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College Hotline - Stanford football report card: Grading the win over USC

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    Quick thought on the landscape before we dig in: My, how it has changed.

    The first-half schedule doesn’t seem so brutal, does it?

    We figured USC-UCLA-Washington-Washington State-Notre Dame would be the ultimate test for Stanford and its revamped line and new quarterback. Four of the five were ranked in the preseason poll, and WSU was justifiably on the fringe.

    A few weeks later …

    * USC is 1-2 and has been outclassed by both Power 5 opponents.
    * UCLA is 2-1 and muddling along.
    * Washington State is 1-2 with an FCS loss.
    * Notre Dame is 1-2 with major issues defensively.

    None of them are ranked. Combined record: 5-7.

    Only Washington has matched its preseason hype, but that could simply be the cupcake schedule; we have no idea if the Huskies are truly a title contender.

    In other words: Opportunity abounds for the Cardinal.




    Result: Beat USC 27-10

    Grade: A-

    Comment: All but two matchups this decade have been decided by single digits and all of them packed drama at some point in the proceeding.

    Not this time.

    Stanford was in control throughout, which was partly Stanford’s doing and partly USC’s ineptitude, both on the field and on the sideline.

    Ram the ball through the heart of Stanford’s defense on one drive … abandon the tact on the next.

    Of course! Great coaching!

    *** Stanford has now beaten USC three times in a calendar year – all three of the wins were by double digits, by the way — because it knows what’s required for success, and it executes.

    The Cardinal ran the ball at will (295 yards), even when USC loaded the box; it limited USC’s big plays; and it made fewer mistakes: The Trojans had eight penalties, many of them false starts, while Stanford committed just three.

    The Cardinal also converted 6-of-13 third downs.

    *** Ryan Burns completed 9-of-15 passes for 109 yards – a stat line much like those Kevin Hogan used to produce.

    But Burns operated the offense efficiently, avoided bad decisions and did everything Stanford needed him to do for the second consecutive game.

    Backup Keller Chryst, who supposed to play at least one series, never left the bench.

    The quarterback competition is officially over.

    “There was no particular reason; that’s the way it happens,’’ coach David Shaw said. “(Chryst) will continue to be in our thoughts as we move forward.’’

    *** Christian McCaffrey carried the Cardinal, with 238 yards from scrimmage – 59 percent of Stanford’s total. But aside from a long touchdown run by receiver Michael Rector on an end-around, McCaffrey’s teammates were quiet.

    That’s a precarious model for navigating the Pac-12.

    At some point, the Cardinal will encounter an opponent that’s better coached and better prepared than the Trojans. In that situation, it will need more than McCaffrey.

    Next up: at UCLA

    The matchup: Has anything changed since last year … or any of the past seven years?

    The Cardinal has dominated the lines of scrimmage and the series, with eight consecutive wins, six of them by double digits — and the past three by an average of 18 points.

    The Bruins declared during the offseason that they intended to become more physical, more of a line-of-scrimmage team … more like Stanford.

    Thus far, the results of the transition are hardly conclusive: They have only looked like a contender in stretches, with the best stretch coming against lowly UNLV.

    It’s the first road game for Burns, and I expect Stanford to build a gameplan that allows him to ease into the action, that doesn’t place him in high-risk or uncomfortable situations … at least in the first half and/or so long as the game is close.

    The Cardinal will run McCaffrey and Bryce Love, with play-action sprinkled in, until the Bruins prove they can stop it consistently. (USC never did.)

    UCLA opened as a slight favorite, but the line quickly adjusted: The Cardinal is now -3.

    It should be close for 50-55 minutes, with Stanford making the plays down the stretch.

    *** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

    *** PLEASE NOTE: The Hotline will move to a new address (url) next week. I’ll have more details as the day approaches.

    The post Stanford football report card: Grading the win over USC appeared first on College Hotline.

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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