After five games, there is one thing we know about this Stanford team and that is that we don’t know much about this Stanford team.
Each of the games has demonstrated dramatically different strengths and weaknesses.
- San Jose State – victory over a team that’s doing well in a non-AQ conference. This was a very spotty first game. It appeared worse than it was because for the better part of a decade, San Jose State has been one of the worst teams in the FBS. It started well with two scoring drives. But after that, the offense was much less than efficient. Nunes threw no interceptions, but the offense stalled frequently, converting two of thirteen third downs. The defense played poorly in the third quarter, allowing two drives of 3:42 and 5:48, but tightened in the fourth, producing three straight three-and-out punts and an interception. After this game, observers wondered whether the offensive line was strong enough to dominate.
- Duke – big victory over a team that’s doing well in a lower level AQ conference. The appeared to have shored up the defensive problems from the first game. The Cardinal focused on the run and limited the Blue Devils to 1.7 yards per rushing attempt! However, despite the 50 points scored, the game brought up questions about the offense. Duke revealed a pattern to defeat the Cardinal. It loaded the front line and was able to limit the run game to 3.5 yards. The quarterback completed only 54 percent of his passes, but against the Blue Devils, the long passes to Ertz and Toilolo, it was more than enough. This game revealed weaknesses in the pass game that ultimately weakened the run game.
- USC – victory over a strong conference team. USC came in with a lofty No. 2 ranking, a Heisman-touted quarterback, and two outstanding receivers. However, it also had a thin offensive line. In that game, the Cardinal dominated the SC offensive and defensive lines. The defense limited the vaunted passing game out of the end zone. While Barkley had no touchdowns, he threw two interceptions. The Stanford defense was so dominant that at one point USC was at fourth down and 40! Nevertheless, while the Stanford offense racked up 417 total yards, it only made it to the end zone three times: twice in the air and once on the ground. The Cardinal converted on only 36 percent of their third downs, and the quarterback completed only 47 percent of his passes. So, in this game, the Cardinal appeared to have an elite defense and a strong run game that opened up a weak passing offense.
- Washington – loss to a team that’s in the middle of our conference. This, the Cardinal’s only away game in the opening five, had the Cardinal limiting Washington to only 17 points, but not scoring a single offensive touchdown. Like Duke, Washington stacked the line daring Stanford to pass. Unlike Duke, Washington had the secondary to make Stanford pay. The team netted 65 yards rushing and 170 yards passing. It converted only 28 percent of its third downs. Nunes completed only 49 percent of his passes for a paltry 4.6 yards per attempt. So, in that game, Stanford appeared to have an elite defense and a passing offense that couldn’t prevent opposing defenses from loading up against the run. So, in this game, at least in the second half, that the offense was on fire, and the defense was weak.
- Arizona – victory over a team that’s in the middle of our conference. After more than a week of questions regarding the offense, particularly the quarterback, the offense came out and scored eight touchdowns. And the defense conceded six. And two field goals. The quarterback who didn’t complete half his passes the game before hit 62 percent this game. He threw for two of the touchdowns and ran for three others.
So in five games, the Cardinal has shown at least three different personalities. In fact, the Arizona game shows more about Arizona than it did Stanford. It has a potent offense, 6th in nation in total offense and 29th in the nation in scoring offense. Against the Cardinal, the Wildcats racked up yards and scored many points. It has an extremely weak defense, 114th overall, and 97th in scoring.
So after five games, the one thing we know about Stanford is that we don’t know much about Stanford.