Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 8-4 Stanford

December 5, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 5, 2018

As has been the case a number of times in recent years, last weekend I attended the Big Game watch party that was jointly hosted by the local Stanford and Cal alumni groups. This time it was held at Woody’s, a sports bar in Cary that I’d never been to before.

Typically, the hosts hold drawings. This time I won a Stanford car magnet. Even better, the guy next to me won a 2013 Rose Bowl Champions hat. He got it and said, “Great, a five-year-old hat.” His wife didn’t want it; nor did the first person or two to which he offered it. I happily took it, having attended the game, which I fondly remember! I barely removed it from my head the rest of the day.

• The Bad

Oh, Stanford’s defense. The Cardinal allowed Cal to roll up 155 rushing yards and 197 passing yards. The Golden Bears also converted a semi-respectable seven of 18 third downs and a relatively dismal three of three fourth downs. Stanford managed but a single quarterback hurry and only recorded four tackles-for-loss, three of which were sacks.

It’s worth noting that Stanford is at the bottom of the Pac-12 in terms of pass defense; the 274.7 aerial yards per game allowed by the Cardinal is 121st out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision games. In terms of pass defense efficiency, which the NCAA does not seem to track, the Cardinal ranks eighth in the league. Cal would likely have gained a lot more territory through the air in Big Game if it was fielding a better quarterback than Chase Garbers.

Normally, I would classify this mediocre defensive performance as The Ugly, but there aren’t many candidates this week for The Bad. So, by default, the Cardinal’s defensive performance vs. the Bears is The Bad.

• The Ugly

A week after J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s three receiving TDs tied James Lofton’s 1977 school record of 14 touchdown receptions in a single season, Cal managed to keep him from scoring. But at least Arcega-Whiteside had five receptions for 109 yards; his 2,129 career receiving yards now put him 13th on the list, just ahead of Ty Montgomery’s 2,125 from 2011–14.

Fellow senior Bryce Love had no such consolation. He ran 22 times for 77 yards with a long of 13; like Arcega-Whiteside, he didn’t score, but unlike outstanding wideout, he didn’t manage to pass anyone on the school’s career rushing yardage list. Love’s pair of catches for 19 yards left him shy of 100 all-purpose yards, and he lacked the burst and agility that he showed for much of the UCLA game.

Love’s team-leading 739 yards certainly seems pedestrian compared to the Cardinal’s top rushers of recent years. It’s the third-lowest total of the “Shawbaugh” era, higher only than Remound Wright’s 601 yards in 2014 and Anthony Kimble’s 509 in 2007, Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach. It’s perhaps worth noting that Love’s 4.4 yards per carry equals Wright’s rate and is only a tenth of a yard higher than Kimble’s. Further, Love’s six rushing touchdowns represent the lowest tally for the school’s leading runner since Kimble had 470 yards and two ground scores in the Cardinal’s disastrous 1-11 season of 2006, Walt Harris’s second and last as head coach.

Senior receiver Trenton Irwin also had a bittersweet afternoon. He caught a pass for 10 yards on the Cardinal’s first drive, extending his streak of games with at least one reception to 40; however, he sustained an injury that kept him out of most of the game.

Yes, a win’s a win, and that’s doubly true in a rivalry game! But it would have been great to see Love, Irwin and/or Arcega-Whiteside cap the regular season with at least one touchdown among them. That omission is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

After four straight games of passing for multiple touchdowns and more than 300 yards per contest, junior slinger K.J. Costello had a relatively pedestrian outing against the Bears: 237 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 18 of 29 passing. Still, he rose to third place on the school’s season passing yardage list with 3,435, ahead of Andrew Luck (3,338, 2010) and John Elway (3,242, 1982). He also edged past Jason Palumbis’s 4,954 career yards (1988–91) to claim 10th place on that list.

Stanford’s two defensive standouts were sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo, who had two interceptions, two pass breakups and a pair of solo tackles, and senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke, who led the team in solo stops (seven) and assisted tackles (six) while sharing a sack and forcing a fumble.

However, let’s salute the defensive players coached by coordinator Lance Anderson. Despite their previously mentioned flaws, the defense limited Cal to 13 points, including a garbage-time touchdown. Despite suffering truckloads of injuries, as noted after the UCLA victory, the Cardinal is fifth in the conference and 41st in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 23.8 points per game.

Granted, Stanford was facing the league’s least prolific scoring offense, and they benefited from a blown field-goal try late in the fourth quarter. But allowing 13 points on the road is always good, especially considering the injury challenges that the team has faced all season long. Stanford’s scoring defense is this week’s The Good.

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