Stanford has an effective passing game and not much else.
Injuries have pretty much deprived the Cardinal of their running game and much of their defensive production. Even the air attack, as potent as it was last week, has a surprising director.
Regarded as a Pac-12 title contender at the season’s beginning, Stanford (4-6, 3-5 Pac-12) now is unlikely to qualify for a bowl game. Going into Saturday’s Big Game the Cards (they hate being called that) need to win out, not only beating the Bears but national power Notre Dame on Nov. 30.
The odds are against that.
As Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has pointed out, Stanford’s injuries have been most significant. much like the Bears’. In another similarity, Cardinal quarterbacks are among the casualties.
Big things were predicted for senior K.J. Costello, who led the conference in passing efficiency rating last year. But he has been in and out of the lineup with injuries and even backup Davis Mills (15, above) would go down temporarily. Stanford, like Cal, had to go with a third QB.
But when Costello was unable to play Saturday at Washington State, Mills responded with a record-setting day in a losing cause, He was 32-for-49 for a school-record 494 yards and three touchdowns.
The 6-4 redshirt sophomore was a prolific high school QB in Georgia. He has the size and arm strength of a classic passer.
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“You see the potential, you see the ability,” head coach David Shaw said. “This kid has a chance to be very special.
That’s a good thing for Stanford because Costello has been declared out of the Big Game.
Stanford’s receivers might be a cut below the USC group that terrorized the Bears last week, but they are still pretty good. Connor Weddington (48 catches, 490 yards), Michael Wilson (37, 479) and Otis St. Brown (19. 208) are talented and reliable. Wilson is particularly adept at moving and dancing after the catch.
The most intriguing might be Simi Fehoko. He has just 13 catches, but six are for touchdowns including a pair at WSU. “This has been coming since the first time we saw him his sophomore year in Utah in high school,” Shaw said. “The young man is tall. He’s long. He’s got a sneaky stride. You don’t think he’s running as fast as he is, but he ran 4.3 for us in the spring.
“ For a guy who is 6-3½ or 6-4, if you play underneath, he’s going to get over the top. If you’re up on him, he’s got a big-time vertical.”
Stanford has had a long line of quality tight ends and the latest is junior Colby Parkinson, who has NFL written all over him. He is a semifinalist for the Dee Mackey Award as the country’s top tight end.
Under Jim Harbaugh and Shaw, the Cardinal developed a culture of rugged offensive linemen who opened holes doe top-notch running backs. They still could throw the ball and throw it well. But the running game became their identity.
The last two years the ground game ground to a near halt. The Cardinal running game, which was abandoned against WSU when the Stanford fell behind by multiple scores, ranks 123rd in the country and 11th in the Pac-12 at 108.7 yards per game.
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The problems aren’t due to lack of quality backs, Cameron Scarlett for one, is a fine runner, especially between the tackles. Injuries to the offensive line have made opening holes for runners extremely difficult. Cal can relate to that. Four different true freshmen have started on Stanford’s O-line and different combinations have kept the group out of synch.
Honors candidate left tackle Walker Little was lost for the season in the first game and the injuries just didn’t stop. Center Drew Dalman is the only offensive lineman to start all ten games.
Shaw has been forced to get creative. Defensive end Dylan Boles and tight end Tucker Fisk have been taking reps with the offensive line and discus thrower Jake Koffman was recruited to help out.
On defense, the story is much the same. The front three of Jovan Swann, Michael Williams and Thomas Booker is solid and healthy and there is sufficient front-line depth. But beyond that the Cardinal are thin.
Linebackers Jordan Fox, Jacob Mangum-Farrar and Ricky Miezan, expected to be major players in Stanford’s 3-4 scheme, have all been lost with injuries. Veteran inside backer Curtis Robinson even missed a game. He and senior Casey Tohill have been holding the fort. Both the latter two are long and active and most effective when rushing the passer.
The secondary injury situation is also bad. Junior cornerback Paulson Adebo, and senior captain and free safety Malik Antoine both missed the WSU game with injuries and are likely to be out again. Senior corners Obi Eboh and Treyjohn Butler were both unable to finish the game. Both are reportedly expected back although Butler is not listed on the depth chart.
If Cal can protect the quarterback — whoever it is — the Bears receivers should be able to find openings in the Cardinal secondary. WSU sure did, and Anthony Gordon, admittedly a superior thrower to anyone Cal has, totaled 520 yards.
Placekicker Jet Toner was injured three games ago and punter Ryan Sanborn has been handling the placements since. He is 4-for-6 with a long of 40 yards in the thin air of Colorado.
Stanford leads the series 64-46-11 and has won the last nine straight.
Cal’s last victory was in 2009, and was sealed by Mike Muhammad’s late interception.
Seven true freshmen, including Sanborn, have started a game for Stanford this year. That total is the fourth-highest in the country.
Stanford has blocked three kicks this year, a punt, and extra point and a field goal
Shaw is one of seven active coaches in the country who is the winningest head coach at his current school. He is 86-32 in nine years.