Predictable playcalling stifled Bryce Love to just 29 rushing yards on Friday, but JJ Arcega-Whiteside dominated in Stanford's 31–10 win over San Diego State.

By Max Meyer
September 01, 2018

Here are three thoughts from No. 13 Stanford's 31–10 win over San Diego State on Friday night. 

1. Not many people would have guessed that Stanford would win a football game with Bryce Love accounting for only 29 rushing yards on 18 carries. Yet, Stanford unleashed a very un-Cardinal-like deep attack headlined by 6’3” JJ Arcega-Whiteside. A matchup nightmare on the outside, the senior wideout exploded for 226 yards and three touchdowns on six catches against San Diego State. Arcega-Whiteside was often a recipient of the endlessly frustrating end-zone fade with previous Stanford quarterbacks. With K.J. Costello, who has the most arm talent in Palo Alto since Andrew Luck, he’s a more complete threat.

This duo has been a budding connection since Costello took over the starting signal-caller duties midway through last season. In Stanford’s final six games, Arcega-Whiteside accumulated 26 catches for 447 yards and four touchdowns, including three scoring grabs against TCU in the Alamo Bowl.

Costello to Arcega-Whiteside gives the Cardinal a vertical dimension the offense hasn’t seen in a while. Colby Parkinson is another option for Costello to work with down the field. The 6’7” sophomore tight end hauled in three catches and a TD vs. the Aztecs. And that added aspect to this unit will force opposing defenses to be a little more honest instead of putting all of their attention on Love.

2. San Diego State did an excellent job bottling Love up Friday night. A big reason why? Predictable play-calling.

Eleven of Love’s 16 carries came on first down. The Aztecs were clearly sold on stopping the run, as their linebackers and safeties would often inch up closer to the line of scrimmage pre-snap. On those 11 carries, he gained eight yards. Backup tailback Cameron Scarlett also got four carries on first down, with those attempts totaling nine yards (though admittedly, Scarlett’s carries came with the game essentially in hand).

In all, Stanford averaged 1.2 yards per carry on its 13 runs on first down. Another first-down run call that would’ve been a short gain ended up costing the Cardinal 10 yards after a holding penalty. On the other hand, Stanford threw the ball nine times on first down and gained 121 yards through the air (13.4 YPA). Another first-down pass resulted in a 15-yard pass interference call that moved Stanford into the red zone.

When the Cardinal were more creative with what it ran on first down, it resulted in big-time results against the Aztecs. Whereas with more vanilla play calls, despite having the best running back in the country, Stanford was completely shut down.

Love’s best carry of the night went for 14 yards, and not coincidentally, it came on a second-and-4 shotgun snap out of the 11 formation (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). The Stanford coaching staff will need to mix up the offense’s looks to give Love the best chance.

3. With all eyes on Love, it was San Diego State’s Juwan Washington who was the top running back of the night. Washington appears destined to follow in the footsteps of Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny as the next great Aztec tailback. The junior sparkplug gashed Stanford’s defense for 158 yards on 24 carries (his 6.6 YPC on Friday exceeded Penny’s 5.5 YPC in SDSU’s upset of Stanford last year).

Washington’s huge game could have been even bigger if the Aztecs kept the game more competitive in the second half. He had 17 carries for 114 yards in the first half alone, in which San Diego State trailed 9-7 despite dominating the game’s first 30 minutes. But with the deficit growing, his number was called only seven times on run plays in the second half.

Pumphrey and Penny each went over the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the 2016 and 2017 campaigns respectively, and Washington looks like he has a similar ceiling. Mountain West defenses are going to have a lot of trouble slowing him down.

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