The viewers of Saturday’s matchup between Oregon State and Stanford would have learned very little about either team.
In the infamous words of Denny Green, “They are who we thought they were,” though in this case he would have been referencing both teams.
Stanford was a running team with a pair of very good running backs in Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, and coach David Shaw ran those boys into the ground. When McCaffrey was stuffed on the goal line with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it marked the 26th consecutive rushing attempt for the Cardinal.
And how can you blame Shaw for a gameplan of such spectacular blandness? Oregon State’s defense was allowing more than 5 yards per carry, ranking them 107th in the nation in rush defense. McCaffrey, obliterator of records just a year ago, was on the heels of his best game of the season, a three-touchdown smacking of Arizona. He was rewarded with 32 carries, which resulted in 199 yards and a touchdown in a 26-15 victory.
Love, too, was excellent, accounting for 89 yards and a touchdown on just 9 carries. All told, the two were responsible for more yards (288) than the entire Oregon State team. By game’s end, the Cardinal ran the ball 58 times for 365 total yards — its highest ground total since 2011 – while throwing just 17 passes. There was no reason for Shaw to put the ball in the air, and nobody should have expected him to.
The Beavers were everything they have been of late: unexpectedly pesky. They hung on. They limited the explosive plays – well, as much as one can against McCaffrey and Love. They kept it close. They’re going to be a problem in a year or two… but not this year. Not to McCaffrey and Love and a running attack that everyone knew was coming.
“We were running the ball for six yards a clip, they’re getting a little bit tired and we’ve got two running backs we can rotate through there,” Shaw said.
“When you’ve got an offensive line that’s feeling good and creating creases, and two running backs that are getting better and better, (with) a two-score lead. why put it up in the air? Let’s ground this thing and let’s end the game.”
There is, however, a problem, and a glaring one. McCaffrey isn’t going to be in Palo Alto forever, and not every defense Stanford plays will allow 6.3 yards per carry despite knowing full well that Chryst was going to hand the ball off over and over and over again.
Perhaps Kevin Hogan wasn’t given enough credit in his four years as a Cardinal. He was labeled as a game manager, a safe quarterback – not the guy you’re going to rely on to win games. In retrospect, Hogan may have been the greatest unsung hero in the 2015-16 season. When Hogan dropped back, you didn’t expect fireworks, but you also knew that nothing terribly bad was going to happen. He was good not great, which is exactly what he needed to be.
Stanford needs that now, and it will likely need more come 2017. In the present moment, Shaw is content being exactly what everyone thinks they are. They’re a running team, and he’s okay with that.