Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 3-0 Stanford

September 21, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 21, 2018

Thankfully for those in the Research Triangle, Hurricane Florence had its strongest effects elsewhere in the Carolinas. I wound up listening to the first half of the UC Davis–Stanford game on the Internet on a rainy (but not spectacularly so) Saturday afternoon before driving to James Joyce Pub in Durham’s Brightleaf area to watch most of the second half.

• The Bad

As noted in my game writeup, Stanford’s offense was uneven in beating Davis. That may have been most in evidence in the Cardinal’s third-down conversion rate: Stanford was successful on only three of 14 tries, a performance that will not cut it against nearly every other team remaining on the schedule. This woeful effort clearly deserves to be called The Bad.

• The Ugly

The Cardinal racked up 137 yards on 33 rushes for a workmanlike average of 4.2 yards per carry. Junior running back Trevor Speights had the best game of his relatively young collegiate career, gaining 87 yards on 11 runs and breaking off an 38-yarder. His senior companion in the backfield, Cameron Scarlett, had a not-as-flashy 30 yards on nine carries, including a five-yard touchdown run, while junior Dorian Maddox compiled 24 yards on eight rushes.

So far, so…uh, so-so. These numbers probably should have been significantly larger, given the caliber of Stanford’s opponent last weekend. Granted, superback Bryce Love was held out of the game, and head coach David Shaw inserted a lot of second- and third-stringers in the fourth quarter, but still…

The fourth quarter in particular was sloppy, as Stanford blockers had four penalties that negated running plays. Overall, the inconsistent Cardinal running attack is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

I’m tempted here to recognize J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, the senior wide receiver who had 36 yards on three catches, two of which went for touchdowns. However, this seems like a pedestrian output when compared to Arcega-Whiteside’s impressive effort in the season opener against San Diego State, so I’ll look elsewhere.

And once again, my eye lands on the Cardinal defense. Yes, yes: Davis is no powerhouse, and Lance Anderson’s unit didn’t even record a sack. However, the defense produced a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, made four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, defended 10 Aggies passes and hurried the opposing quarterback four times. The visiting squad converted only four of 18 (!) third downs, was two of five on fourth down and punted six times.

The Aggies might have been held to just a field goal but for late-game Cardinal offensive ineffectiveness and a Hail Mary at the gun. Even so, three weeks into the season, Stanford leads the nation in scoring defense at 7.7 points allowed per game (23 points overall) and is 22nd in total defense at 301 yards yielded per contest.

That’s pretty good — pretty good indeed, given how many questions observers had about the Cardinal defense entering the season. For the third time in as many games, Stanford’s defense is worthy of being called The Good.

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