Before last week’s game, I made an informal wager with The Daily’s Do-Hyoung Park that the Stanford offense wouldn’t complete a play longer than 25 yards against Colorado.
While Christian McCaffrey ended up narrowly handing me a loss in this bet by turning what looked to be a short gain into a 26-yard reception in the middle of the fourth quarter, I think the point generally took. The Buffaloes were able to contain Stanford’s running game to relatively short gains, and Stanford wasn’t able to open up the passing game enough to make up the difference.
As with any stagnating offense, this lack of explosiveness wasn’t due to failures at any single position. Not even McCaffrey, a former Heisman runner-up, can totally escape the blame for the struggles that have caused the Cardinal to basically stop scoring meaningful touchdowns in the last few games. The offensive line seems a far cry from the very good unit of last year, Stanford’s receivers and tight ends have dropped passes and the coaches have hardly helped things along with some fairly uncreative playcalling.
With all this in mind, it didn’t seem exactly fair when the team announced Tuesday that the biggest attempt to jumpstart the offense would involve replacing just a single player, quarterback Ryan Burns, with another, Keller Chryst. Burns was hardly the root of every offensive problem that the Cardinal had, and in a limited sample size he had actually looked to be a better all-around player than Chryst. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Burns’s skills didn’t seem to work within the framework provided by the rest of the team, and a lack of depth at other key positions left the Cardinal with limited options to change it. Stanford needs a quarterback to work with the group it has now, and I think that man is Keller Chryst.
In his limited playing time, Chryst hasn’t clearly shown that he’ll be any sort of major improvement. I’m in no position to disagree with the Stanford coaches’ assessment that Burns has been a more complete player in practice. However, Chryst has shown he can bring a few things to the table that could help break the offense out of its stagnation. If he’s able to execute them against Arizona this week, I think it could go a long way to fixing some of the team’s struggles.
Perhaps the most important item on Chryst’s list of talents is his ability to throw longer passes. Even when he was in high school, Chryst’s tape showed he’s capable of hitting receivers in stride, something that Burns struggled to do against Colorado last weekend. While this skill might have been redundant if the Cardinal’s offensive line could steamroll over the other team anyways, it might just be what the current squad needs. At the very least, it should help turn around Stanford’s big play problem and allow it to run new packages that catch its opponents off guard.
Chryst’s physicality is another trait that might help turn the offense around. Much of the Stanford offensive line’s current problems seem to be psychological — the group was dominating talented groups early in the season, but simply got used to getting beat after the disheartening loss to Washington. It might go a long way to helping the team’s confidence if Chryst — a self-proclaimed lover of “hitting people” — starts doing his thing this Saturday. While it’s hard to fault Ryan Burns for being less skilled in this area, I think it could greatly change the team’s energy if it sees its quarterback stepping up with big blocks on key plays.
It’s possible that Chryst’s ratings will never compare to some of Burns’. Despite his apparent proficiency with the deep ball, Chryst has incomprehensibly struggled on short passes, an area that Burns seemed to execute quite consistently. However, even if he’s far from perfect, I think that Chryst’s unique set of talents are just what Stanford needs to get moving back in the right direction. Chryst may not be the better quarterback, but he’s the right one.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.