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A Look At Stanford: Q&A With Jacob Rayburn

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Stanford coach David Shaw (USA Today Sports)

In previewing Stanford, Blue & Gold Illustrated caught up with Jacob Rayburn, who covers the Cardinal for CardinalSportsReport.com.

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Blue & Gold Illustrated: Where is Stanford at right now? How much did the loss to Washington adjust expectations?

Jacob Rayburn: Evaluating the first four games is kind of interesting for Stanford because the record is not unexpected. A lot of Stanford fans would have expected a 3-1 start. It was the nature of the loss that really had a long lasting effect and caused a lot of discussion about Stanford moving forward. It was the worst loss of the David Shaw era and by margin of victory for Washington, it was the worst loss for Stanford since 2006. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, there was a lot of 2006 statistical references in that game, which is an era that Stanford fans always wanted to leave behind. That makes it difficult to evaluate Stanford at the moment. With all their health concerns, with suddenly having defensive questions.

BGI: Is Stanford re-evaluating the whole operation after the loss to Washington, or is the program simply brushing it off?

Rayburn: It’s a little bit of a combination. In some ways taking stock in the sense that getting back to what was working, getting back to performing at the level they know they’re capable of. At the same time understanding that bad losses happen sometimes, and the point that I made to some people is that the mark of a great program isn’t that they never have bad losses like that, it’s that they put long stretches of success between those losses. Stanford finally had one for the first time in about 10 years. Nothing changes in terms of they did well enough to win three tough games against three tough opponents leading up tot hat week. It’s just a matter of, especially on the line of scrimmage, reaffirming what they know they can do and brushing up on the technique improvements.

BGI: Explain the season Christian McCaffrey is having. What is the feeling about what he’s done so far?

Rayburn: That’s one of those things that’s tough evaluate. Coach Shaw has touched on this is a couple of press conferences, and the word he used was ‘spoiled.’ Everybody got spoiled last season watching a historic season. There was a reason it was called historic, they don’t happen very often. The numbers were never really going to be there to the same degree that they were last year. If for no other reason it’s almost impossible to do, and then adding the fact that there’s three new offensive line starters and several new role players who come in on the extra offensive line packages. In terms of his ability and importance to the team, in some ways he’s running better than he did last season. He’s put together some amazing runs, but the issue has been, and this is another point Shaw has made, he’s having to break three tackles to gain five yards much too often. It seemed like they were trending away from that after rushing for almost 300 yards against USC. Last year he didn’t have to do that, he didn’t have to break three tackles to gain five yards. He still shows his brilliance, it’s just been a struggle in some ways to utilize him in all the ways that they would like because in general the offense has been slow to develop. There’s really no stat for the offense that argues against that. They’ve been a little slow to get the offense going this season, but it’s tough to put that on McCaffrey, even though he’s clearly the leader of the group.

BGI: How is Ryan Burns’ play at quarterback impacting what McCaffrey is doing?

Rayburn: With the quarterback situation, the only connection there is really that Kevin Hogan was comfortable with everything that, again, had a more experienced offensive line to work with. The one thing that might be interesting is that Christian McCaffrey a lot of people thought would be a perfect safety valve for Ryan Burns to check down to, to have relatively easy completions to, and the last couple games that hasn’t really been there. That’s a combination of things and Coach Shaw mentioned after the Washington game that he thought Ryan Burns played well. It was tough for him to do anything more than look at his first progression because he was sacked seven times. Washington was doing a great job covering the first read, so it becomes tough for McCaffrey and Burns to really form a dynamic relationship when so much of the offense is still coming together. I can’t imagine they want to force it too much to funnel everything to McCaffrey.

BGI: Defensively, why did Stanford fall apart against Washington?

Rayburn: In some ways I’m not sure (Stanford) even knows because it was so unexpected. Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who is also the offensive line coach, said it was probably the worst performance by the offensive line against Washington, and then conversely about the defensive performance, Washington seemed to do the same thing on that side. Washington’s line of scrimmage domination carried over to both sides against Stanford. A lot of credit needs to go to Washington’s lines that played exceptionally well. Stanford’s nose tackle Harrison Phillips made an interesting point where he said going up against UCLA’s line was the most physically demanding game of the season so far because of their style and the type of running plays they were calling, but Washington’s line was the best coached, and they knew how to set up plays to their advantage and they did it very well. One of the most amazing stats in that game was that Stanford recorded zero sacks and one tackle for loss. That’s very different from what Stanford fans have gotten used to seeing, and when you have such an incredible departure from the norm, we’re not yet at a position where we know if that’s the new normal or it was just an anomaly.

BGI: Is there a player people are waiting to bust out for Stanford?

Rayburn: The answer to that question isn’t really an unknown guy, it’s Bryce Love. He showed flashes last season of why he was so highly thought of by the Stanford staff and why they were willing to go after a guy who doesn’t look like the power back that you’re used to with Stanford. He has not been 100 percent healthy for the first four games of the season, and Mike Bloomgren and Coach Shaw were just so thrilled in the offseason talking about the idea of Love and McCaffrey on the field at the same time and what that could do to opposing defenses. The fact that that has yet to materialize and they’re still waiting for Bryce to be able to do what they know he’s capable of, and it’s health related, and if he can come back and if he can be what everyone knows he can be on the field, then he provides a significant boost to the offense that could have a dramatic effect result on the field.

BGI: What’s your feeling about Stanford’s game at Notre Dame?

Rayburn: That’s going to be tough. With both teams now having questions on defense and Stanford’s offense being a little slow to get going, if Stanford wins they’re going to have to score points and it’ll have to be a similar thing to last season. My prediction would be Stanford winning the game by a 42-35 kind of range.