Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 1-0 Stanford

September 1, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 1, 2017

I missed the early scoring in the Stanford football team’s season-opening win over Rice last weekend. I played (poorly overall, alas; details forthcoming) in a Scrabble tournament in Durham that day before driving to my friends’ home in Northern Virginia. (R— seemed happy to see me; then again, I think she’s pretty much happy to see everyone.)

I’d planned to listen to the start of the game while driving courtesy of the good offices of KZSU, the Stanford radio station, but every time I tried tuning in via my smartphone, I only heard music. Belatedly, I came to understand that the station hadn’t sent broadcasters (or even a single broadcaster!) to Sydney, Australia, presumably because of the expense involved.

So it wasn’t until after I arrived at my destination and spent a while chatting with my friends, and eating some of their food, that I settled down in front of a television to watch the game. By that point, Stanford held a 35-0 lead. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy these days to find video highlights.

It’s a far cry from how things used to be. As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, a nontrivial fraction of college football games simply weren’t broadcast at all. For the ones that were, you had to watch ESPN’s SportsCenter or college football wrap-up show in hopes of getting clips of the game. And if both your team and its opponent were unranked, even if you had a cable or satellite subscription to ESPN, you might only get a glimpse of a partial box score.

This modern life ain’t always so bad. Just sayin’, is all.

• The Bad 

You’ve got to struggle to find fault in a team that cruised to a 62-7 victory, even given the understanding that the opponent was rather weak. So with tongue partly in cheek, I was tempted to criticize Stanford’s abysmal 0-1 fourth-down conversion rate, comprised of an incomplete Keller Chryst pass attempt to Kaden Smith on fourth and 2 from the Rice 48-yard line.

But most Stanford fans want head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren to be more creative in their play-calling, and denouncing that decision would only discourage such boldness. (Obviously Shaw and Bloomgren are faithful consumers of this blog. Obviously.)

So instead, I deem The Bad to be Stanford’s unimpressive per-game average of four penalties for 35 yards. None ultimately affected the outcome, of course, but in a closer contest, a delay of game or holding or a late hit out of bounds or an ineligible downfield receiver could prove to be crucial.

• The Ugly

Look, I’m really struggling to find things to criticize. The team won 62-7, for heaven’s sake! But, well, since I’m undertaking this exercise, let’s put the Cardinal secondary on notice. Yes, they allowed just 10 receptions, but by my count, four of them went for longer than 10 yards. So that’s not great.

I mean, yeah, four of Rice’s other passes gained zero yards. And Stanford played a ton of second- and third-string defenders. But maybe they can work on their pass defense a little bit? At any rate, that’s what I declare to be The Ugly for the season opener.

• The Good 

There are lots of candidates for this category, obviously. But I don’t want to subject my delicate noggin to too much strain, so let’s go with the self-evident choice.

Stanford ran the ball 36 times for 287 yards. They went for five (five!) touchdowns with an average of 8.0 yards per carry. Yes, yes: Rice was 3-9 in 2016 and shows no obvious signs of being much better this season. But dang, that highly efficient rushing attack is impressive enough to win the honor of being the season opener’s The Good.

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