Did you stay up late enough to watch Cal play Washington State?
The Bears won, 60-59, and the two quarterbacks combined to throw for almost three-quarters of a mile through the air. As I watched it out of the corner of my eye, I kept saying to myself, It really shouldn't be this easy.
A slot receiver streaks untouched down the middle of the field for a 75-yard touchdown. A screen pass somehow ends up in the end zone 59 yards away. A simple inside run goes for 35 yards.
Did you watch Stanford play Notre Dame?
The whole time I was thinking to myself, It really shouldn't be this hard.
A false start is followed up by another false start. A four-yard run on first down is followed up by two deep shots that whistle 10 yards over and behind the receiver. A nice stop by the defense is followed up by a three-and-out before you can even get back from the bathroom.
Did you watch closely on Stanford's first touchdown run of the day? (There were only two). Kevin Hogan took the snap and shot around the corner on a speed option, darting into the end zone to capitalize on an Irish turnover.
But did you notice the left guard and the right guard step back, turn and smack right into each other?
Perhaps it's telling that one of Stanford's best plays was a busted one.
Chalk it up to good fortune that a bizarre week in the Pac-12 helped obscure just how rancid Stanford was this weekend. Oregon's loss at home to Arizona was maybe the worst in the Kelly-Helfrich era. USC continued to stumble over its own feet in a Hail Mary loss to Arizona State. UCLA's profound inability to protect Brett Hundley characterized a home loss to Utah.
After Stanford lost to USC, the offensive issues could be rationalized away by red zone foibles. Bad personnel choices, bad luck, etc, etc. Those explanations would have at least have logical purchase - Stanford did have 413 yards of total offense before stomping on the brakes inside the 20.
But today, the Cardinal stands 91st in scoring offense, just behind Arkansas State and just ahead of Louisiana-Lafayette. If enjoying company with average-to-bad Sun Belt teams isn't bad enough, at this point in the season, it's only possible to draw one conclusion about Stanford football: the offense's problems are and will continue to be pervasive.
If you take this entire calendar year of football, Stanford's offense has directly accounted for 13, 10, 35, 20, and 14 points against FBS team. Among those are losses to Michigan State, USC and Notre Dame. It's hard to win football games when your offense can't even put up a capable score in blackjack. Perhaps the bright side is that many of the home fans will get to enjoy the comforts of the San Francisco Bowl at Levi's Stadium.
Watching this football team on Saturday against Notre Dame, I found myself asking What does this team do during the week?
Execution was an issue on Saturday. Plenty of balls clanged off the hands of open wideouts. But maybe the bigger issue was that David Shaw asked Kevin Hogan to throw 36 passes (tied for a career-high) on a day that looked like a scene from Russian literature.
Does the Stanford coaching staff have a fundamental misunderstanding of their quarterback's strengths and weaknesses? Was the (admittedly ineffective) run game so bad that it needed to be nearly abandoned? As much as it pains me to say it, the Wildcat was working pretty well. The screen game looked okay. Hogan's touchdown came on the option. Christian McCaffrey made a nice catch and run for 18 yards (11 percent of the passing game's output). But this coaching staff doesn't seem to ever want to go back to what works. It will live and die with the base plays.
Shaw wouldn't do this in public, but perhaps behind closed doors he feels like Kevin Hogan isn't doing a capable enough job handling the offense. But then this thing keeps sticking in my mind: If you need a transcendent quarterback as a prerequisite to a successful offense, you are failing as a head coach and a play caller. In 2008, Florida won a national title with a bruising offensive line, a nasty defense, Percy Harvin running jet sweeps and Tim effing Tebow plowing into the line over and over again.
I'm not saying Stanford should win a national title with the talent they've assembled on the 2014 roster. But I am saying it shouldn't be this damn hard to score points.
At some point you have to understand your flaws, stop making excuses for not having a great quarterback or dominant run game and play the damn game. There isn't a single team in the country that doesn't have issues on both sides of the ball, and yet many will find a way to play around them. Stanford doesn't. They run a bastardized version of Andrew Luck's offense and challenge the defense to bail out the canoe the offense is busy dumping water into. Watching Saturday's game made me feel desperate enough to think that running an option-based attack might not be a bad idea.
So, I put it to you, Greg: Why does it have to be this hard?
Right now, there's only one conclusion I keep coming back to: It doesn't.