Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 3-4 Stanford

October 21, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 21, 2019

The day after Stanford’s brutal loss to UCLA, I realized that I hadn’t donned the possibly lucky Stanford wristband that I’d acquired at the alumni tailgate prior to the UCF debacle and worn during the thrilling victory over the University of Washington.

Was Thursday night’s defeat my fault?!

Anyway, I went to James Joyce Pub and watched Thursday evening’s game with a pal. Things did not go the way we’d hoped, to say the least, and the Bruins were able to beat Stanford for the first time since 2008. Ouch.

• The Bad

There was a whole lot of bad for the Cardinal on Thursday night. UCLA was the first team this season to beat Stanford in time of possession, 31:40 to 28:20; Stanford had led the league in the category, holding the ball 34 minutes and 58 seconds per game. The Bruins defense — which, as noted on Friday, was statistically the worst in the league entering the contest — held the Farm gridders to 198 yards of total offense, their worst output of 2019. UCLA’s previous opponent low was 373 yards of total defense allowed in a loss to San Diego State.

The Cardinal offense converted five of 16 third downs, numbers that exactly matched the unit’s dismal performance against Oregon. Stanford rushed 30 times for 55 yards for a season-low 1.8 yards per carry. The ground attack was obviously hurt by quarterback Jack West’s being sacked seven times for a loss of 34 yards. Those sacks, of course, were racked up by a unit that had entered the game with just nine QB takedowns over the first six games.

The Bruins gained 263 yards on 43 carries, an average of 6.1 ypc. The yardage and ypc were season-worst for the Cardinal defense and season-best for the UCLA offense.

But the real culprit here was the Cardinal offense, not the defense. Yes, the starting offensive line featured three true freshmen, one of whom was making his first start, and yes, the Cardinal gave a start to a third quarterback in the same season for the first time in 45 years. And yes, the offense was putrid, no matter how much weight one gives to these mitigating factors. The offensive awfulness is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

The Bruins averaged 5.91 yards per play against the Cardinal, a rate exceeded this season only in UCLA’s extraordinary 67-63 comeback win at Washington State University. Head coach Chip Kelly’s squad racked up 657 yards on 75 plays for a fantastic 8.76 ypp in beating the Cougars.

The defense had some breakdowns, but they also had some near-misses, notably on UCLA’s first touchdown. Junior outside linebacker Gabe Reid evaded freshman left tackle Sean Rhyan and got a hand on Dorian Thompson-Robinson just as the Bruins sophomore quarterback was throwing to the end zone.

The Cardinal D was certainly not helped by their offensive counterparts, whose first three possessions of the second half took just three minutes and seven seconds off the clock. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Bruins got their lone second-half touchdown after West threw incomplete on three straight attempts in a fourth-quarter possession that ended after only 23 seconds.

Still, given that the Bruins were held to 14 points in their first three games and 17 points in their fifth game, and were averaging only 26.2 points per contest coming into Stanford Stadium, I can’t entirely let the defense off the hook. Moreover, this unit let Joshua Kelley break not one but two 50-yard rushes on route to a season-best 176 yards. That comes out 9.8 yards per carry, mind you.

On the other other hand, I guess this could have been worse; after all, USC and UCF both put up 45 points on the D in consecutive games in September. So the Stanford defense’s play against the Bruins is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

There are exactly two highlights for Stanford that come up when I think about this game. The first was the Cardinal’s first touchdown, which came when a thrilling punt block by freshman safety Spencer Jorgensen enabled sophomore wide receiver Brycen Tremayne to recover a loose ball in the end zone.

The second was the penalty situation. The Bruins were flagged eight times for 72 yards, while the Cardinal were penalized three times for 14 yards. The latter two numbers were both season lows for Stanford.

Yes, two of those flags were quite costly for the Farm team. The first defensive offside gave the Bruins second and goal at the 4; the next gave the visitors first and five at their 30; and the last, and most calamitous, converted third and 1 at the visitor 46 into first down at the home 49.

It’s not much — but maybe it’s something the team can hang its hat on. The squad’s ability to avoid eliciting flags (especially by the otherwise woeful offense) is this week’s The Good.

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