Stanford Cardinal Face UCLA Bruins in Home Opener


The Stanford Cardinal look to avoid three straight losses when the UCLA Bruins come visit The Farm.

Bryce Love came to play last week against San Diego State. The junior running back has made Stanford Cardinal fans forget about the dynamic Christian McCaffrey from last season with explosive runs. Against the Aztecs, Love compiled 184 yards rushing with two touchdowns. Between him and his counterpart, Rashaad Penny (175 yards, one touchdown), Love had the better performance.

Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Love was the only player on offense who did something. As a result, San Diego State upset No.19 Stanford, 20-17, and the losing team fell out of the rankings this week. The lights went out near the end of the game – a reflection of how poorly the Cardinal played offensively.

Keller Chryst turned in his worst performance for Stanford with 72 yards passing and two interceptions. His passing appeared anemic with balls being underthrown, overthrown, or in the turf. Backup quarterback Ryan Burns looked better despite throwing only one pass. He provided solid blocks to enable the rushing game.

Stanford Cardinal Football
Stanford Cardinal Football /

Stanford Cardinal Football

The Cardinal did have a chance to win the game as Chryst looked downfield towards JJ Arcega-Whiteside. A last-gasp touchdown last season at UCLA brought Arcega-Whiteside onto the scene as a threat to make a critical play.

Instead, another underthrown ball was delivered and intercepted by the Aztecs to the delight of fans ready to rush the field. Credit goes to the coaching staff of San Diego State as the team controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. Apparently, the team took note of how USC had their way against Stanford.

A 1-2 start is not what David Shaw envisioned three games into the season. With the College Football Playoff clearly out of the picture, Coach Shaw must focus his attention on conference play. Stanford cannot breathe easily as Washington, Washington State, and Oregon have all made strong statements in hopes of claiming the Pac-12 North Division.

If the Cardinal want to turn fortunes around, perhaps some razzle-dazzle needs to be injected into the vanilla flavored playbook. “Smash-mouth” football, which has been the critical factor in Stanford’s recent success in the past, does not need to go away.

To start, sustaining drives down field need to be consistent. A glaring issue last week was third down conversions, where the Cardinal went 3-of-11. Efficiency on first down was lacking, which led to little success in an area the Cardinal have been dominant. Due to failures on third down plays, time possession was small – another area the Cardinal usually control well.

Coach Shaw had better get back to the drawing board and figure out plays to work against UCLA. The offensive line got a makeover after a disastrous performance against USC. Walker Little, a true freshman, was inserted into the lineup although his presence made no difference.

In defense of Chryst, his injury against North Carolina prevented him from taking part in spring camp. His status was uncertain entering fall camp though proved healthy enough to start the season as the starter. The time he missed from spring camp caught up to him as seen in the last two games. The hope is that Chryst can learn from his mistakes and get better before each matchup.

Chryst will have to turn the page soon as Stanford embarks into conference play starting with UCLA who have problems of their own.

Josh Rosen had the makings of being a comeback hero. The legend got off to a promising start in a wild 45-44 over Texas A&M in Pasadena. Capped in the quarter with four touchdowns, the Bruins trailed by 34 at one point. Rosen has NFL potential with scouts picking him to be a potential top-10 pick in next year’s draft.

Rosen is overrated.

Last week against Memphis, the junior quarterback once again was rallying the Bruins from behind. Instead, he made two mistakes which buried the Bruins in a 48-45 loss to the Tigers. Rosen threw two interceptions, one going for a pick-six, as both passes were errant throws.

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Supporters of Rosen will point out the stats with 463 yards passing and four touchdowns although his two interceptions were poor decisions. On both throws, Rosen was off balance and was just looking to make a play out of nothing. He certainly draws comparisons to Jared Goff, former quarterback of the Cal Bears.

But both have thrown multiple interceptions despite high passing yard numbers. The jury is still out on Rosen having a career at the next level.

Since the arrival of Jim Mora, talk has been about UCLA taking the next step and finally becoming a national powerhouse. Talent is abundant amongst the Bruins as recruiting is never an issue, competing with rival USC for the top recruits. Talk has been UCLA grabbing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With a brand-new facility and hype surrounding the team in the past, Coach Mora has been unable to bring UCLA to the next level. Stagnant would best describe his tenure.

Like the Stanford offensive line, the UCLA offensive line cannot protect Rosen as the quarterback is coming off shoulder surgery from last season. Defenders have battered Rosen in all three games.

Harrison Phillips and the Stanford defense will look to continue sending Rosen to the turf. Phillips has been a standout as the leader of the Cardinal defense recorded ten tackles including a sack against the Aztecs last week.

From the last two games, Stanford has allowed 478 yards rushing and ranked 115th in third-down defense. The Cardinal may catch a little break as the Bruins run game has shown little bite to complement the passing game of Rosen. Stanford’s secondary will face a stiff test in keeping receivers Darren Andrews and Jalen Starks from making big plays.

Trent Irwin had a good game with six catches though Chryst needs more support from Irwin’s teammates at the receiver position. Dalton Schultz and Scooter Harrington need to find ways to get open to allow options for Chryst. Stanford cannot afford to be one-dimensional with Love at tailback, or the offense will continue to look anemic.

Coach Mora has never beaten Stanford, and unless his team fixes their issues, a win is unlikely to happen.

Next: Stanford Cardinal Face San Diego State Aztecs

Coach Shaw has never lost three straight during his tenure at Stanford and hopes to avoid a letdown performance at home. Hopefully, the Cardinal playbook has been injected with some new schemes to keep the Bruins guessing. If not, the lights might as well go off at Stanford Stadium and the season.