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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Behind enemy lines: Stanford edition

(Courtesy Do-Hyoung Park) Do-Hyoung Park is a senior staff writer for the Stanford Daily.

(Courtesy Do-Hyoung Park) Do-Hyoung Park is a senior staff writer for the Stanford Daily.

The Daily Wildcat spoke with Stanford Daily senior staff writer Do-Hyoung Park to get some insight into this weekend’s matchup with the Stanford Cardinal.

DW: Christian McCaffrey has yet to rush over 100 yards since starting off the season 3-0. What’s the biggest takeaway from the former Heisman hopeful this season?

Park: The biggest thing to take away from McCaffrey’s disappointing season has been the crazy regression of the Stanford offensive line. The last time Stanford replaced three starters on its offensive line was in 2014, when the team lost five games.

Stanford has again replaced three offensive line starters this season and the offensive struggles have been similar. The lack of push in the run game has been so bad that not even the all-time single-season all-purpose yardage holder can make up for the inefficiency up front.

It also doesn’t help that Stanford’s offensive line has been reshuffled or injured essentially every week since the start of the season, which has really gotten in the way of the line gelling as a unit and starting to find a rhythm.

The injury bug has reared its head again this week with fifth-year senior right guard Johnny Caspers, a team captain, looking like he’ll miss the duel in Tucson.

Stanford might need to start true freshman Nate Herbig in his place, and believe me, starting a true freshman at quarterback or offensive line is pretty much unprecedented in the Harbaugh-Shaw era at Stanford.

Keller Chryst was just named the starting quarterback Saturday. What would you say was the reason David Shaw gave him the nod?

The simple truth is that the offensive struggles were to the point where something—anything—needed to change.

After Stanford only put up five points at home against Colorado on Saturday, the coaches decided to pull the plug on Burns. Not necessarily because he was the biggest cause of the offensive struggles (he wasn’t), but because as offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren told me, “the definition of insanity… it’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Even though Burns led the team to victories over USC, UCLA and Notre Dame, his zero touchdown, three interception performance against the Buffs was the final straw after it dropped the offense to 126th of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring this season.

Chryst and Burns have virtually identical skill sets and physical attributes, so it’s just a matter of the coaching staff hoping that shaking up the status quo will be the catalyst this offense desperately needs to get itself going.

Who’s a Stanford player that no one in Tucson knows about, but will after the game Saturday?

Top corner Alijah Holder was anticipated to have a huge breakout season but has now been ruled out for the year with a nagging shoulder injury that he aggravated on Saturday. In his absence, everyone is expecting sophomore Quenton Meeks to step up and play a huge role—not that he hasn’t been doing so already.

Stanford has always been very hesitant to give meaningful playing time to true freshmen, but Meeks (who was essentially told by USC that he would never be good enough to play D-1 football) won the nickel role as a freshman last season and gave Stanford two pivotal interceptions at Washington State (the Cardinal don’t make it to the Rose Bowl without either of those picks) and a pick-six in the Rose Bowl against Iowa.

He won the starting corner job alongside Holder this season and has already made his mark with a huge pick-six against Notre Dame that keyed Stanford’s double-digit comeback and swung the momentum of that game for good. Meeks always plays with a massive chip on his shoulder and is a true student of the game. That’s a dangerous combination for any opposing offense.

What’s your prediction for the tempo of the game, and who will come out on top for another edition of Pac-12 after dark?

Tempo-wise, I’m fairly confident that Stanford is again going to slow the game way, way down and control the clock, as it always does. Of course, the difference this season has been that the Cardinal haven’t been able to finish those drives in the last month or so, thanks to a mixture of untimely fumbles, missed field goals and sloppy execution in the red zone.

It seems like playing in the desert has been a recipe for disaster for opponents, with Washington having been taken to overtime by the ‘Cats earlier this year and Stanford losing to Sparky by three scores in Tempe in 2014.

With an ungodly 8 p.m. kickoff, this is going to be Pac-12 after dark in its most raw, unbridled form, and I suspect that this offensively challenged Stanford team isn’t going to suddenly find its spark down potentially two of its starting linemen and with a new quarterback. I’m taking Arizona, 17-13.


Follow Do-Hyoung Park on Twitter.


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