Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 2-3 Stanford

October 1, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 1, 2019

Saturday evening’s Stanford–Oregon State game was televised on the Pac-12 Network, which is hard to obtain locally, I resolved to listen to the game at home. (Thank you, KZSU community radio Internet feed!) I spent much of the time scanning health-care documents from 2010.

• The Bad

Football teams are supposed to play hard for 60 minutes. But the Cardinal defense hasn’t quite been able to do that.

The unit’s best outing came on Sept. 21 when they held Oregon to 21 points. Through September, the Ducks are the 19th-most prolific scoring offense in the nation (tied with Utah State at 38.5 points per game); only Washington State (44.8 ppg, good for eighth nationally) is scoring more in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, the Cardinal offense was sleep-walking through that contest and only managed six points against the U of O, so that ended in a loss.

(Stanford limited Northwestern to a touchdown, but that Wildcats offense, at 15.5 ppg, ranks 128th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.)

Let’s look at the other three games. Stanford let USC score 21 points in the second quarter en route to a 45-20… well, a 45-20 rout. Central Florida scored 28 first-quarter points and 38 first-half points in what turned into a 45-27 romp. And on Saturday, Oregon State scored touchdowns on its last four possessions, including three in the final period, turning a comfortable Stanford lead into a near loss.

Granted, the Stanford team is young this year, with 28 true freshmen and 25 sophomores on a roster that’s sustained significant injuries on both sides of the ball. But defensive inconsistency has arguably cost Stanford one game already, against USC, and it came close to costing them another on Saturday. I therefore deem it this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Let’s talk about penalties. The Cardinal — as noted above, a young team — is averaging 6.8 flags per game, which is tied with three other squads for 82nd in the nation. The team has given up 53.8 penalty yards per game, ranked 57th in FBS.

Those numbers obviously aren’t great. They sure could be better. But yeah, they could also be worse. Given that this Stanford football team needs every edge it can get, these disciplinary difficulties constitute this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

In his second career start, in place of injured senior K.J. Costello, junior Davis Mills put together Stanford’s most complete passing game yet this season: 18 completions in 25 attempts (72 percent) for 245 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. This was the team’s second-highest completion percentage (Costello was 16 of 20 for 80 percent in a half against Northwestern). More importantly, it represented the team’s best passage yardage mark (Mills had 237 against USC) and its first game with multiple passing touchdowns.

Mills also had a nifty touchdown catch on a pass from junior tight end Colby Parkinson.

Most importantly, he got the job done when all the chips were in the middle of the table. After the Beavers tied the game with less than two minutes to play, Mills had an 18-yard completion and a 16-yard scramble to position the offense for Jet Toner’s game-winning field goal from 39 yards out.

It’s been tough to see Costello struggle this season, but it’s reassuring to see that the oft-maligned coaching staff has adequately prepared his backup. Mills’s outing in Corvallis is this week’s The Good.

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