Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 1-2 Stanford

September 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 20, 2017

With Stanford kicking off at 10:30 Saturday evening against San Diego State, I was flying solo for my football-watching this past weekend. I stopped by a downtown Durham barcade, where I chatted and played pinball with my pal D— and his girlfriend; I also set a high score on Star Trek: The Next Generation (836 million and change, good enough for No. 2 on the machine’s “honor roll”).

Then I walked over to Tobacco Road. At that hour, the joint was much less crowded than it had been the prior week at 8:30 p.m. A bartender recognized me and asked which channel the game I wanted to see was on; I told him and it was put up on a monitor at my end of the bar almost immediately.

• The Bad 

Stanford got off to a slow start offensively, gaining just 15 yards on its first 11 plays from the line of scrimmage. Three explosive Bryce Love runs — touchdowns of 51 and 53 yards and a 47-yard carry in the third quarter — accounted for nearly 60 percent of the Cardinal’s 254 yards of total offense.

The pathetic production was a team effort, clearly; as I noted yesterday, the offensive line allowed four sacks, not to mention two quarterback hurries. But it’s still worth singling out Keller Chryst for his performance: The senior passer completed nine of 20 throws for 72 yards while giving up the ball on two interceptions and a fumble.

There was a lot of speculation among Stanford Twitterers that Chryst isn’t fully healed from the knee injury he sustained during the Sun Bowl. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I do know that his atrocious passing against San Diego State is all too deserving of being named last weekend’s Bad.

• The Ugly

The Aztecs, whom ESPN reports hadn’t beaten a nationally ranked nonconference opponent in 36 years, scored their game-winning touchdown on an 11-play, 75-yard possession that consumed five minutes and 21 seconds of game time. However, the drive featured a 22-minute delay after San Diego State called a timeout.

The timeout wasn’t the cause of the delay, of course; rather, it occurred due to a failure of the stadium’s field lighting, which suddenly went dark right as CBS Sports cut away for a commercial break. The outage came with 3:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Trying to be optimistic, I tweeted that although star Aztec back Rashaad Penny was getting a long rest during the delay, “so is the Stanford defense.” I also observed that the delay was like a hockey game’s second intermission, except it was coming with around 4 minutes left in the game. (A little later, I tweeted that CBS Sports began doing its college football postgame wrap-up before its nightcap game had actually come to an end.)

When the lights went out, it was around 20 minutes to 2 a.m. on Sunday on the East Coast. The sports bar/restaurant where I was watching the game was winding down. By the time action resumed, around 2, there were probably only four or five other customers and about that number of staffers remaining. Mind you, the interior of this joint is easily large enough to accommodate at least 150 people without seeming particularly crowded.

Through no fault of the venue or its patrons, this was not a particularly rousing atmosphere in which to watch the end of the game, especially since I was haunted by the ineluctable anticipation of doom. And needless to say, when play got back under way, the Aztecs needed just six plays to score a touchdown.

So, yes, dear readers: This ominous game delay qualifies as the big huge definitive The Ugly from a game experience that overall was filled with ugliness.

• The Good 

Last year, Christian McCaffrey averaged nearly 146 rushing yards per game. The team’s second-leading rusher was Bryce Love, who went for 65 yards per contest.

Now, of course, McCaffrey is playing for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL. Through three games, Love is averaging nearly 175 rushing yards a contest. But the team has no complementary threat — no 2016 Bryce Love to Bryce Love’s 2017 Christian McCaffrey, if you will. The team’s No. 2 rusher is junior Cameron Scarlett, who’s averaging 26 ypg on the ground.

Obviously, that’s not good enough, especially with a passing game that’s been rather weak. (See above.) Love, I posit, is as talented as any tailback in college football at the moment — but he can’t carry the team all by himself.

Nevertheless, it’s worth acknowledging the outstanding evening Love had against the Aztecs. He gained 184 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries. None of his rushes went for negative yardage, and he was stopped for no gain just twice.

Yes, I wish there were more strong Cardinal performances to choose from; still, everyone should acknowledge that Love did more than enough to earn the accolade of The Good.

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