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

October 29, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 29, 2019

The Arizona game marked the second time this year that a Stanford game was broadcast by the Pac-12 Network. Rather than attempt to find a bar or restaurant near my parent’s home that had the Dish Network, and hence carried any of the Pac-12 channels, I wound up listening to the KZSU broadcast of the game on my computer and phone.

(This was, I should note, partly because I took a long late-morning walk and then had a late lunch and then did some shopping, by which point it was 3 p.m. if not later.)

At any rate, Stanford wrapped up its victory right around 7 p.m. Eastern time, which worked out great for me!

• The Bad

As noted in yesterday’s writeup, the Cardinal defense was a bit shaky on Saturday. However, I was more negatively impressed by the Stanford offense’s second-half showing.

Stanford converted four of six third downs in the first half but went two for seven in the second half. The offense scored 31 points before the break and 10 after it. And they compiled 327 yards in the first 30 minutes but only 145 in the last 30.

If the Stanford defense hadn’t been quite as good as it was in the fourth quarter, when Paulson Adebo had two picks and Thomas Booker and Jovan Swann each recorded sacks, then the Cardinal’s late offensive ineptitude could have seriously hurt the team. That’s why I’m labeling the faltering second-half attack this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

Look, Arizona senior quarterback Khalil Tate is a tremendous athlete. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 205 yards with a pair of touchdowns as well as two interceptions. He also carried the ball for 103 yards on only nine rushes, including a 57-yard scoring run that made the Cardinal defense look extremely silly.

This is… not so good. Even worse, Tate was only Arizona’s second-leading rusher: Redshirt junior running back J.J. Taylor had 107 yards on 16 carries. (He further caught five passes for 53 yards.) This was the first time two opposing rushers broke the century mark against Stanford since Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones did it for USC in September 2017.

In all, the Wildcats had 222 ground yards on 37 runs for an average of 6.0 yards per carry. Had Stanford lost to Arizona, these numbers might have been enough to get the Cardinal rushing defense designated as The Bad. However, Stanford won, so I’ve taken the liberty of designating this very dubious performance as The Ugly.

• The Good

If you click on the photo embedded in this postgame tweet, you’ll see that there were many positive highlights for Stanford. The Wildcats were held to five of 13 third-down conversions; Stanford collected two picks without coughing up the pigskin; the team was only flagged twice; and the Cardinal held the ball for 34 minutes and 31 seconds.

Of course, there were a number of individual performances I could highlight: By senior quarterback K.J. Costello, returning from injury to complete 30 of 43 throws for 312 yards and three scores; by redshirt senior running back Cameron Scarlett, who scored twice and ran for 102 yards while averaging 5.2 yards per carry; by sophomore receiver Simi Fehoko, who had two nifty touchdowns and finished with 97 yards on only three catches.

And let’s not forget the team’s new special-teams mainstay, freshman punter Ryan Sanborn, who has been thrust into action in all phases of the kicking game after Jet Toner was injured in the UCLA game. Sanborn kicked five extra points and successfully connected on his first two collegiate field-goal attempts, from 33 and 21 yards out. In addition, he averaged 64 yards on eight kickoffs with six touchbacks.

And he punted five times for an average of 43.8 yards with a long of 52; three of his kicks went 50 or more yards. Sanborn had a bummer of a 31-yard punt at the start of the fourth quarter; however, he later booted a 33-yarder that forced the Wildcats to start from their 12 while needing to make up a 10-point deficit with less than three minutes to play. All in all, this was a fantastic performance by the freshman out of San Diego.

However, I want to recognize the players who made many, if not most, of the aforementioned highlights possible: The bedraggled offensive line, which includes a trio of true freshman starters. The offensive line — freshman Walter Rouse, freshman Barrett Miller, junior Drew Dalman, freshman Jake Hornibrook and junior Foster Sarrell — paved the way for 160 rushing yards on 31 attempts, a very respectable 5.2 ypc.

This injury-beleaguered unit surrendered zero sacks and allowed just one quarterback hurry and three tackles-for-loss (for only minus-six yards, four of which came on a single play). What’s more, the linemen were responsible for neither of the Cardinal’s two penalties.

Given the obstacles the Cardinal O-line has faced this season, this is a marvelous effort, and it is thoroughly worthy of being this week’s The Good.

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