Chryst stabilizes Cardinal offense despite losing McCaffrey

Photo Credit:  Ezra Shaw/Getty Images – Rule of Tree

Stanford 10-3 (6-3) is losing its star running back Christian McCaffery to the NFL draft, but they still have quarterback Kelly Chryst who took the reins midway through the season.

Stanford’s 2016 season started off with a pair of wins over USC and UCLA, along with a sloppy win over Kansas State. But the offense sputtered against Washington and Washington State in back-to-back blow-out losses; while the Cardinal managed to earn a 17-10 win over Notre Dame, the offense continued to struggle in a 10-5 loss to Colorado. That’s when Chryst took over the starting job and the offense took off, Stanford would score more than 40-points in its last six games.

In Chryst’s first start, the Cardinal rolled through the Wildcats by a score of 34-10. The Oregon State game was closer than Stanford would have liked (26-15), but the Cardinal’s offense hit the ground running against Oregon, Cal, and Rice to close out the regular season slate. Stanford averaged 46 points a game during those three victories, and 37.2 points per games after Chryst took over the reigns to the offense.

Heading into 2017, the Cardinal’s offense should be in good hands with the senior signal caller under center. But there are serious concerns about Stanford’s ability to stop opposing offenses heading into this season.

Defensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 4.11 1.2 7th
Passing 6.7 1.4 5th

Stanford’s defense struggled to quarterbacks that had a decent arm and could extend the play by shifting around in the pocket…on the rare occasion that the Cardinal’s defensive line was able to generate a pass rush. This weakness was on display against Washington State’s Luke Falk last season.

Despite having no one blocking the edge rusher, the Cardinal defense was unable to get to Falk quickly enough to prevent him from finding an open wide receiver — Falk had four seconds in the pocket to get the ball out of his hands. This was a problem for Stanford’s defense throughout 2016 season and it’s why they were shredded by the Huskies, Cougars, and Buffs…it’s also the reason why Oregon State gave them such a tough game.

It’s likely that the Cardinal’s defensive line is going to be a step worse in 2017 as they’ll have to replace defensive end Solomon Thomas — Thomas played in all 13 games last year and was responsible for seven quarterback hurries. If Stanford’s defensive line is going to improve from last season, the defense is going to need defensive end Harrison Phillips to get better at shedding his blocker and pressuring the quarterback. If Phillips is able to collapse the edges of the pocket, the Cardinal defense will be in a better position to shut down offenses and generate turnovers.

The Cardinal secondary is where the majority of their returning starters are coming from, including senior free safety Brandon Simmons and cornerback Terrence Alexander. Stanford’s defensive backfield was close to elite last season, despite the issues with the pash rush, and it’ll be on them to cover-up the lack of a pass rush from the front seven.

Offensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 5.2 1.5 T-4th
Passing 6.7 1.2 11th

Offensively the Cardinal will look very similar to how they did last season, despite losing McCaffery. This is because Bryce Love saw significant action in 2016 — Love averaged 65.2 yards per game, 7.05 yards per carry — which gives Stanford an explosive option out of the backfield for Chryst.

As for Chryst, who is recovering from a bowl game injury, he showed decisiveness in his decision making that helped move the offense down field. Watch in the below .GIF how he quickly works through his reads from left to right to hit an open McCaffery on the crossing route.

The quick way that he worked through those reads is impressive, and that’s a major reason that Stanford’s offensive output increased the way it did in the later half of the season. While Chryst was impressive last season, it’s likely that he’ll start off slow in 2017; he missed all of spring ball while recovering from his injuries and has been lightly involved in the early days of fall camp. Hopefully he’ll be able to get his legs under him quickly, because the Cardinal will need him to be at full strength for the last half of their schedule.

For Stanford’s offense, its biggest weakness is the offensive line. The line was one of the worst in the country and gave up a boat load of sacks; and was a major reason that McCaffery was relatively ineffective down the stretch…and Chryst was hurt during the bowl game. Fortunately for the Cardinal, the offensive line was the youngest position group on their roster…which means that there is a good chance the unit will be improve heading into this season.

Schedule

Stanford gets a fairly easy game to open up its season against Rice, then a bye week before its first major test against USC. The Trojans are going to be tough this year, but they’re beatable if Chryst is healthy and can work through his reads quickly. After the USC game, things get significantly easier for David Shaw’s squad.

In October, the Cardinal’s toughest test will be a talented (but young) Utah squad in Salt Lake City. The Utes defense could pose an interesting match-up problem for Stanford’s offensive line, which could shut down Love and put more pressure on the senior quarterback; but Utah’s offense is going to be missing several key pieces from last year…which will give Stanford’s defense a much needed rest before a trip up to Corvallis.

The Washington schools look to be like a tough match-up, again, for the Cardinal — especially with a November trip to the Palouse, before wrapping up their season against Cal and Notre Dame.

Saturday
Aug. 26
Owls at Rice Owls
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, Australia
7:00pm PT
ESPN
Saturday
Sep. 2
OFF
Saturday
Sep. 9
Trojans at USC Trojans 
LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
5:30pm PT
FOX
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 16
Aztecs at San Diego State Aztecs 
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
7:30pm PT
CBSSN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 23
Bruins UCLA Bruins 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 30
Sun Devils Arizona State Sun Devils 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 7
Utes at Utah Utes 
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 14
Ducks Oregon Ducks (HC)
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 21
OFF
Thursday
Oct. 26
Beavers at Oregon State Beavers 
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
6:00pm PT
ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 4
Cougars at Washington State Cougars 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Friday
Nov. 10
Huskies Washington Huskies 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
7:30pm PT
FS1
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 18
Golden Bears California Golden Bears 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 25
Fighting Irish Notre Dame Fighting Irish 
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Time TBA
TV TBA

Prediction

Stanford will open up the season with a three to four possession win against Rice, in arguably the most boring college football game you’ll ever watch, before picking up a big win over the supercharged Trojans to start off the season 2-0. UCLA and Arizona State won’t pose much of a problem for the Chryst and Love. After this four game stretch, it’s likely that Shaw’s squad will be 4-0…but then they travel to Salt Lake City, and that’s where they’ll slip up for the first time this season.

The Oregon schools won’t prove much of a problem for Stanford which means its record will be 6-1 heading into the toughest part of the schedule.

Going to Pullman, Wash. in the middle of November is not going to be an easy task for the Cardinal, especially if the defensive line is unable to get pressure on Falk or stop the three headed monster that is Washington State’s backfield; WSU will pull away late after wearing down Stanford’s defense, just like the previous season. Stanford follows up that tough road trip with an even tougher home game against the defending Pac-12 champs, which is where they’ll manage to knock off the top-5 Huskies.

Closing out the season are the games against Stanford’s biggest rivals, Cal and Notre Dame. Neither of these teams are going to cause the Cardinal a problem and they’ll close out the regular season at 10-2, 7-2 in Pac-12 play.

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Categories: College Football

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