Cal faces its biggest rival on Friday when Stanford visits for the 123rd Big Game at Memorial Stadium.
To get a better sense of coach David Shaw’s Cardinal — which has started the season at 0-2, same as Cal — we sought the insights of R.J. Abeytia of The Bootleg, which chronicles the fortunes of Stanford.
Our thanks to R.J., for answering our five questions about the Cardinal:
How did Stanford make use of its extra time due to the cancellation?
Coach Shaw told us Tuesday that he gave the Cardinal the day off on Saturday while the staff prepared for Cal and then went into their regular week on Sunday so they'd get a full week of prep for Cal on Friday.
How would you assess Davis Mills’ play in his one game?
Coach Shaw saw the game that most of us saw from Davis vs. Colorado. There was some clear rust as a result of not having played in a game and not having been able to practice prior to a brief 45-minute session the day before the game. Davis missed some throws the Cardinal needed him to make early, but the game-closing rally showcased all the tools that give Stanford fans so much hope about his potential. Also, he had not hesitation about taking off and running when it was warranted, a good sign he's put injury concerns in the rearview at this point.
Has Stanford made the improvement in its running game that David Shaw wanted?
After running for 6.4 yards per carry as a team against Oregon, Stanford struggled to get anything going on the ground against the Buffaloes. Starting running back Austin Jones only had nine yards on nine carries and Coach Shaw made it clear that was about inconsistent play on the line. The Cardinal is shuffling three sophomores through the two guard spots (Barrett Miller, Branson Bragg, Jake Hornibrook) and Bragg has already been hurt this year. He's expected back full go for Friday and should help solidify things on the ground moving forward.
During its best seasons in recent years Stanford has been dominant on the line of scrimmage. How do you think this team’s offensive and defensive lines stack up?
TBD on the offensive line. The talent on paper suggests they have the tools to dominate but it hasn't happened yet. Right tackle Foster Sarell actually addressed this directly Tuesday night, saying he thought they had been "good" but that they needed to get to that next level up as a group. There's nothing so far to suggest Stanford's D Line will ever sniff dominance in 2020. Thomas Booker has made some plays and been a frequent target of double teams, but overall Stanford is not impacting games at the line of scrimmage on defense like they did in their glory years.
This is an outlier of a season for everyone, but how do you evaluate the arc of Stanford’s program? Are they positioned to soon return to the level they played over nearly a decade through the 2018 season?
The 2021 Stanford team will be bookended by the two lowest-ranked recruiting classes in the David Shaw Era, so it's hard to forecast an upward arc this far out based on the overall decline in the program's level of play dating back to the previous few seasons. That being said, there are still some quality talents on the roster who should keep Stanford reasonably competitive. The big problem is that defensive recruiting has fallen off a cliff in recent years so there's no clear indication that the Cardinal will get things turned around on that side of the ball anytime soon.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page