Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 9-4 Stanford

January 12, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 12, 2019

I viewed the 2018 Sun Bowl at a Stanford alumni watch party in Lower Manhattan. Afterward, I played for a few hours at Modern Pinball NYC.

• The Bad

Yikes, yikes, yikes — Stanford’s offense struggled against Pitt, and mightily. In my game writeup, I detailed the unit’s futility: The lowest points, passing completions, aerial yardage, overall yardage and third-down conversions for the season.

There’s not much more to add, frankly. The Cardinal offense thoroughly qualified as the season finale’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Let’s take a look at Stanford’s defense. The Panthers had no passing threat to speak of, with sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett completing 11 of 29 throws for 137 yards. And yet Pitt managed to rack up 208 rushing yards on 42 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per carry. Senior running back Darrin Hall in particular had a terrific outing: 16 runs, 131 yards and the Panthers’ only touchdown, including a 47-yard gain that helped lead to Pitt’s first field goal. Pickett himself did a bit of damage on the ground, carrying a dozen times for 46 yards, among them a 14-yard scamper that predicated Hall’s scoring run.

And yet, and yet: Stanford only allowed those 13 measly points. So let’s call the Cardinal defensive performance in the Sun Bowl The Ugly in the season finale.

• The Good

Let’s talk some more about that defense. The unit had an up and down season, allowing 38 and 40 points in back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Utah. (I continue to maintain that the Irish loss was mainly a function of offensive ineptitude.)

On the other hand, the Cardinal limited USC to three points, the Trojans’ lowest point total in more than a decade. And Stanford also held San Diego State to 10 points, Cal and Arizona State to 13 points and Oregon State to 17 points.

And as previously noted, the Panthers only put 13 points up against the Cardinal, despite Stanford fielding a battered defensive unit. This was truly a team effort: 16 players had tackles, 12 of them had multiple stops.

No one recorded more than eight total tackles (senior inside linebacker Sean Barton, who led the way with five solo stops), the team high in assisted tackles was senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill, with four, and five players had exactly three assisted tackles. Redshirt senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke had a 10-yard sack and combined on a one-yard tackle-for-loss; junior outside linebacker Jordan Fox had the Cardinal’s other sack, and Barton, Toohill, sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo each had exactly one stop behind the line of scrimmage. (Okereke’s partner on the one-yard TFL was freshman defensive end Thomas Booker.)

The Sun Bowl was filled with offensive ineptitude and was decidedly not a pleasant game to watch. However, the Cardinal’s defensive effort was inspiring, and it qualifies as the finale’s The Good.

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