective as the actual scramble in softening up the defense a little bit more.