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

October 10, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 10, 2019

I had kind of a crazy night last weekend.

I watched the first part of Saturday’s Washington–Stanford game at Tobacco Road but deliberately left at halftime because of what happened the last time I’d watched the Cardinal play a night game at that location. I walked to my car, drove home and then walked to a sports bar near my house that I’d never visited, despite it having been open for something like two years.

I say that this venue was near my house, but in fact the walk there covered about three-quarters of a mile. I listened to the early part of the second half on my phone…

…and when I arrived at the front door, I noticed that this establishment closed at 1 a.m., which would be before the game’s conclusion. If I’d realized that, I never would have planned this visit.

At this point, however, I was committed. Then I walked inside…

…and, through my fogged-up glasses, could not spot a bar. However, after I made a very dumb remark to the hostess (“I guess you don’t have a bar section, huh?”), she gestured to — tada! — the bar section, which was located right in front of my face, give or take about 15 entirely unobstructed feet.

Anyway, I ordered a beer (and later some water) and watched part of the second half in this mostly empty and steadily emptying bar; all the while, I continued to listen to the game on my phone. And then I walked home, listening along the way, and listened to the end of the contest on my computer.

The Cardinal won, of course, so I guess it all worked out in the end.

• The Bad

Stanford converted just six of 14 third downs, which is bad, and was flagged nine times for 70 yards, which is also bad. For the year, the team is 36 of 89 on third down (40.4 percent), which ranks ninth in the Pac-12. They’ve been flagged 43 times for 339 yards; the rate of 56.5 penalty yards per game is seventh in the conference. Only Utah, with 44 penalties in five games, has been cited for more infractions.

However, the thing that’s plagued Stanford all season long is injuries. Quarterback K.J. Costello suffered an unspecified injury, likely a concussion, that knocked him out of the second half of the season opener and the second game against USC. After evidently banging his throwing hand against a helmet during the Oregon game, Costello missed the following two contests.

Backup Davis Mills played well against the Trojans and stepped up his performance in each of his next two starts, at Oregon State and against Washington. However, he left the Huskies game in the second half with an apparent knee issue. Now both quarterbacks are listed as questionable for the next date, a Thursday-night matchup with UCLA, potentially opening the door for sophomore Jack West to get his first start.

This is not even the worst of it. Stanford, which lists 15 offensive linemen, not including long snappers and tight ends, is now dressing just seven in that position group after senior guard Henry Hattis suffered a season-ending leg injury against the Huskies. That means the Cardinal will have at most two linemen resting on the sidelines whenever the offense is on the field. Therefore, the spate of injuries afflicting the team, and especially the O-line, is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Look, Stanford got off to a rough start, at 1-3; granted, this was against arguably the toughest schedule in the nation. But still — that’s rough, especially given that Stanford had five truly wretched consecutive quarters against the Trojans (outscored 42-13 over the last three stanzas) and at UCF (outscored 38-7 in the first half).

In the end, I’ll hazard to guess, the Cardinal running game will be OK; certainly we’ve seen it consistently improve in each game since the Los Angeles flameout in week two. But right now, even after gaining 189 yards against UW, Stanford’s average of 124.8 rushing yards per game is 11th in the conference, beating only Washington State’s 96.8. (Worth noting: The Cougars have rushed 89 times in five games, or 17.8 carries per game, while Stanford has 199 attempts in six games, or 33.2 cpg.)

Three teams are faring worse than the Cardinal’s average of 3.8 yards per carry: UCLA (3.7), Cal (3.4) and Arizona State (also 3.4); Colorado is a smidge better, at 3.9. But Stanford’s three rushing touchdowns are the worst such number in the league; Cal and Washington State are tied for 10th place with five apiece.

And yet redshirt senior running back Cameron Scarlett is third in the Pac-12 with 94 rushing yards per game. His yards per carry rate is 4.4, which ranks 15th; his two rushing scores are tied with seven others, also in 15th place.

On the other hand, Scarlett has the most rushes in the conference, at 127. And he has the most rushing yards, too, with 564.

There are a lot of things this season that you could say have been ugly for the Cardinal. This week, however, Stanford’s rushing attack — so good, and yet so bad! — gets the nod as The Ugly.

• The Good

I could praise Davis Mills here (21 for 30 passing for 293 yards and a touchdown; three carries, 26 yards). Or Scarlett (33 runs 151 yards and a TD, plus two catches for 32 yards). Or sophomore receiver Simi Fehoko (three grabs for 91 yards with a score). Or senior kicker Jet Toner (three field goals in three tries). Or the aforementioned battered offensive line, which paved the way for Scarlett’s and the team’s ground gains.

However…

This season, I’ve categorized the offensive coaching staff as The Bad Bag and the coaches as a whole as The Ugly. Moreover, the season’s first Ugly, perennially slow starts by Stanford football squads, was blamed on the coaches, although they evaded the actual label.

It’s now time to credit head coach David Shaw and his staff. No, they’re not perfect, and yes, the win over the Huskies contained plenty of blemishes: See those nine penalties, plus two questionable timeouts — one called on the team’s first possession and another used near the start of the second quarter prior to Toner kicking from the 2 (shouldn’t he have made it easily from the 7?).

But when Stanford fans panicked after the 1-2 start, the coaching staff had confidence in their personnel, their schemes and their overall vision. Now that the Card is on a two-game winning streak, it’s time to praise Shaw and his assistant as this week’s The Good.

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