Stanford Obituary Premature; Plus UCLA, Cal, Dykes, Heisman, Astros
The oddsmakers were wrong about that college football game in Palo Alto Saturday night. Dead wrong.
And so were those of us who prematurely wrote off Stanford's 2019 football season.
Washington went into the game as 14-1/2 point favorites over the host Cardinal. That was understandable given that Stanford was playing a backup quarterback and hadn’t made a big play on offense all season, not to mention the fact that most of its offensive line was on crutches. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal had failed to apply any pressure on opposing quarterbacks and had been burned on several long TD passes.
Let's face it. Stanford had looked awful in three straight losses to USC, UCF and Oregon, and not much better in a last second win over Oregon State, the perpetual doormat in the Pac-12 (a moniker that now apparently belongs to UCLA).
But everything changed Saturday night.
Stanford pulled off a huge 23-13 upset over Washington, controlling the ball throughout the game—with running back Cameron Scarlett gaining 151 yards behind a patchwork offensive line—and getting a strong performance from its much-maligned defense, which harassed QB Jacob Eason throughout and limited the Huskies to one touchdown.
Going into the game, Stanford ranked No. 112 nationally in rushing offense with a paltry 112 yards per game. It wasn’t that long ago—2016 and ’17 to be exact—when the Cardinal had a dominant running game that averaged over 200 yards per game and ranked among the nation’s leaders.
But injuries have taken their toll the last couple of years. Stanford had only seven healthy linemen suit up against Washington—with five lost for the season—and another one (senior guard Henry Hattis) went down late in the third quarter. The Cardinal finished the game with three freshmen on the o-line.
The offensive stars were quarterback Davis Mills, filling in for injured starter K.J. Costello, who hit 21 of 30 passes for 293 yards, and the aforementioned Scarlett, who is emerging as one of the best backs in the Pac-12. Mills played so well, in fact, that coach David Shaw may have a quarterback controversy on his hands when Costello (out with an injured thumb) returns.
Another name to remember is wide receiver Simi Fehoko, who caught 3 balls for 91 yards and a TD. Fehoko has JJ Arcega-Whiteside-type size and speed and could be the missing link Stanford has needed in the passing game.
Defensively, in addition to the usual suspects—cornerback Paulson Adebo and linebacker Casey Toohill—first-time LB starter Gabe Reid and freshman DB Kyu Blu Kelly stood out.
Bruins Up Next: The Cardinal gets a much needed bye next weekend, which will give some of the injured players a little time to heal and some of the new faces more practice reps, then hosts UCLA on Thursday night Oct. 17.
Stanford has owned UCLA in recent years and should have no trouble against the hapless Bruins, who have regressed under Chip Kelly. UCLA has only one win this season, and the sparse attendance for home games at the Rose Bowl has become an embarrassment.
Empty Seats: Speaking of attendance, Stanford Stadium was about half full for the Washington game. That’s what seat license requirements, poor marketing, indifferent students, a late kickoff and a disappointing team (up to that point) will do to your crowds.
Bears Play Tough: Most pundits expected a blowout in Eugene, with Cal facing high-powered Oregon without its starting quarterback Chase Garbers. But the Bears led for most of the game before falling to a late rally, 17-7.
Cal backup QB Devon Modster, so awful a week earlier, made a few big plays, throwing a very pretty touchdown pass, the first TD given up by the Ducks since their opener with Auburn.
Dykes Revival: Former Cal coach Sonny Dykes has resurfaced at SMU, where he has led the Mustangs to a 6-0 record. This is the first time SMU has been unbeaten six weeks into the season since 1982, back in the days of the “Pony Express” backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
Dykes has built his new program on transfers; he has 20 transfers on his roster. As usual, Sonny’s high-octane passing game is scoring a lot of points—44 per game. And as usual, his woeful defense is giving up a lot of points—29 per game.
Heisman Watch: Halfway through the season, the top candidates for this year’s Heisman Trophy appear to be four quarterbacks, all of whom started their careers at either Alabama or Georgia: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (who transferred from Alabama), Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (who transferred from Georgia). Slightly behind the top four are Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
If Hurts wins, he will be the third straight Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Oklahoma, following Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018).
MLB Playoff Question: How does a team that has the best lineup in the major leagues also end up with three of the 10 best pitchers in baseball?
Somehow the loaded Houston Astros now have three premier starters in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zach Greinke. Ironically, all three have well-known spouses: SI model Kate Upton (Verlander), Giants' shortstop Brandon Crawford's sister Amy Crawford (Cole), and former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and Miss Daytona Beach Emily Kuchar (Greinke).
It just doesn’t seem fair.