Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-0 Stanford

September 29, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 29, 2018

I watched last Saturday’s 38-31 come-from-behind overtime victory at Oregon at my usual Durham spot, accompanied by my buddy Jim. Things looked very grim at first… and then they didn’t… and then they did again… and then they didn’t. It was an astonishing spectacle.

• The Bad

Things looked very very very grim for Stanford during the first half, which saw them fall behind, 24-7. The Cardinal offense looked confused and directionless, while the defense appeared to be helpless to interfere with the Ducks’ attack. The team’s performance over the first 30 minutes of the game is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Stanford yet again had trouble establishing a ground game, thanks to a spirited and dynamic Oregon defense. The final numbers — 24 carries, 71 yards and a touchdown, with a long gain of 22 — are somewhat misleading, because a sack of and fumble by quarterback K.J. Costello saddled him and the team with a 19-yard loss. On the other hand, even discounting Costello, Stanford’s other rushers, Bryce Love and Cameron Scarlett, combined for 22 runs for 90 yards. (Scarlett had only a yard on three carries.) That thoroughly…mediocre…production is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

Despite the warts, there were a lot of bright spots in Stanford’s performance against Oregon. Kaden Smith grabbed six balls for 95 yards, while J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had four catches for 84 yards and two scores. Obviously those feats, and Stanford’s comeback, would have been impossible if not for Costello, who finished 19 for 26 with 327 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was stellar in the second half and overtime, going for 10 for 13 with 213 yards and two scores.

Oregon’s profligacy — 31 points, 524 yards — would seem to rule out praising the Cardinal defense, as I have the last three weeks. Instead, let’s focus on an aspect of that Cardinal defense: The unit’s propensity for generating turnovers.

Joey Alfieri’s electrifying scoop and score gave Stanford hope when things seemed to be at their direst. The fumble that Noah Williams caused and Sean Barton recovered with 51 seconds remaining in regulation preserved the Cardinal’s flickering chances. The fourth-down Justin Herbert pass that Alijah Holder knocked away from an Oregon receiver, which Alameen Murphy then intercepted, sealed the stunning comeback.

Stanford has produced nine takeaways this season, which leaves it tied with for eighth-best in the nation with 13 other teams. If the squad continues to wrest the ball away from opponents, the Cardinal is likely to prosper, and obviously the Oregon game would have been lost without it. The defense’s ball-hawking abilities are entirely worth of being labeled this week’s The Good.

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