Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 7-4 Stanford

November 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 27, 2018

I watched the Cardinal take on UCLA last Saturday by myself at James Joyce Pub. The game was well in hand except, um, for all the times that it wasn’t.

• The Bad

Stanford’s second-half defense against the Bruins left something to be desired. UCLA piled up 336 yards in the final two quarters, including 311 yards through the air.

Wilton Speight, the UCLA graduate transfer who played 21 games under center for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, shattered career highs with 29 completions in 47 attempts for 466 yards. The Richmond, Va., had never registered more than 26 successful passes, his previous high number of attempts was 38, and his next-highest yardage total was 362. (Rather astonishingly, this was only the third time Speight threw for more than 300 yards over a 28-game collegiate career.)

The Cardinal defense also set a new season high in points allowed, following the 38-31 overtime win at Oregon, the 38-17 collapse at Notre Dame, the 40-21 humbling by Utah and the 41-38 shootout loss to Washington State. Defense-wise, this game had more in common with the WSU defeat than the others. The reason for that is two-fold:

• the defense enabled Stanford to beat Oregon, and

• the loss to the Irish was, I believe, largely the fault of a poor finish by the Cardinal offense and the loss to the Utes was mainly attributable to both an utterly horrendous start and a poor finish by the offense. (I would add that Stanford’s only other loss on the season, at Washington, was also largely due to a terrible start by the Cardinal offense.)

At any rate, teams that give up 528 yards and 42 points rarely win games, especially on the road. Therefore, I dub the Cardinal defensive showing against UCLA to be this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Thus far this football season, my blog has only mentioned injuries once, when I complained about the way the Stanford coaching staff has handled running back Bryce Love during his senior season. But as close observers of the program have noted, a spate of injuries have plagued the Cardinal throughout much of the season. (Listen, for instance, to current Stanford radio analyst Todd Husak at the 38:05 mark of Troy Clardy’s Nov. 1 Treecast podcast.)

In the second half alone on Saturday, defensive backs Frank Buncom and Alijah holder and lineman Dalyn Wade-Perry and linebacker Gabe Reid sustained injuries that were noted in the official play-by-play, while cornerback Alameen Murphy also had to be tended by trainers.

Husak and fellow radio broadcaster Scott Reiss discussed the spate of problems during the UCLA game. They noted that the Cardinal has been uncommonly healthy over recent seasons, and this year’s problems seem to be a result of players getting banged up on the field, as opposed to suffering from poor conditioning. Whatever the cause, Stanford’s struggle to populate its depth chart with healthy players this season, and the number of defenders who needed medical attention in Pasadena, constitute this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

There are a lot of candidates for this category. Junior slinger K.J. Costello completed 23 of 37 attempts for 344 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, which tied seven other efforts in school history for second place on the list of touchdown throws in a single game. (John Elway had a record six passing scores against Oregon State in 1980; the most recent five-touchdown game came from Kevin Hogan in the 2013 Big Game.)

Costello has now recorded seven 300-yard games this season, tying Elway’s 1982 mark in second place. (The record is held by Steve Stenstrom in 1993, a year that the defense allowed 35.4 points and 465.4 yards per game, the worst such marks in school history.) He’s in sole possession of second place on the school single-season passing touchdown list, with 28, behind Andrew Luck’s 32 in 2010 and 37 in 2011. His 3,198 passing yards this year are the fifth-highest mark in the Stanford annals, and with 4,771 career throwing yards, he’s a threat to pass Jason Palumbis (4,954, 1988–91) in Big Game. His completion percentage is the Cardinal’s seventh-highest ever in a season, at 66.76, and third best in school history, at 63.8.

I could also praise senior wideout Trenton Irwin, whose streak of at least one catch in 39 consecutive games is the seventh-longest in the nation. His seven receptions against the Bruins racked up a career-high 103 yards, breaking the mark he sent against Utah.

I could also honor Love, who showed speed, power and agility that he’s lacked for much of the season. The wonderback finished the UCLA game with 22 rushes for 85 yards and a short touchdown run. Love had more yards against USC (135), Oregon (89) and ‪OSU‬ (90), and he had higher yards-per-carry in several other games. Love’s 22-yard dash vs. UCLA was dwarfed by his 59-yarder vs. the Trojans, and he’s had at least three other longer runs this year (43 vs. WSU, 39 for a score at Notre Dame and 28 for a touchdown against Oregon State). But for my money, this was Love’s second-best game of the year, after his performance against the Trojans, as he showed more explosiveness and shiftiness than he’s displayed since his showing vs. USC.

However, it once again seems appropriate to hail J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had his second three-touchdown game of the year, after the season opener against San Diego State. The senior wideout, who had seven catches for 106 yards in the Rose Bowl, is tied for third in the school record books with four career 100-yard receiving games. More impressively, however, the Inman, S.C., native has tied James Lofton’s single-season record of 14 receiving touchdowns and has sole possession of second place with 28 career receiving touchdowns. The only higher mark in Stanford history was Ken Margerum’s 32 from 1977 through 1980.

Arcega-Whiteside is a talented receiver who can make fantastic snags on the run or jostle for position while awaiting high-arcing balls in the end zone. He’s been a reliable target for Costello all season long, and his terrific outing against the Bruins makes him worthy of being named this week’s The Good.

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