Let’s make no mistake about it: the #19 Stanford Cardinal (1-1) face a true test this week in San Diego State, the defending Mountain West Conference Champions. SDSU Head Coach Rocky Long sits beside David Shaw on the Mt. Rushmore of underrated coaches in the country, and at 2-0 on the season his team will be primed to keep their record clean in front of the home crowd.
Stanford on the other hand will try to rebound from a 42-24 loss against #4 USC in the Coliseum this past Saturday. While Coach Shaw was right to acknowledge his team’s outstanding effort in defeat after the game, unfortunately, that effort was largely overshadowed by Stanford’s overall poor execution on both sides of the ball. Stanford gave up a comical 623 yards of total offense in the contest, and only managed to score seven points in the second half, which is a recipe for disaster in every cookbook ever bound and sold. Aside from Bryce Love (17 rushes for 160 yards / 9.41 yards per carry / 1 TD) and Harrison Phillips (11 Tackles / 5 Solo), the Cardinal didn’t have a very good day against the Trojans.
Stanford Quarterback Keller Chryst (15 of 28 for 172 yards / 2 TD’s / 55.8 QBR) is one of those looking to rebound against SDSU. Though it was certainly not his finest hour, it was only his first loss as the starting QB (7-1) on The Farm.
Adding it all up, there are three very distinct reasons why Chryst failed to make the big plays against USC. First off, the offensive line was never able to command the trenches. Even on the few big runs that Bryce Love was able to break, his speed seemed to create the hole more than a dominant push up front. When it came time to pass, Chryst was sacked three times on the day, and significantly pressured on a dozen other passing plays. The second hindrance for Chryst was the Stanford play-calling. The ‘run run pass’ approach flailed in the second half for the Cardinal. Against a defense as athletically gifted as the Trojans, and with Stanford’s wealth of veteran receivers and tight ends, I expected to see a much more diverse passing attack from the Cardinal.
However, probably the most relevant factor in Stanford’s lack of success is that the USC defense is as good as any in America. In their first game against Western Michigan, where Darnold struggled, it was the defense that took over and put that game away. They have the talent and ability to win any game on their own, with the luxury of a Heisman Trophy candidate in Darnold lined up behind center. While I fully realize that the season is still young, with what I saw Saturday, I don’t see USC losing to anyone this year. No, not even Alabama.
The Aztecs offense, in contrast to the Cardinal, did all of the bullying this past Saturday in a 30-20 victory over Arizona State. Senior Running Back / Kick Returner Rashaad Penny (5’11” / 220 lbs. / Norwalk, CA) went off against the Sun Devils, to the tune of 353 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Somehow more impressive still is the range of his three scores against ASU, as they came on a 99-yard kickoff return, a 95-yard run, and a 33-yard reception. The solid SDSU offensive line play had a lot to do with his success as well. They are big and strong across the board, and the Stanford front seven will have to rebound this weekend if they are to leave San Diego with a winning record.
As far as the Stanford defense goes, it was a humbling day in the Coliseum for them as well. The USC o-line looked like Stanford lines of years past, and controlled the line of scrimmage throughout. Though Senior Harrison Phillips showed tremendous heart in the middle, it was not nearly enough to slow down the Trojan offense. The linebacking corps and secondary will have to clean up their ability to shed blocks, make one-on-one tackles, and maintain pass coverage downfield if Stanford is to have a quality result against the Aztecs.
In regard to achieving that result, San Diego State’s Junior Quarterback Christian Chapman (6’0” / 199 lbs. / Carlsbad, CA) is merely a game manager at this point, and his 31.1 QBR against ASU is evidence of that. I predict that Junior All-American candidates Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks will bounce back with strong performances for the Cardinal, solidifying the deep middle and perimeter of their defense. Look for Stanford to crowd the box against SDSU, spy Penny wherever he is on the field, and force Chapman to beat them in the air. If the Cardinal can maintain that game plan defensively, the offense should put up enough points for a comfortable win in old Jack Murphy Stadium.
Of note, David Shaw and nine of his players hail from the San Diego area, to include both of his starting cornerbacks. So, the term “home” will apply to both sides on some level this week. Also noteworthy, one of those starting cornerbacks Senior Alijah Holder will play against his twin brother Mikah (6’0” / 188 lbs. / WR) for the first time, and could possibly even find himself lined up against him on Saturday. No matter the result, it is sure to be a proud day for the entire Holder family.
All angles considered, I like Stanford to get back on track both offensively and defensively this week. It will be a battle against a good football team, but Stanford wins 34-20.