The Stanford football team (3-4, 1-4 Pac-12) is currently riding a two-game win streak, but a number of issues still plague the Cardinal. Having failed to score a touchdown against Arizona State and with only one scholarship running back healthy, the offense will certainly have to go back to the drawing board this week. A matchup against No. 12 UCLA (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) in the Rose Bowl looms large in the very near future.
The Daily’s Charis Charitsis, Noah Maltzman, Parker Kasiewicz and Pablo Noyola offer their thoughts on the Stanford team and this weekend’s matchup in Los Angeles.
Junior kicker Joshua Karty was responsible for all 15 of Stanford’s points in the win over Arizona State. What went wrong for the Cardinal offense and what needs to be done to finish drives in the red zone against UCLA this week?
Charis Charitsis (CC): Every time Stanford came close to a touchdown, they wasted the first two downs trying to pass the ball. Therefore, they faced a number of long third downs. I think they need to chip away some yards in the first two downs by rushing the ball and adding pressure. The problem is that they don’t have Bryce Love on the roster.
Noah Maltzman (NM): Stalling in the red zone has been all too familiar for the Cardinal this season. In the last two games – nay – two wins, Stanford has averaged 15.5 points per game with only one touchdown between the two games. To top that off, the player who scored the touchdown, junior running back Casey Filkins, is out this week with injury. The play calling and the often broken plays are at fault. For example, the Cardinal have run a delayed handoff play often this season to try and confuse opponents into thinking they will run a run-pass-option play. The problem, however, is that the handoff is too slow and thus the offensive line breaks causing either no gain, or a loss. Calling plays like that can be good, for a very talented offense, which the Cardinal are not.
The defense has put in great performances for the past three weeks. UCLA’s quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has terrorized Lance Anderson and his unit over the past few years. How do you see that side of the ball holding up in Los Angeles?
Parker Kasiewicz (PK): Not great. The Stanford defense has exceeded expectations the last two weeks, but look for that to change against UCLA. A disappointing first year for Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame and Elijhah Badger’s large shoe size have made this unit look better than they probably are, and it’s about time they regress back to the mean. Expect UCLA to score in bunches.
Pablo Noyola (PN): Poorly. UCLA is a horrible matchup for Stanford – whereas Notre Dame and Arizona State’s offenses were one dimensional or flowed through only a couple key weapons, UCLA has the scheme and the players to hurt Stanford in all phases of play. Stanford has always struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks, and Bruin QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is enjoying the best season of his career after throwing and running for four touchdowns against the Cardinal last year. Meanwhile, running back Zach Charbonnet is second nationally with 7.16 yards per carry; Stanford’s rush defense is in the bottom three of Power 5 teams on a yards per carry basis.
As well as Stanford’s defense has looked the last two weeks, slowing down the Bruins’ offense requires a complete defense. Unfortunately, the numbers Stanford will need to devote to slow down Charbonnet and the UCLA ground game will open up the holes for DTR to have a huge game both passing and rushing. As a matchup, this feels like Oregon again, and I would not be shocked if DTR emulates Bo Nix’s performance against the Cardinal.
NM: This is attempt number four for defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, and I do not see it going his way. The UCLA offense is top three in the Pac-12 and is ranked No. 10 in the nation. Despite Anderson calling the two best games of the season in the previous two weeks, those were against offenses ranked No. 77 Notre Dame and No. 99 Arizona State. The combination of DTR, a bonafide and developed quarterback, as well as running back Zach Charbonnet, now in his second year at UCLA, will be too much to handle for an injury-riddled defensive front.
Junior running back Casey Filkins was injured in the ASU game and is likely out for the rest of the season, per coach Shaw’s Tuesday press conference. Once he went down, Stanford almost exclusively passed the ball. Where does the running game go from here?
PK: I’m not sure. With Shaw’s job still firmly in question, it might be time to go deep into the bag of tricks. I’m hoping for some misdirection, end-arounds and of course, more slow mesh. If that fails, McKee might set yet another career-high in pass attempts.
PN: Well, let’s go through the depth chart. EJ Smith is done for the year. Filkins is out for the foreseeable future. Freshman Arlen Harris announced his intention to transfer on Monday in bizarre circumstances. That leaves junior walk-on Caleb Robinson and sophomore Brendon Barrow as the only options. Behind them, you have sophomore scout teamer Danny McFadden and sophomore Mitch Leigber, who was converted from safety this week.
That adds up to a running back room with two walk-ons, one defensive back and only 24 combined career carries for 83 yards. Yikes. What can Stanford do? As Parker said, extend the run game with reverses and end-arounds to the receivers, more designed quarterback run or read-option packages with Ashton Daniels, and short passes like screens and shovel passes acting as “quasi-run plays.” Ultimately, though I expect to see all three of these, it is all a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Unless one of the backs can have a breakout run of games, Stanford’s only option is to ride McKee’s arm as far as it will go.
NM: Running the ball will be heavily limited, and honestly I expect UCLA is practicing their dime-pass-coverage the entirety of this week. With that being said, this is a different style of game than Stanford is used to – before it was steady pounding, but now it relies on the receivers to not drop passes. The ball will probably be handled on the ground mostly by Barrow and Robinson, with a couple runs from McKee too. This is a sad situation all around, and with UCLA only allowing 3.55 yards per rush this season, it will be tough for the Cardinal to recover.
What are your score predictions for this one? Can Stanford reel off three in a row?
PK: Stanford 13, UCLA 38. The Bruins will come out hungry this week after a disappointing loss to Oregon, and don’t expect much out of a thin Stanford offense this week. I’m already thinking about Washington State.
CC: Stanford 20, UCLA 34. I hope the defense can make it a close game, but I doubt it.
NM: Stanford 12, UCLA 38. Am I predicting another Karty Party? Absolutely. The only difference is that this is a losing Karty party. The Stanford offense and defense just seem outmatched in this game, and with all the injuries to the roster, there really is nothing that can be done about the talent gap.