The Stanford Cardinal ended a two-game skid with a non-conference win last week against Notre Dame. Stanford returns to conference play against a Colorado Buffaloes team on the upswing in the Pac-12.
Last weekend, the Stanford Cardinal defense won the game against Notre Dame. With the Cardinal down 10-0 in the third quarter, cornerback Quenton Meeks produced the turning point of the game. After missing the previous two games from injury, Meeks picked off DeShone Kizer for a 50-yard pick-six.
Both interceptions allowed a struggling Stanford defense to regain their edge and overwhelm Notre Dame’s offense. Like the game against UCLA, the defense gave the Cardinal a chance to win the game.
A breakthrough came in the fourth quarter. On a drive going 67 yards on 11 plays, Bryce Love appeared to have scored, but fumbled. Miraculously, the ball was recovered by Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside after a few Notre Dame players were unable to pounce on the loose ball.
Kizer drove the Fighting Irish late in the fourth quarter in efforts to send the game into overtime. The Cardinal defense delivered the decisive blows to secure the win. First, Mike Tyler and Harrison Phillips combined for a sack. Solomon Thomas followed up two plays later forcing a fumble. Notre Dame recovered, but time expired.
Despite coming away with a win, head coach David Shaw was dissatisfied again with Stanford’s offensive performance. In particular, the play of quarterback Ryan Burns has been puzzling. Burns threw for 120 yards but had zero touchdowns and one interception.
Burns’ confidence has taken a hit from losses against the Washington schools. Not only has Burns been inconsistent, but the Cardinal offensive line is losing the battles at the line of scrimmage. Inability to block or allow Burns time in the pocket have contributed to deficiencies on offense. With the second half of Stanford’s season to begin Saturday, the offensive play needs to improve.
Since joining the conference in 2011, Colorado struggled to establish an identity. The physicality and recruitment of other Pac-12 teams proved no match for the Buffaloes, remaining as bottom-feeders in the conference. This season, however, a 3-1 conference record has Colorado tied atop of the South Division with Utah, who also joined the same year.
Credit Mike MacIntyre for turning Colorado’s fortunes around. Before joining Colorado, MacIntyre successfully turned around a struggling San Jose State football program. In 2012, he earned the Spartans their first ever top-25 BCS ranking and a bowl invite for the first time since 2006.
As expected, MacIntyre needed time to rebuild the program. Despite finishing at the bottom the first three seasons, he was given a vote of confidence by Colorado, who he was the right man for the job.
Patience has paid off this season. One obstacle MacIntyre faced was finishing games. Opportunities to put away games proved difficult, resulting in tough losses. Despite a loss to Michigan at the Big House, confidence was gained from their performance. Colorado gave Michigan all they could handle until the Wolverines broke the game open late.
The confidence carried over into Eugene, Oregon where Colorado was able to put away the game. Backup Steven Montez started and led the Buffaloes to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Ducks. The win was sealed by an interception in the end zone by the defense.
Wins against Oregon State and Arizona State have Colorado sitting tied with Utah in the South division despite a close loss to USC.
On offense, quarterback Sefo Liufau is a dual-threat in the air and on the ground. He can extend plays in order to keep drives moving down the field. He may only have six passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, but the offensive weapons around him do the heavy lifting.
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Shay Fields and Devin Ross are receiving threats down the field. The two have combined for ten touchdowns this season. Along with those two, Bryce Bobo emerged this season as a playmaker. He has made some incredible catches this season and will look to make his mark against Stanford.
Colorado’s rushing attack features a 1-2 punch with Phillip Lindsay and Kyle Evans. Lindsay will handle most of the carries after rushing for 219 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State. He is certainly one running back Stanford cannot allow getting moving or he will be piling up yards.
Thomas has emerged as Stanford’s leader on defense. Against Notre Dame, he had 12 tackles, ten were solo, to help the Cardinal regain their dominant swagger defensively. The Cardinal have to pressure Liufau consistently to prevent him from executing in the pocket. Colorado’s receivers most certainly will challenge the secondary of Stanford. Containment will be critical early.
Love showed against Notre Dame he can handle the load of rushing duties. His 129-yards on 23 carries proved vital with Burns unable to connect with the passing game. He will have answer the call again should Christian McCaffrey be unable to play this week. McCaffrey is still questionable after leaving the Washington State game with an injury. He did not play against Notre Dame.
Receivers Michael Rector and Trenton Irwin need to get open for Burns. Perhaps starting small to build confidence will help Burns to unleash the big play. Kenneth Olugbode will look to disrupt Stanford’s offense from getting in-sync for Colorado.
Stanford will be tested once again against another potent offense in Colorado. The Buffaloes are one win away from bowl eligibility. The Cardinal defense found their swagger after putting away Notre Dame. Now, the Cardinal offense needs to get back in rhythm to come away with a win. Shaw needs to open the playbook to excite The Farm.