Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-2 Stanford

October 14, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 14, 2018

I spent the weekend of the Utah-Stanford football clash participating in a two-day Scrabble tournament in Wilmington, N.C. (More on that in future posts!) Come kickoff time, I was prowling Wilmington’s downtown entertainment district, seeking a good place to watch the game. I wound up at a wonderful bar called Rebellion, which I stayed at until late in the third quarter.

Once I’d finished walking back to my hotel and taking the elevator up to my room and figuring out how to turn on the television and tune into the game just in time to see Stanford rally late in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, that rally wilted in the final period…

• The Bad

After the game, I tweeted a screenshot showing the game’s team statistics on which three clusters of numbers were circled in red. My accompanying caption was “Statistically speaking: Yikes, double yikes and triple yikes.”

Those numbers were the Stanford offense’s third-down conversion rate (3 of 11), its rushing figures (42 yards on 28 carries, or 1.5 ypc), and its turnover tallies (two interceptions, two lost fumbles).

Those were all horrific, but let’s focus on the team’s fourth-quarter performance. For the second game in row, Stanford didn’t score in the final period and let up the equivalent of two touchdowns. (Notre Dame scored 14 points; Utah scored a touchdown and a pair of field goals.) In both fourth quarters, the offense lost the ball and the defense failed to record a takeaway (although Jordan Fox did force a fumble that Notre Dame recovered).

Teams generally don’t win when they’re tanking in the fourth quarter, especially when they enter the period trailing, as has been the case in three straight games now. For that reason, the Cardinal’s atrocious fourth-quarter flop is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

When the Stanford passing game is good, it’s so so good. When the Stanford passing game is bad, it’s ferociously so. When the offensive line gives junior quarterback K.J. Costello time in the pocket, he often finds a target for a first down.

But when the line makes a mistake or fails to pick up a blitz, Costello can be cover-your-eyes bad. Against Utah, Costello tried to evade a sack by unloading the ball and got picked in the second quarter; in the fourth quarter, a rusher dislodged the ball as he was readying a throw, causing a fumble that the Utes recovered.

Costello’s first turnover of the game was a different animal. In that instance, he locked on to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and his pass was anticipated by Jaylon Johnson, who returned the pick 100 yards for a touchdown. Costello often glues his eyes to his target, never looking away or pump-faking.

The junior out of Coto de Caza, Calif., is a talented quarterback, as shown by the 381 passing yards he compiled last weekend, but there’s definitely room for improvement in his game. Therefore, the Cardinal passing game is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

Stanford’s receiving corps is quite talented, and five of Costello’s downfield colleagues had terrific outings against Utah. Junior tight end Kaden Smith caught eight balls for 120 yards (long of 26). Arcega-Whiteside, a senior wideout, also had eight catches for 103 yards (long 22). Senior receiver Trenton Irwin had seven receptions for an even 100 yards (long 30). Sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson had just one catch, but it gained 24 yards. Similarly, freshman wideout Michael Wilson also had a single catch, but it was a 26-yard touchdown. (This was Wilson’s first collegiate score and only his second NCAA reception.)

In a game in which nearly every Cardinal unit struggled, and only the receiving corps could be said to have performed admirably. Naturally, they are this week’s The Good.

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