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Football Roundtable: Will the Cardinal defense be able to contain the Aztecs rushing attack?
Junior running back Bryce Love (20, above) was huge in the first half (141 rushing yards and one touchdown) in the loss to No. 4 USC.(DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

Football Roundtable: Will the Cardinal defense be able to contain the Aztecs rushing attack?

No.19 Stanford football prepares for a showdown against the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday after losing to No. 4 USC. The Daily’s Ariana Rollins, Sam Curry and Jose Saldana discuss the troubles of the offensive line against the USC defense, players that played well against the Trojans and if Stanford can stop one of the nation’s leading rushers in Aztecs running back Rashaad Penny.

 

Early in the 2016 season, the Cardinal offensive line struggled to provide the quarterbacks ample time to stay and pass in the pocket. Against USC in the second half, the offensive line struggled opening holes for the running backs and protecting senior quarterback Keller Chryst. The Trojans defenders had two sacks, five tackles for loss and 10 passes defended. Will the offensive line be ineffective like last year or was the game against the Trojans just a bad day?

Ariana Rollins (AR): Although it’s easy to write off the offensive line after the second half of that game, I think more so than an ineffective line or a “bad day,” the problem was that the Trojans had enough of a struggle stopping Bryce Love in the first half that they decided to stack the box for most of the second half. While the Cardinal should have been better prepared for that eventuality, especially given our questionable passing game, I think it’s too soon to call the offensive line ineffective just yet.

Sam Curry (SC): Last season, Stanford ranked 103rd in the nation in sacks allowed, allowing about 2.6 sacks a game on average. While the offensive line’s performance was obviously not adequate to beat a team like the Trojans last Saturday, I do not think this is a sign that we will see a similarly poor offensive line this season. The Trojans were getting burnt by Bryce Love & Co. on the ground in the first half, so they decided to make the Cardinal beat them through the air. Keller Chryst, with limited time, was unable to deliver quick strikes to his receivers and the offense simply stalled. I’m going to write this off as a bad day against a good defense and hope the Stanford passing attack can keep defenses more honest in the future.

Jose Saldana (JS): Ariana and Sam have it right that it was more that USC threw everything at stopping the running game. Especially after sophomore left guard Nate “Big Island” Herbig and the left side of the line opened up a huge hole for junior running back Bryce Love to score a 75-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Love couldn’t get anything going when the Trojans put in more people to stop him which led to longer third down situations. The Trojans did an excellent job covering the Cardinal wide receivers which forced Keller Chryst to move through his progressions. He was slow at times moving within the pocket which allowed pressure to get to him. The offensive line did struggle in pass protection, but I think Chryst holding onto the ball and some of the play calling played a large part in the line struggles. The Trojans are a great team and it shouldn’t be a surprise that our offensive line didn’t play well when USC made in-game adjustments and Stanford didn’t.

 

Although many of the Stanford units struggled against USC, which player(s) surprised or that you noticed play well versus the Trojans?

AR: This was unsurprising, but Bryce Love played remarkably well — at least until USC realized that he was the majority of our offense. That being said, props to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for making some great catches. On defense, the main play that stood out to me was Alijah Holder’s interception, which he, more than the throw itself, made happen.

SC: If defenses aren’t allowed to focus all of their attention on him, Bryce Love is one of the best players in the country, and despite limited yards in the second half, I think he continued to prove that last Saturday. In the passing game, it was good to see Arcega-Whiteside picking up where he left off last season, and I thought freshman Connor Wedington, my pick for newcomer of the year, continued to show flashes of his great potential. The defense was extremely disappointing, but it was fun to see junior safety Justin Reid and senior cornerback Alijah Holder display their athleticism and intercept one of the best quarterbacks in college football.

JS: I’m going with a couple of special teamers. Coming into the game, it was interesting to see how sophomore Jet Toner would handle converting field goals and extra points in an hostile environment such as Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He didn’t get many chances, but he was perfect when he was out there. He made a 36-yard field goal and all four of his extra-point attempts. He still hasn’t faced many opportunities, but his unblemished record is encouraging.

I’m on the #JakeBaileyForHeisman bandwagon, and although the chances of junior punter Jake Bailey actually winning the Heisman are too small to perceive, it’s undeniable how valuable Bailey is to the Cardinal. The Trojans didn’t have a single punt or kick return in the game, and he would routinely pin USC within its own 10-yard line. The Trojans still moved the ball down the field, but Bailey really made them go the whole length of the gridiron to score.

 

Stanford’s defense gave up 623 yards of total offense and 307 rushing yards to the Trojans. San Diego State’s senior running back Rashaad Penny averages the most rushing yards per game (206.5) and all-purpose yards per game (284) and ran all over Arizona State in the Aztecs win. Is the Cardinal defense in trouble against the Aztecs rushing attack?

AR: My hope here is that given the similarity of the two teams’ rushing attacks, the Cardinal defense will be in somewhat familiar territory, but who knows? Based off of last game’s performance, we could be in trouble, especially against a playmaker like Penny.  However, there’s a pretty high chance both defenses will play for the run, and the game will come down to passing instead, in which case we can only hope that Keller Chryst is able to capitalize on San Diego’s less-than-stellar pass defense.

SC: I think Rashaad Penny’s performance the past two weeks could be seen the same way we saw Keller Chryst’s performance the second half of last season: impressive, but yet to be proven against solid competition. San Diego State’s first two opponents were UC Davis, who went 2-9 in the FCS last season, and Arizona State, whose defense ranked 103rd in the nation last year. The Cardinal defense won’t have to worry about a heisman-contender at quarterback this week, and I think they are better than they showed last week anyway. Penny has yet to see a defense like Stanford’s and the Cardinal will be able to focus their efforts on stopping him, so I think the Cardinal should be able to keep him contained for the most part.

JS: It was troubling that Stanford gave up 307 yards rushing to the Trojans but it also had to contend with one of the best aerial attacks in the nation with USC quarterback Sam Darnold. The Aztecs do not have a quarterback of Darnold’s caliber on the roster. While quarterback Christian Chapman is a solid player, he was only 9-of-18 for 73 passing yards versus a mediocre Arizona State defense. If Rashaad Penny is giving them trouble, then I would think the Cardinal would employ the same strategy the Trojans did to them: force the Aztecs to pass the ball. Where Penny could potentially cause Stanford a lot of harm is in the return game. He returned a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown against the Sun Devils, so Jake Bailey cannot slip and let Penny have a chance at a return. However, Bailey was excellent last game as all his kicks went for touchbacks.

 

Contact Ariana Rollins at arianar ‘at’ stanford.edu, Sam Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu and Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.