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Football roundtable: Can Cardinal match Big Game record?
Oregon native Joey Alfieri gave Stanford two turnovers against the Ducks, helping the Stanford offense total 52 points overall against Oregon. First, Alfieri grabbed a tipped ball from safety Dallas Lloyd in the end zone, and he followed it up with another interception on a deep pass intended for Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt. (JOHN TODD/isiphotos.com)

Football roundtable: Can Cardinal match Big Game record?

No. 24 Stanford prepares for the newest edition of Big Game after a successful trip to Oregon, in which the Cardinal offense finally had the explosion it had anticipated all season long. Football writers Jamie MacFarlane, Lorenzo Rosas and Samuel Curry discuss whether Stanford can continue its success and retain the Axe for the seventh year in a row.

 

Stanford’s offense seems to be on a roll following a 52-point performance against a weakened Oregon defense, highlighted by a balanced offense with three passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. As Stanford prepares to take on a struggling Cal defense, which has allowed 540.5 total offensive yards per game, will Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst carry his momentum into Big Game and lead a balanced offense, or will Stanford once again return to the dynamic running corps to power its attack?

Jamie MacFarlane (JM): Fifty-two points is nothing to scoff at, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Oregon has given up more than 40 points six times now. Fortunately, Cal has allowed over 40 points in eight(!) of its games, so the offense will definitely continue to roll for this week and the next (Rice is nearly equally as bad on defense).

Chryst made a couple of beautiful throws last week. His first touchdown pass was threaded between two defenders, and his second touchdown pass was thrown to the pylon so only his receiver could get it. And there’s a lot to be said for the boost in confidence Chryst must be feeling and the possibility that Stanford does in fact have a balanced offense now.

I think Stanford has to keep throwing the ball because it creates space for McCaffrey and Love, but I’m not yet ready to say that Stanford has a balanced offense or an elite passing game. There’s progress in that direction and I think Shaw continues to allow Chryst to grow this week against a weak Cal defense.

Lorenzo Rosas (LR): Against the Oregon Ducks, Stanford finally showed a semblance of balanced offense, powered by a standout 258-yard performance in the air from starter Chryst en route to his three touchdowns on the night. However, this performance came against an extremely weak Ducks defense that seemed completely incapable of dealing with any rushing attack from the Cardinal offense on the night. Throughout last Saturday’s contest in Eugene, the Oregon defense continually allowed gigantic holes in the front seven and the secondary that would make any offense look explosive, let alone last year’s Heisman runner-up.

Going into rivalry week at Berkeley, I don’t see Stanford slowing its offense down, mainly because the Golden Bears defense promises nothing more to offer than the Ducks defense of last week. Cal currently allows 283 rushing yards per game — nearly 100 more yards per game than the Stanford offense currently averages on the season — and I don’t imagine the Golden Bears’ front seven fixing enough of its problems in one week in order to stop the dual-headed running back monster of McCaffrey and Love.

Consequently, quarterback Keller Chryst will enjoy another week in which his passing offense can simply complement the strong running corps en route to another comfortable victory. Thus, while the Stanford offense should see no dip in performance this weekend, the even weaker Cal rush defense only makes Stanford’s passing attack more complementary this weekend.

Samuel Curry (SC): The weakness of the Oregon defense doesn’t take away from how physically impressive some of Chryst’s throws were, and he started to show decisiveness that we haven’t seen from a Stanford quarterback since perhaps the game-winning drive Burns put together in the UCLA game. Chryst has had all the physical tools and all the pieces around him to be successful, and now he has the confidence. Furthermore, why would he lose that confidence for this game? Yeah, a little pressure will come from this being his first Big Game, especially with it being at Berkeley, but this is a California defense that is giving up the most points per game in the country, and he just went into a very loud Autzen Stadium and made it look pretty easy. This week looks to be less of a challenge than last week in many ways, so I don’t expect to see anything different from Chryst as long as David Shaw keeps calling plays for him.

 

While the Cardinal successfully marched to victory last week at Autzen, the defense gave up 27 points to the Ducks’ offense, the first time Stanford allowed more than 15 points in over a month. Moving onto Big Game Week, Stanford’s defense faces Golden Bears quarterback Davis Webb, who leads a passing offense averaging over 300 yards per game in addition to throwing 33 touchdowns this season. Will Stanford face troubles against its northern California rivals’ passing potency, or do you see the Cardinal taking care of business defensively once again?

JM: I’m torn here. On the one hand, I feel like Stanford was missing safety Zach Hoffpauir last week, and stud D-lineman Solomon Thomas left the game early after an ankle injury. Although he was cleared to return, he stayed out because the score was lopsided, and the Ducks scored 14 points in the final quarter when the game was already decided. The other part of me recognizes that linebacker Joey Alfieri had two tremendous interceptions in the end zone that easily could’ve gone the other way for touchdowns for the Ducks, so Stanford’s D maybe should’ve given up more points than it did.

I think overall, though, that Stanford’s defense isn’t in too much trouble. Oregon always has great playmakers, and giving up 27 points to the Ducks is something that can happen to almost anybody. This week, the Cardinal will likely give up more than 15 points, maybe even 30 or 35, because Cal’s offense certainly is potent, and even if Stanford’s defense can only hold the Bears to 30 points, I still think Stanford wins because the offense should have a field day. So in short, it may not be perfect this week, but I think Stanford’s defense makes enough plays and holds its own against a very good offense.

LR: Once again, I compare Cal’s offensive threats to Oregon last week. No matter how Oregon performs on a season, the Ducks offense always threatens any defense on any given week, and last week, Justin Herbert led Oregon to break Stanford’s 15-or-fewer defensive consecutive streak with 272 yards and two passing touchdowns, including a beautiful 41-yard pass to senior tight end Johnny Mundt. Despite the score being inflated following garbage-time touchdowns, against another (perhaps better) passing threat in Davis Webb, I see the Cardinal allowing another big passing-yard total as Cal relies on its passing attack for offensive momentum.

However, the key for Stanford will be the turnovers generated and how the offense controls the possession of the game. Against Herbert, Lance Anderson and his strong secondary behind sophomore corner Quenton Meeks racked up two key interceptions in addition to their two fumble recoveries, allowing the Stanford offense to take a lion’s share of the possession. Against another strong offense in Cal, the Stanford defense needs to remain focused on taking their opportunities to get off the field and allow David Shaw and the powerful run game to control both the tempo and the possession of the game in order to prevent an absolute shootout come Saturday.

SC:  The 27 points given up against Oregon doesn’t concern me. I felt like the Stanford defense, despite giving up 500 yards, did a great job of bending but not breaking and keeping the opposing team out of the end zone when it counted for yet another week. If we’re going to compare it with the defense’s performance recently, sure, the game was statistically subpar. But even if those last two touchdowns were a true representation of the Stanford defense — which I don’t think they were — 27 points is pretty well below Oregon’s scoring average on the season. The defense also did a stellar job of getting turnovers, which undoubtedly helped the offense’s momentum, as they had 21 points off of four turnovers last week.

I agree with Lorenzo in saying that Oregon and California are similar offensively. But Cal’s quarterback Davis Webb is Justin Herbert with a lot more experience, which makes for a passing attack that truly looks unstoppable at its best. I witnessed Cal rack up a large number of yards through the air against a Washington defense that is no pushover. However, Washington’s defense eventually looked itself again and held the Golden Bears to just seven points in the second half behind three interceptions.

This brings me to my last point, which is that turnovers will be everything for the Stanford defense this Saturday. In Cal’s four wins, Webb has thrown just one interception total, but in Cal’s losses, Webb averages almost two picks a game. There is hardly a doubt in my mind that Cal’s offense will put up a large number of passing yards Saturday, but if the Cardinal defense can create turnovers like it did last week, it should hold the Golden Bears below their scoring average.

 

Contact Jamie MacFarlane at jamiemac ‘at’ stanford.edu, Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Samuel Curry at currys ‘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.