Finally, bowl eligibility!
It took until November, but the Cardinal will be returning to the postseason for the eighth consecutive year. Stanford looked underwhelming at times in its victory over the Oregon State Beavers, and the performance raised more questions than answers at the quarterback position. However, the defense was superb, intercepting the ball twice and allowing just two touchdowns, one of which was on a fluke 75-yard reception.
Stanford’s run game looked like its old self as well, with Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love trading blows on the Oregon State defense. Conrad Ukropina managed to hit four field goals, including a successful 52-yard kick, which tied his career long.
But the most questionable aspect of Stanford’s play came at the quarterback position.
Keller Chryst looked more comfortable running the ball than throwing it. He mishandled three snaps including one for a fumble on the opening drive from scrimmage. Chryst finished with more carries than completed passes and more yards from scrambling than from the air. While the mobile threat of a QB could allow Shaw to bring back more Wildcat formations, as with Ty Montgomery from seasons past, Stanford looked completely inept throwing the ball when it attempted to do so, and not a single pass was completed in the fourth quarter.
The biggest concern is that without an aerial threat, Stanford’s play calling can become too predictable, even with the talent at running back. It is a small miracle that Stanford was so successful in running the ball given the other offensive struggles. But with running back threats like McCaffery and Love, running the ball effectively will remain an invaluable asset. The Cardinal recorded 365 yards rushing but only 60 passing.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Shaw utilizes Burns and Chryst. At this point neither QB has filled the large shoes left behind by Kevin Hogan, although if you combine the best attributes of both quarterbacks you might be able to.
Looking forward, Stanford has freshman K.J. Costello on the bench, as well as 5-star recruit Davis Mills arriving next year. At this point in the season, it does not make sense for Shaw to put Costello in and burn his redshirt year, but next season is shaping up to be the Hunger Games of quarterback battles. Stanford has continued to get recruiting classes that rival any school in the country. This makes Stanford’s struggles this season even more perplexing. While the Washington schools have continued to make significant progress from year to year, Stanford and Oregon have taken steps backward.
The Pac-12 North race is over for the Cardinal, but Washington and Washington State should provide tremendous entertainment in the Apple Cup in the season’s final week, especially if both teams continue to win.
Washington absolutely demolished a resilient Cal team last weekend, and it should gain more credibility in the new CFP rankings, especially after a loss from Texas A&M. The Cougars also ran at will in their destruction of Arizona. This week, the Pac-12 could have five ranked teams: both Washington Schools, Colorado, Utah and USC. Given the increased strength of the Pac-12 in the eyes of the Playoff committee, Stanford could return to the rankings next week if it has a statement victory against arch-rival Oregon.
Although the Ducks are a shell of the team they were last season, there is a lot of bad blood in this bitter rivalry. Oregon stopping a two-point conversion as time expired last season probably cost Stanford a shot at the College Football Playoff.
Stanford now has most of its problems figured out, in the short term at least. It needs to assemble those parts of its game into one compelling product against the Ducks. After Oregon, Stanford travels across the bay to Berkeley for another rivalry game. The last few weeks will prove critical in Stanford’s hunt for a solid bowl game. Even with the Rose Bowl off the table, there is a lot left to play for.
Contact Michael Spelfogel at mspel ‘at’ stanford.edu if you are interested in hearing the root of his pathological fear of ducks. Hint: It involves a pond, a pair of pants and a copy of The Stanford Daily (naturally).