Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-1 Stanford

October 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 6, 2018

Last Saturday’s football-watching took place in Durham with my pal Jim, but at Tyler’s Taproom rather than at our usual spot. I may have been thinking of Stanford’s 2010 visit to Notre Dame, a game that the Cardinal won as I watched in that establishment. At any rate…

• The Bad

Well, there are a lot of candidates for this category this week. But let’s zero in on one thing: Third down.

The Cardinal offense converted only three of 13 third downs. Partly as a result, the Stanford defense had to spend more than 34 minutes on the field.

Eight times, the defense came back after a Stanford three-and-out, the longest of which consumed just two and a half minutes of game clock. Once, in the fourth quarter, the defense returned following the six-second one-and-out that resulted from K.J. Costello’s interception. Little wonder that Notre Dame was able to score immediately after that pick — Stanford’s defense, coming off an overtime road win at Oregon, was gassed.

However, I digress. Suffice it to be said that the Stanford offense’s woeful showing on third down is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Wonderback Bryce Love ran 17 times for 73 yards — respectable production against a fierce defense in a rowdy Notre Dame stadium. His average of 4.3 yards per carry seems respectable enough; however, if you subtract his 39-yard touchdown run, Love’s numbers show his inability to gain yards consistently.

That is not solely Love’s fault. I mean that in two senses, one being that his compatriots in the backfield — Trevor Speights (one carry, eight yards) and Cameron Scarlett (one carry, two yards) — also failed to accomplish much. But in writing that, I also mean that the Cardinal offensive line has failed to perform at a level that would regularly spring Love, Speights, Scarlett and others loose.

The line’s pass-blocking was also subpar against the Irish, as Stanford allowed five sacks. (Four of them went to senior defensive linemen Jerry Tillery.) These plays badly dented the Cardinal’s bottom line, leaving Costello with minus-28 rushing yards. The team wound up having 55 rushing yards on 24 runs.

In Stanford’s four contests with Football Bowl Subdivision opponents this season, the team has rushed for more than 71 yards once, a 159-yard effort versus USC. The current Cardinal squad obviously doesn’t rely nearly as much on the ground game as previous editions, but the failure to achieve anything outside of Love’s touchdown run hurt the team badly against Notre Dame. Stanford will be in a bad spot against Utah, Washington and a number of other opponents if it can’t establish some modicum of competency running the ball.

Therefore, the team’s ground game is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

It’s hard to find positives in a three-touchdown loss, so let’s focus on the season-long performance that we’ve seen from wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. He had his eighth receiving touchdown of 2018 in South Bend, leaving him one shy of his career high of nine from last year. The senior now has 22 career scoring catches, and he needs two more to tie DeRonnie Pitts in third place in the Stanford record books.

Four more receiving touchdowns by Arcega-Whiteside will match Troy Walters’ 26 career catches, which is second place on the list. That number of TD receptions would also leave the Inman, S.C., native in sole possession of second place on Stanford’s list of most TD catches in a season, ahead of Ken Margerum’s twin 11-touchdown campaigns in 1978 and 1980.

Margerum had 10 more TD catches in 1979; he holds the school record with 32 career touchdown receptions. Arcega-Whiteside will need a nearly superhuman performance to catch Margerum, but it would be foolish to declare the six-foot-3, 225-pound receiver entirely out of the running.

Even though Arcega-Whiteside finished the Notre Dame game with five receptions for a mere 30 yards, his touchdown kept Stanford competitive. Arcega-Whiteside is a reliable target for Costello, especially in or near the end zone. He’s a wonder to behold, and he usually makes the most of his chances. For these reasons, I hereby dub Arcega-Whiteside to be this week’s The Good.

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