Stanford football defeated Utah for the first time since 1995 on Saturday. The Cardinal will return home to play Oregon. The Daily’s Ariana Rollins, Jose Saldana and Sam Curry discuss whether Chryst earned the starting job, the Stanford defense’s ability against Oregon and whether the Ducks’ defense could limit Bryce Love.
After going 7-14 for 106 passing yards and a rushing touchdown against the Utes, Keller Chryst is now listed as the lone starter in the depth chart. KJ Costello performed similarly Saturday, going 6-10 for 82 passing yards. Did Chryst earn the right to solely lead the team against the Ducks on Saturday or does Costello still deserve some snaps to prove himself?
Ariana Rollins (AR): This decision is interesting to me, especially since they did have such similar performances – with Costello actually having a higher QBR at the end of the game than Chryst. I don’t know that Chryst necessarily earned the right, but I do see where Shaw is coming from. Chryst has more experience leading the team, and there’s also a logic component where you can’t really bench a guy for being injured – though I don’t know how big of an issue that really is for Shaw. However, we’ve seen Costello electrify this offense a couple of times now; I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinal fall behind and Shaw decides to put Costello in to change things up.
Sam Curry (SC): I’m just glad Shaw went with or the other, because having quarterbacks share snaps throughout the course of a game isn’t beneficial to anyone in my opinion. While personally I would like to see KJ get the opportunity to start Saturday, as I think he has the hot hand and the confidence this team needs right now, but I am by no means surprised at Shaw’s decision. Shaw’s policy is that a guy can’t lose his job due to an injury, and Chryst’s performance would have had to be an obvious step down from Costello’s Saturday, and frankly it wasn’t. Some coaches, like Jim Harbaugh, like to play the hot hand, while some others (Shaw) like to stick it out to show their players they don’t have to worry about losing their job after one or two subpar performances. We saw how long it took for Shaw to make a change at quarterback last year, and let’s keep in mind that Keller hasn’t played too poorly this season, all things considered. As far as I can see, Chryst will be the starter for the remainder of the year unless this season goes south quickly for the Cardinal.
Jose Saldana (JS): The decision by Coach Shaw last week was puzzling to me. Why waste possessions trying to figure out which quarterback is better? Fortunately for the Cardinal, the decision didn’t hurt them too much because Chryst and Costello both played well. However, the problem still remains – who should start? Chryst, given last week’s performance, should start and play the whole game against Oregon. He’s earn it, but I still don’t understand why Shaw wants to continue the quarterback carousel this Saturday. Chryst just showed he can play against a great defense when the offensive line is playing well (credit to Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren). The offense definitely has a higher ceiling with Costello, but Shaw has shown a commitment to Chryst, and I just want him to go with a quarterback for a whole game unless they are struggling.
We saw a #partyinthebackfield quite a few times Saturday night, as the Cardinal had six tackles for loss as a team. Stanford pressured Utah quarterback Troy Williams all night, which produced not only two sacks but two ill-advised throws that resulted in two interceptions. In other words, the Cardinal defense had one of their best games of the season, do you see them repeating such a performance against the Ducks?
AR: Though I have hope, I’m hesitant to say that they’ll have a similar game this time, mostly because Oregon has had a more balanced offense in the past than Utah does. Utah doesn’t have much of a running game, which allowed the Cardinal to focus on the pass defense. My fear is that this was more because of Utah being unbalanced than the Cardinal defense developing a sense of balance. That being said, Oregon is coming off of a loss where they were stuffed in the run, averaging 2.9 yards per carry, and their starting quarterback has a fractured collarbone, leaving them with a freshman starter who went 15-of-27. With any luck, they haven’t figured out how to deal with this shake-up, and Stanford’s defense will have a chance to shine again.
SC: Oregon running back Royce Freeman is a force to be reckoned with, and Stanford may have its hands full this week on the ground. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister, starter Justin Herbert’s replacement, had a rough week last week, throwing two interceptions and for only 145 yards, but let’s be honest, the Washington State pass defense is significantly better than Stanford’s and is one of the best in the country, so that sample doesn’t tell us too much about what Burmeister is capable of. While I don’t see a quite as stellar performance for the Cardinal defense happening Saturday, because of what Freeman can do on the ground, they’re improving each week, and have proven they are capable of a complete defensive effort, which gives me hope that they can stifle the Ducks in a similar fashion.
JS: You have to give a ton of credit to defensive coordinator Lance Anderson. The defensive line terrorized Utah’s Williams. The line has played much better from its performances earlier in the year but the line still struggles in run defense. The Utes were forced to pass often (40 pass attempts) but still managed to have 144 rushing yards. Ducks running back Royce Freeman is waiting on Saturday, ready to terrorize the front seven of the Cardinal. Especially with defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi suspended for the first half against Oregon, the Cardinal defense will need to be discipline on the power runs.
Luckily for the Card, Ducks quarterback Braxton Burmeister is just a freshman who was sacked four times last week against Washington State. He was rattled and threw two interceptions and led Oregon to 10 points all game. Forcing Oregon to pass is the key recipe for Stanford dominating on defense.
Oregon was one of the worst defensive teams in the nation last year, but this season they boast the 29th best total defense in the nation, and the 10th-ranked rushing defense. How does Oregon’s defense match up with the Cardinal offense, especially regarding Bryce Love?
AR: On the bright side, Utah’s defense is currently ranked 21st, and we managed to score (albeit slowly and mostly field goals) against them, and Bryce Love still managed to break 100 yards, including a couple of those long runs he’s become known for. Stanford has utilized play-actions effectively this year, and Oregon’s tackling had some misses that led to big plays for Washington State, which hopefully Stanford will see in film and exploit. However, Oregon had four sacks against the Cougars, and we’ve seen Chryst crumble under pressure in the past, so our offensive line will be crucial.
SC: My answer this week will be the same as it was last week about Utah’s defense: They haven’t seen a running back that compares to Bryce Love. Most of the teams Oregon has faced are primarily passing offenses, such as Washington State, Wyoming and Cal, so the rushing defense statistic is a bit misleading. This is a much improved unit from last season, but I don’t see them completely containing Love by any means. As it is every week, the extent to which the Ducks contain Love depends on the Stanford passing game, and whether Keller Chryst & Co. can keep Oregon from stacking the box due to a lack of respect for the Cardinal air attack. The Oregon pass defense has proven sturdy some weeks and porous others, so that matchup will be one of the most pivotal Saturday.
JS: Like Sam mentioned, the Ducks have played some horrid rushing offenses. Love is the best running back in the nation (207 rushing yards per game) and showed that he can still put up huge numbers against a tough defense. He had his worst performance last week and he racked up 152 rushing yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. I think it takes a Clemson- or an Alabama-type of defense to contain Love. Oregon has a good defense but it’s not that level of defense. Love just needs one small crease to explode through and his vision is getting better. The question is whether Chryst will continue his solid play from last week. Can he take advantage of the focus on Love? The answer depends on how the offensive line plays (like Ariana stated). Keep a clean pocket and Chryst can go through his progressions and find the open man.
Contact Ariana Rollins at arianar ‘at’ stanford.edu, Sam Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu and Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.