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

September 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 13, 2017

I saw most of the Cardinal football team’s demoralizing defeat at the hands of USC Saturday night. I rendezvoused with my fellow Stanford alum Jim at Tobacco Road, a downtown Durham sports bar that I particularly favor, right around kickoff.

But we decided to leave shortly after my arrival: The joint was packed, and none of the TVs seemed to be tuned to the game we wanted to see. We hiked over to Bull McCabe’s, where I’d watched Stanford’s 42-16 home loss to Washington State last October. We sat down in front of a television just in time to see Stanford wrap up its first possession, which yielded a meager 36 yards and concluded with a punt.

The game was exciting — but only for a time.

• The Bad 

Look, when your defense surrenders 623 yards to the opposing team and allows them to convert 10 of 12 third downs, there’s absolutely no question about it — they’re going to be labeled The Bad. Yes, I know USC was ranked No. 6 in the nation and is full of talented players, and I know Alijah Holder and Justin Reid each intercepted highly touted Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold.

But none of that excuses the Cardinal defense for laying out a welcome mat for Darnold and his compatriots. Time after time, USC players penetrated the defense and kept on going. Stephen Carr ran for 119 yards on only 11 attempts, including a 52-yard gain, and Ronald Jones II had two scores and 116 yards on 23 carries. In the air, Deontay Burnett had 121 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches and Steven Mitchell got 94 yards and a pair of scores on just four receptions. All in all, it was a wretched performance.

• The Ugly

I want to focus your attention for a moment on the Cardinal defensive line. Against Rice, the group was responsible for eight out of 56 total tackles. Against USC, the group made 17 out of 75 stops. Unfortunately, one man — defensive tackle Harrison Phillips — was responsible for 11 of those tackles. It was a bravura effort by the senior out of Omaha, Neb., but that kind of imbalance won’t do against quality teams. Therefore, this unit’s performance qualifies as The Ugly.

• The Good 

Stanford fans can start making jokes about having another Cardinal be the runner-up Heisman Trophy candidate. Junior running back Bryce Love had an outstanding evening, carrying the ball 17 times for 160 yards. His 75-yard touchdown run represented the longest gain by any participant in the game, and he went for negative yards only twice.

As we can tell from Saturday night, that kind of individual showing isn’t enough to win games. Still, Love averaged 9.4 yards per carry, and that’s more than enough to earn him the designation of The Good from Stanford’s second game of the young season.

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