Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 7-3 Stanford

November 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 16, 2016

I didn’t have the opportunity to do much walking on Saturday due to my participation in a Scrabble tournament. In fact, because of this event, I was unable to watch a single minute of Saturday’s Stanford-Oregon football game — the first time that’s been the case this season.

I did get to listen to a few minutes of the football clash, both between Scrabble games and after the tournament ended; I also checked the score on my phone at a few points late in the tournament, when the game was in its first half.

I’ll probably recap my Scrabble tournament over the next week or two; suffice to say that it was a pretty enjoyable afternoon, all in all.

• The Bad 

Look. You know it and I know it. When a team wins, 52-27, there simply aren’t that many negatives to be found. Stanford did a lot of things well on Saturday in Eugene.

But looking at the box score, one thing jumped out at me: Penalties.

Oregon drew eight penalties for 77 yards, but somehow, Stanford managed to do even worse, getting flagged eight times for 85 yards. Against a better team than Oregon, that lack of discipline could change the outcome of a game.

Therefore, Stanford’s repeated infractions — including several personal fouls — clearly constitutes this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly 

As I just wrote, when a team wins, 52-27, there simply aren’t that many negatives to be found. But something sprung to mind almost immediately when I began contemplating this week’s Bad-Ugly-Good, and it ties into something I wrote in the B-U-G that followed the Arizona game.

Stanford is 7-3, but most of its success has come against teams that have switched quarterbacks during the season (USC, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon), changed quarterbacks during the game (Notre Dame) or both (Arizona).

There are a few asterisks here: Josh Rosen played the entire game for UCLA against Stanford; the Bruins only changed quarterbacks because Rosen was injured in a subsequent game. Also, as it happens, Colorado lost starter Sefo Liufau for a few games early in the season but managed to beat the Cardinal when he returned to the team in one of the ugliest games imaginable. (Of course, Stanford’s defense clearly played well enough to beat Colorado; it was the offense that lost that game.)

Washington and Washington State have ridden one quarterback the entire season; they beat Stanford soundly. This Saturday in Big Game, Stanford will face a Cal team that’s had 515 of its 516 passes thrown by one man — Texas Tech graduate transfer Davis Webb. As I wrote at the beginning of this month:

[I]f Stanford can’t find a way to beat a solid opposing quarterback, then Big Game will yield a very bitter result for Cardinal fans. For this reason, we name Stanford’s difficulties against established starters as this week’s The Ugly.

Those words are as true today as they were on Nov. 4.

• The Good 

Flip what I said at the beginning of the first two sections: When a team wins, 52-27, there are a ton of positives to be found. Let’s run through this week’s candidates for The Good.

• Third-down conversions: Stanford was six for 12. That kind of consistency goes a long way toward winning games.

• Keller Chryst: The junior quarterback had by far the best game of his college career, going 19 for 26 with 258 yards (9.9 yards per attempt), three touchdowns and no turnovers in his third start.

• Christian McCaffrey: The junior running back had one of his routine performances, which for 90 percent of college players would constitute an outstanding performance. All the Colorado native did was rush 17 times for 135 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, make five catches for 52 yards and return a kickoff for 31 yards. That came to 218 all-purpose yards, the sixth time in nine games that McCaffrey topped the two-century mark. He leads the conference in rushing with 1,115 yards (123.9 yards per game, a markedly better average than Washington’s Myles Gaskin, who has 1,003 rushing yards in 10 games). He also tops the league in all-purpose yards with 1,739 yards (193.2 ypg, substantially ahead of the 151.3 averaged by Oregon State’s Victor Bolden).

• J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: The sophomore receiver had the best game of his Stanford career, making four catches for 106 yards (a new personal high) with one touchdown.

• Michael Rector: The fifth-year senior receiver only had four catches for 45 yards, but two of those went for touchdowns — Rector’s first receiving score since the season opener and his first score of any kind since he ran for a 56-yard touchdown vs. USC.

• Joey Alfieri: The junior outside linebacker had no career collegiate interceptions going into Saturday’s game at Eugene; coming out, he had two.

• Solomon Thomas: The junior defensive end had only three tackles, but he recovered an Oregon fumble on an athletic play that required him to fight his way through the line. Thomas leads Stanford with 46 total tackles.

• Harrison Phillips: The junior defensive lineman also had three tackles; however, he accounted for two of Stanford’s three sacks against Oregon.

• Justin Reid: The sophomore strong safety led both teams with 11 tackles, 10 of them solo, including three tackles-for-loss. Reid, whose previous game high was six tackles against Washington State, is tied with Dallas Lloyd as the team’s second-leading tackler; he and Lloyd each have 43 stops.

• Turnover margin: Before their game at Eugene, the Cardinal was 11th in the Pac-12 in turnovers at minus-five (13 for, 18 against). A turnover-free performance by the offense and special teams combined with Alfieri’s two interceptions and fumble recoveries by Thomas and Sean Barton to bump the Cardinal’s margin to minus-1 (17 for, 18 against), tied for seventh in the league. Getting four takeaways without losing the ball is terrific, no matter how you slice it.

My friends, these are all very worthy candidates. However, you know the old saw: Football is a team sport.

That’s why I’m awarding this week’s The Good to the Cardinal offense as a whole. Stanford rolled up 540 yards, including 282 on the ground (6.7 yards per carry). As noted above, the unit went six for 12 on third downs and did not lose the ball; also, the offense held the ball for 34 minutes and 18 seconds. Taken as a whole, these accomplishments make the offense richly deserving of being labeled The Good.


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