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Football round table: In an (Oregon) State of confusion

The Daily’s Daniel Martinez-Krams, Andrew Tan, and Shan Reddy share their thoughts about the busted Cardinal season

Senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin (#2 above) accumulated 59 yards on four catches, including a 33-yard touchdown, as the Cardinal came up short against Washington. (SHELBY SCHUMACHER/isiphotos.com)

Stanford football (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) has now lost two in a row after a comeback fell just short in Seattle one week ago. The season seems over already, with the final two games approaching rapidly. However, one more win will guarantee the team a bowl game, and there’s still the Big Game on the horizon. This week, the Cardinal receive a gift from the NCAA, as they play host to Oregon State this Saturday in a matchup that has the Cardinal as the heavy favorites. The Daily’s Daniel Martinez-Krams, Andrew Tan and Shan Reddy grow ever more cynical and ridiculous as the season spirals out of control, and share their thoughts on how bad Oregon State truly is, what to do without JJ Arcega-Whiteside and what exactly went wrong this season.

 

Oregon State is, frankly, a bad football team. They’ve only won one Pac-12 game (against Colorado) and have two total wins on the season (their only other win is against FCS team Southern Utah). Everyone in the entire world expects Stanford to win this Senior Night game on their home turf. What’s one way, in your opinion, everything could collapse for the Cardinal? Is there any chance at all they lose this game?

Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): In the words of the immortal Justin Bieber: “Never Say Never.” In the same way that I wouldn’t count Stanford out until the last second of each of their four losses, I would never put it past Stanford to lose to one of the worst teams in college football. Although, this game actually sets up really nicely for the Cardinal. On the season, opponents are gaining 267.4 rushing yards per game on the Beavers, and the Trojans just put up 332 with two 100-yard rushers.

If you tear a hole in a net, does that mean there are fewer holes? The Oregon State defense is so porous that this existential question comes to mind. If, somehow, Stanford’s ground game doesn’t show up – and showing up will be enough against a defense that bad – the Beavers do put up 29.6 points per game, and could make the game close.

Andrew Tan (AT): Before the season started, there were a few games that Stanford players and fans alike might have circled as easy wins. A home game against the Beavers? Psshhh, they don’t stand a dam chance. Stanford’s recent play, however, has cast this game into a shadow of doubt. The Cardinal have shown their true colors in the past couple weeks – none of which is the brilliant cardinal we are accustomed to – wilting against any team that has a semblance of quality on its roster. One thing we have been able to rely on from Stanford throughout the season is the ability to build the fans’ hopes up and then show them the cold reality: that Stanford is simply mediocre.

Fortunately for the Cardinal, Oregon State is nothing to write home – or to your local student-run publication – about. But here we are, discussing the possibility of another Stanford loss. In all seriousness, the Beavers’ only real threat is the NCAA’s sixth leading rusher Jermar Jefferson, who has racked up 1092 yards and and 12 touchdowns on 180 carries. He faces a Stanford rush defense about as sturdy as a pre-teen riding a ripstik for the first time and fairly ranked 49th in the nation, so there are yards to be had on the ground for Jefferson and the Beaver rushing attack.

Still, Stanford has yet to lose a game to a bad team (and Oregon State is truly a bad team as Daniel demonstrated), beating up on the likes of San Diego State, UC Davis and yes, USC, among others, and the books seem to acknowledge this sliver of competency, favoring the Cardinal by 24 points at home. Despite how dismaying the season has been to this point, I don’t see a way in which Stanford loses this game. It just doesn’t fit the narrative. Instead, I expect an evisceration of Oregon State showing the Cardinal faithful what could’ve been this season before making like gravediggers and letting them down one last time.

Shan Reddy (SR): To DMK and AT, I have one thing to say: recency bias. To say that Stanford’s football team this season has been entirely incompetent against decent teams would simply be false. They’ve taken down competitive teams in USC and Arizona State–both teams that crushed the Beavers earlier this season–and hung tough against ranked teams in Washington and Washington State, putting up a combined 58 points against the two. Stanford is solid, not remarkable, but not atrocious either.

On the other hand, the Oregon State football team is simply and genuinely pathetic. Out of 129 teams in all of college football, the Beaver defense ranks 128th. Need I say more? On average, teams playing Oregon State put up 536.9 yards of total offense per game.

Now, I would normally say that Stanford’s offense could still feasibly give the ball away enough times to make the game competitive, but Oregon State’s defense simply does not force turnovers, and ranks 127th in the FBS in turnovers gained. KJ Costello would have to duct tape the football to an Oregon State defender to force the Beaver defense to actually get a takeaway.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been officially ruled out of Saturday’s game. He currently leads the Cardinal in receptions with 48, receiving yards with 754, and receiving touchdowns with 11. Without him in the passing attack, will the Cardinal continue to find success through the air? Which pass catcher(s) will step up in his absence?

DMK: Stanford pass catchers have been a personal highlight of the season. Sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson, junior tight end Kaden Smith, senior wide receiver Trenton Irwin and (don’t you dare forget) sophomore fullback Houston Heimuli have all looked very good in the minutes they have played this season. Smith has three games with more than 100 yards, Irwin has one, Parkinson has caught three touchdowns, and Heimuli has literally never not scored when catching a pass. The Cardinal passing game has been electric recently, topping 300 in consecutive games for the first time in recent memory. Costello is currently amid the fifth best season in terms of passing efficiency in the history of the program.

AT: Trenton Irwin is a New England Patriots receiver in the making. I don’t have to spell it out. The shifty slot receiver runs precision routes, calling to mind the likes of Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Irwin doesn’t go down easy and will risk everything to fight for yardage. Along with the behemoth that is Kaden Smith, Costello should have enough weapons to spread the ball around and move it down the field. Look for Smith in particular, whose name is one letter away from a certain infamous rapper, to have a big game. In the words of said rapper, “I hope it doesn’t take for me to die for you to see what I do for you.” With Irwin and Smith not dead, god forbid, and still on the field, Stanford’s passing offense is still plenty potent and capable of dismantling a suspect Oregon State defense.

SR: JJ Arcega-Whiteside may be one of the best receiving deep threats in college football, but he’s by no means the Cardinal’s only star pass-catcher. Junior Kaden Smith currently leads college football in receiving yards by a tight end, well on his way to following in the footsteps of vaunted Cardinal tight ends like current NFL players Zach Ertz and Austin Hooper. Smith is looking like a shoe-in Mackey Award finalist, and may even cap off his season by being the first Cardinal player to ever win the award. This Saturday should be another opportunity for him to pad his stat line.

What specific aspect of the team this season (player/player group performance, luck, coaching, injury, etc.) do you think is most responsible for the disappointing results the Cardinal have put on the field so far?

DMK: Remember pin the tail on the donkey? You were blindfolded, spun around and led up to a picture on the wall. The goal, as the name implies, was to get the tail as anatomically close as possible. Finding a group that has disappointed this year is like pinning the tail when everything around you is a donkey and as long as you don’t pin it to yourself, you’ve found an aspect of the team you could make a legitimate case for underperforming.

All jokes aside, the reason the team has struggled in seemingly every facet of the game, as the coaches have been emphasizing all along, is execution. Watch over the tape from any of their game (yes you can take off the blindfold) and it becomes readily apparent that the execution is lacking. More often than not, on a blown play, a single Stanford offensive lineman missed a block, or a single wide receiver cut a step too late on the route, or a running back missed the hole by a split second, or the quarterback checked down to a wide receiver behind the first down line on a fourth and short. Defensively, while the D-line has been abundantly criticized for its impressive inability to generate any penetration, the secondary has not been forcing turnovers, without which Stanford simply does not know how to win. When was the last time a special teams unit sparked momentum with a big play? With struggles as resounding as Stanford’s, it makes sense that the onus is on the entire team. No one is executing. No one is winning either.

AT: Once print publication advances to the point that emojis are commonplace in print media, I will be better able to explain how I feel about the 2018 Stanford football team. Until that time, bear with me (red angry face emoji). The (clap emoji) coaching (clap emoji) staff (clap emoji) is (clap emoji) the (clap emoji) problem (clap emoji). The Cardinal have a roster chock-full of talent (muscle emoji) but have let their season slip away from them due to conservative play calling and a resistance to risk taking. Shaw’s methods have worked for years (old man emoji), but this year, inflexibility and a stubborn insistence on the system have put the Cardinal to the sword (tree emoji followed by red X emoji). Yes, the players have to make the plays and execute (check mark emoji) on the field, but it is the coaches’ responsibility to put them in the best situation to win, which has sadly (tear face emoji) not happened this year. I guess if you were desperate to put a positive spin (rotate emoji) on this season, you could say that the coaches have been exceedingly generous to their players by giving them the whole winter break (snowflake emoji) off, as the Cardinal may not even qualify for a bowl game at this rate (facepalm emoji).

SR: Any old-school football coach will tell you – every game starts and ends in the trenches. If your offensive line can’t block, it doesn’t matter how great your quarterback or skill players are. No quarterback can play effectively with nose tackles hitting his chest and linebackers drape over his shoulders. See Matthew Stafford’s play last Sunday for reference. According to Pro Football Focus, Stanford’s offensive line ranks 93rd in the FBS in blocking efficiency. For a team built around the run, an offensive line that can’t pave rushing lanes is not particularly conducive to success. This Saturday should be an opportunity for the linemen to get back in the groove and pummel an embarrassment of a Beaver defensive line that ranks 125th in the FBS in sacks. I’m looking forward to seeing Nate Herbig and the big boys up front serve up more pancakes this weekend than an IHOP on March 5.

 

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu, Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at stanford.edu and Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu

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