Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-7 Stanford

November 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 28, 2019

I attended the joint Stanford-Cal Big Game viewing party for the fifth year in a row. Suffice to say that the result was not to my liking.

“I can’t believe we have the Axe!” one Cal backer exclaimed joyfully upon the conclusion of the Cardinal’s nine-year victory streak over the Bears.

I had to wait rather a while to pay my bill, which didn’t put me in a good mood.

• The Bad

I was struck after the end of Big Game by the similarities between Stanford’s second half at Washington State and its second half vs. the Bears. Junior quarterback Davis Mills threw two picks in both cases, once per game near the opposing goal line. The Cardinal’s opponents had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in both cases. And the opposing defense turned the Farm team away on fourth downs with less than two minutes to play in both contests.

There were also parallels between Big Game and the loss at Colorado, in that the Cardinal defense just couldn’t get off the field in the final period. Like the Bears, the Buffaloes mounted a pair of scoring drives (two field goals in the case of the contest in Boulder) to take a late lead.

Simply put, Stanford didn’t play well in the fourth quarter against Cal. This has been a recurring problem in the three November losses this season, and it is this week’s The Bad.

• The Ugly

On the one hand, Mills has completed a third of his pass attempts (130 of 195) for 1,677 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games. Those are decent numbers.

On the other hand, Mills has had a penchant for turning over the ball repeatedly in situations where the Cardinal had little margin for error. As mentioned above, he threw a pair of picks at Wazzu, and he had two more on Saturday. So there’s some good and some bad about his overall play.

Mills’s final line in the Big Game: 26 of 35, 283 yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, one touchdown and the aforementioned dual interceptions.

Again, there’s some good there as well as some bad. I deem Mills’s play, both over the entire season and on Saturday, to be this week’s The Ugly.

• The Good

This is… quite a difficult category to fill. As against Washington State, the Cardinal receiving corps played decently, but no one really stood out. The leading pass catcher was Michael Wilson with six receptions for 63 yards; that’s just OK. I could recognize senior Donald Stewart, for making his first catch in more than two years, and his first collegiate touchdown — a 40-yard score on a beautifully designed and executed play. But that doesn’t strike me as being the way to go.

I also thought about giving the nod to the Cardinal defense’s collective performance through three quarters, because the unit allowed only 10 points. But that didn’t seem proper, either: To that point in the game, Cal owned a nearly five-minute time-of-possession edge, had run for 126 yards on 30 rushes (4.2 yards per carry) and had converted five of 11 third-down tries. These figures are… mediocre at best.

Instead, let’s take a look at Andrew Pryts’s accomplishments on the afternoon. The senior inside linebacker, who entered the game as the team leader with 56 total tackles, led Stanford’s defense with 10 stops. His six solo tackles against the Bears also moved him past fifth-year senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill for a team-high 36 unassisted tackles for the season.

On a day where there wasn’t much for Stanford faithful to celebrate, Pryts helped limit the damage. His effort against Stanford’s archrival is this week’s The Good.

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