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Opponent Offense Preview: Stanford Cardinal

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NCAA Football: Stanford at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford’s offense has taken a noticeable step back this year. And it isn’t just the “eye test” - they are only scoring 20 points game, down from about 27 last year. They have struggled mightily with injuries across the offensive line, but last year’s trend of struggling to run the ball has continued.

Key Stats

Passing yards per game: 215

Yards per play: 4.75

Rushing yards per game: 112

Percent of 1st downs gained by passing: 54%

Total TDs scored this season: 11

Sacks given up per game: 2.4

Offensive Philosophy

Ever since David Shaw’s third Rose Bowl in 2016, things starting slowing down for Stanford offensively, and they have begun losing the identity to which they cling so hard. The run game isn’t as punishing, and the offensive line is not mauling. Last season things came to a head when Stanford pivoted their offense entirely to a go from I-formations and fullbacks to spreading the ball and passing all over the place. This season they pass about 55% of time and are beginning to look much more like what I consider the “college football offense” - a little spread, a little RPO, some screen game...a little bit of everything really. When they run play action (or RPO...who can even tell these days?) they like to hit their big TE Colby Parkinson over the middle. They’ve added a lot of screens into the playbook, too.

Former Stanford QB and current OC Tavita Pritchard

You can tell that Shaw and OC Tavita Pritchard still cling to the “Stanford is a physical running team” identity when they run from tight formations, but it just isn’t having the same success. We see this most in the red zone - where they have a respectable 86% conversion rate. But, seven of their thirteen scores are field goals, and of the six TDs, just ONE is a rushing touchdown. In the red zone, expect Stanford to try jump balls to Colby Parkinson, or quick screens to Connor Weddington or Cameron Scarlett. They’ll put three or even four TEs in the game, and still allow penetration into the backfield on run plays. Some of this is due to injuries, like LT Walker Little being out, but you can’t help but be puzzled as to why Stanford is struggling so much up front.

Key Players

QB Davis Mills: 597 yards, 62% completion, 4 TD/1 INT, 7.5 YPA.

Mills was the #1 pro style QB coming out of high school in 2017, and has all the tools to be a big time player. He throws a really nice, catchable ball with a tight spiral, and with good timing. While KJ Costello is Shaw’s preference and the offense might work better with him leading it, Mills might be a better pure passer right now. He was extremely sharp in their win against Oregon State, and decent against USC the week before. He’s Stanford’s future (and present) at quarterback. While we can’t say with 100% certainty he will start on Saturday, as of today (Wednesday) he’s practicing as the starter for the injured Costello.

TE Colby Parkinson: 20 catches, 222 yards, 1 TD.

The 6-7 Parkinson is a do it all threat for Stanford but stands out in the pass game. He bodies up defenders, boxes them out, and high points the football. As good as he is, he does get the defenses attention and can be taken out of games - Oregon held him without a catch in week 3. Stanford doesn’t often hide what they’re trying to do, especially with Parkinson in the red zone. They will just line him up one-on-one outside and give him jump balls. Even though it’s a low percentage play, they are very confident in his abilities in those situations.

WR Michael Wilson: 19 catches, 266 yards, 3 TDs.

Wilson is Stanford’s best outside threat and is enjoying a solid breakout campaign, as predicted by our very own Gekko. Wilson brings good size at 6-2, 210 pounds, and runs well with the ball. He’s a dynamic weapon who returns kicks and punts for the Cardinal, and has averaged 16.8 yards per catch in his last 3 games.

RB Cameron Scarlett: 94 rushes, 413 yards (4.4 YPC), 1 TD.

Scarlett is a steady, between the tackles runner and helps keep the chains moving. He doesn’t have the home run ability of Bryce Love or Christian McCaffrey, but puts in workmanlike efforts game after game. He’s had at least two runs this year go for over 40 yards so he can break off a big one.

WR Connor Weddington: 25 catches, 214 yards, 1 TD.

The product of Sumner, Washington and one time Husky commit is the leading receiver in terms of catches on this Cardinal team. It’s clear the coaches really want to involve him but he hasn’t produced quite at the level they’d like, with only 8.6 yards per catch. Though, he isn’t targeted deep as often as Michael Wilson and is usually the recipient of short passes and screens.

X-Factor

Colby Parkinson converting 3rd downs. Washington can do everything right, and he can catch an insane jump ball to extend a drive. Washington shouldn’t have too hard a time keeping plays in front of them in this game, but Parkinson can pick up the chunk yardage over the middle or in the red zone. Stanford ranks 97th in yards per play so will likely find themselves in plenty of 3rd down situations, where they rank just 60th in conversion percentage at exactly 40%. The Huskies have been more prone to defensive mistakes this year than in the past, and letting Stanford convert on 3rd downs will keep the game much closer.

Conclusion

The game plan for Washington should be to have the most Washington-y defense ever: force Stanford into 60 or 70+ yard drives, where they have to go 5 yards at a time. They should, of course try to wreak some havoc (TFLs, interceptions, etc...), but if they can limit the Cardinal’s already low yards per play average by simply playing smart, it will put a Stanford offense off schedule that isn’t good playing from behind the sticks. They don’t have the players or consistency to march down the field in small chunks without making any errors. Play defense the Washington way and Stanford will only be able to kill the Huskies through one thousand paper cuts. I like the odds there.

Poll

How many points will Stanford score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    0-7
    (24 votes)
  • 45%
    8-14
    (227 votes)
  • 42%
    15-21
    (210 votes)
  • 4%
    22-28
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    29-35
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    35+
    (11 votes)
496 votes total Vote Now