Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of Stanford football at the close of the regular season

November 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 30, 2016

Stanford’s season finale against Rice was only the second game of 2016, following the team’s 52-27 win at Oregon that largely coincided with my Scrabble tournament, which I didn’t get to watch on television as it took place. Because the game was carried on the Pac-12 Network, and because many TV carriers don’t have the channel, it can be hard to find places that show Pac-12 programming.

Dish does carry the Pac-12 Network nationally — but which bars are Dish subscribers? Ultimately, because I wasn’t in my home territory of Durham, I didn’t find one.

• The Bad 

Although Stanford concluded the regular season on a five-game gave winning streak, which pushed its record to 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, the team had another less savory string going on in November: Three straight games in which the team was penalized either seven or eight times.

As was the case in the Cal game, these were not major penalties. But still, getting seven or eight flags thrown is generally not conducive to winning football. Therefore, for the third week in a row, I once again designate the team’s propensity for incurring fouls as The Bad.

• The Ugly

I’m going to go with an offensive line twofer here.

Stanford’s O-line surrendered three sacks to Rice. The first sack led to Conrad Ukropina’s second field goal of the game, late in the first quarter. The second sack came early in the third period and forced the Cardinal to punt. And the third sack came in garbage time in the fourth quarter, during senior quarterback Ryan Burns’s second series of the game; this also led to a Stanford punt.

Three sacks is not terrible, and the outcome of the game certainly went the right way for Cardinal nation. But that’s more than Rice’s season-long average (1.75 sacks per game), so I’m comfortable labeling this lapse by Stanford’s blockers to be The Ugly for the regular-season finale.

• The Good 

Once again, there are plenty of candidates to get this label this week. As noted in Monday’s post, Christian McCaffrey turned in one of his ordinary extraordinary performances, rushing for 204 yards and finishing the night with 271 all-purpose yards on 36 touches. It was his second straight game breaking the 200-yard mark, and his fifth game this season running for 169 or more yards. McCaffrey now leads the nation in all-purpose yards (2,327) and in all-purpose yards per game (211.55).

Quarterback Keller Chryst didn’t throw often, and he threw deep even less frequently, but his final numbers were solid: 11 for 16 with 154 yards (9.6 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and no turnovers. As a starter, he’s thrown seven 16 touchdowns against a single interception. (Chryst tossed a pick when he subbed in for Burns during the Washington State game but didn’t record his first scoring pass until his first game as a starter, at Arizona.)

Although Bryce Love was overshadowed by McCaffrey, he had another quietly fantastic performance: seven carries, 111 yards (an outstanding 15.9 yards per rush!) and a 50-yard touchdown. If McCaffrey departs for the NFL this off-season, Love will be the Cardinal’s leading returning rusher. Thanks to his terrific outing at Notre Dame (23 runs, 129 yards and a touchdown), we know Love can be a mainstay at running back if that’s what the coaches want. This year, he saved the best for last: Love’s five top rushing totals coming over the last seven games of the season.

I could label any of these men’s performances against Rice The Good. Instead, however, I’m going to go back to the offensive line, the unit that has paved the way for Chryst, McCaffrey, Love and the other skill-position players to roll up yards and touchdowns.

The O-line was inconsistent in the road loss at Washington and in the home losses to WSU and Colorado. But the unit has gelled since the debacle against the Buffaloes, enabling Stanford to rush for at least 237 yards per contest over the team’s final five seven games. The Cardinal broke the 300-yard mark on three occasions during the home stretch.

The Cardinal linemen also buckled down in their pass-blocking, too. After allowing 19 sacks of Burns and two of Chryst through the Colorado game, the unit gave up four sacks of Chryst during his debut as a starter. After that, however, the blockers got their act together. They gave up just one sack per game against Oregon State, Oregon and Cal before (as noted in The Ugly) letting the Owls tackle the quarterback three times.

Overall, the offensive line has played tremendously and with terrific consistency as the season came to an end. The unit will likely return three starters in 2017, which should be an excellent foundation for Chryst, Love and (if he returns) McCaffrey. Therefore, I’m extremely pleased to declare that the O-line’s play against Rice very much deserves the label of The Good.

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