Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-5 Stanford

November 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 13, 2019

The Pac-12 Networks, a production and broadcast organization wholly owned by the collegiate sports league whose name it bears, has famously limited availability. The conference’s system of regional channels for the Bay Area, Southern California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and the mountain states (read: Colorado and Utah), plus a “main” conference channel, has never signed a distribution deal with DirecTV.

The Pac-12 Networks have only 19 million subscribers. That’s fewer than Fox’s Spanish-language sports channel and other TV powerhouses such as Great American Country, Justice Central, MaxPrime, Ovation Network and the Smithsonian Channel, according to SBNation.

When your team is mediocre, its games tend to be relegated to the Pac-12 Networks, which makes it very hard to watch said games. For Stanford’s demoralizing loss at Colorado, I met a buddy at a venue that doesn’t subscribe to the channel; we wound up listening to the KZSU radio feed through my phone on my pal’s Bluetooth earbuds. (We each used one of his buds — my phone is evidently incapable of connecting simultaneously to multiple Bluetooth devices.)

At halftime, we decamped to another venue where we were able to watch the end of the contest. Alas, the result was what it was.

Unfortunately, the Cardinal’s next two games — at Washington State, a team that owns a three-game winning streak over Stanford, and home vs. Cal for the 122nd Big Game — will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks.

• The Bad

Good football teams play hard for 60 minutes, take advantage of opportunities and finish games. Stanford may have done the first of these three things, but it didn’t do the latter two. It especially failed to seal a victory in the fourth quarter, as both the offense and defense metaphorically dropped the ball at crucial moments.

Stanford scored a go-ahead touchdown with 14:05 remaining in regulation, but otherwise the final period was nothing to write home about. As noted in my game recap, WSU held the ball for 12 minutes and 31 seconds of the stanza. The Buffalo entered the quarter trailing in time of possession by nearly five minutes; for the game, they won the category by four minutes and 14 seconds.

I shan’t belabor the point further. Stanford’s mostly lamentable fourth-quarter play is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

The Cardinal offense was ugly on Saturday. Yes, the unit outgained Colorado, 372 total yards to 358, and senior quarterback K.J. Costello (18 for 29, 245 yards, one score and one interception) had a marginally better line than his Buffalo counterpart, Steven Montez (20 for 30, 186 yards, no scores, one pick).

But the offense only managed to convert a paltry three of 10 third downs, and the ground attack generated a barely respectable 127 yards. Stanford started exactly one (1) offensive possession in the fourth quarter; it resulted in a three-and-out after seven yards gained and one minutes and 34 seconds taken off the clock.

Again, let’s not belabor things. The offense’s performance against Colorado is this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

Senior free safety J.J. Parson entered this season having participated in two games as a sophomore and six as a junior. He had four tackles to his name, two unassisted, including a solo stop in the Sun Bowl victory over Pitt. Parson, who started the first three games of 2019 and has played in the last four, has added five tackles (three solo) this year. But at Colorado, he made his mark by intercepting Montez and returning the ball 11 yards, the Cardinal’s longest INT runback of the season.

Senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts began 2019 having seen action in 14 games over his sophomore and junior season; he had seven tackles, four unassisted, all in 2018. He led the Cardinal defense against the Buffalo on Saturday, recording a team-high seven-high tackles (six solo). He has 51 stops (28 unassisted) in 2019.

Redshirt senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill played in 34 games prior to this year, recording 72 tackles with 11.5 tackles-for-loss (6.5 sacks) and 10 quarterback hurries. He was second on the team against Colorado with six tackles, all unassisted, including Stanford’s lone sack, for nine yards; he also had one of the Cardinal’s two quarterback hurries on the afternoon.

For the season, Toohill has been simply outstanding. He’s tied with Pryts for the team lead in stops with 51 (33 solo). The San Diego native also tops Stanford in sacks (six for 49 yards), tackles-for-loss (8.5 for 54 yards), and QB hurries (10). By way of comparison, Stanford’s runners-up in those three categories have three fewer sacks (Thomas Booker has three for 34 yards), two fewer TFLs (Booker again with 6.5 for 42) and six fewer hurries (Gabe Reid with four).

It’s hard to imagine where Stanford might be if Pryts and Toohill weren’t playing as well as they are. With apologies to Parson, this inside-outside linebacker duo constitute this week’s The Good.

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