Practice Notes 10/25: Chryst is the starter

The Keller Chryst era is here.

Keller Chryst is the starting quarterback

“You know the definition of insanity, right? We all know it’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We need a spark very badly. We need something to change offensively.” – Mike Bloomgren 

And with that, the Keller Chryst era at Stanford has officially begun. 

After Stanford’s 10-5 humiliation against Colorado on Saturday, the coaches made a rather quick decision to move on from Ryan Burns and informed both Burns and Chryst on Monday that they were planning to move forward with Keller under center.

“As of right now, Keller’s just going to play,” Shaw said. “Ryan will back him up and stay ready.”

You can pretty clearly read between the lines there: Ryan Burns is done playing quarterback for Stanford barring injuries.

There won’t be any of that wishy-washy quarterback changing nonsense – it’s pretty clear that the team will sink or swim with Keller Chryst and only Keller Chryst moving forward, for better or worse. 

This move should surprise absolutely nobody given how Burns has played over the last few weeks, but the coaches have been emphasizing all day that the struggles aren’t necessarily Burns’ fault and that this is more of an indication of something – anything – just needing to change, as opposed to Burns flat-out losing the job.

And I absolutely agree there. My Twitter followers will be the first to tell you that I haven’t for a second been on the “bench Burns” bandwagon for the last few weeks, because it’s really a total system failure on offense more so than a glaring failure at quarterback that has held this team back over the last few weeks.

“It’d be really, really easy if it was just the quarterback,” Shaw said. “If we’re running the ball for 250 yards a game and we have all day to throw the ball and the receivers are making phenomenal catches every week and the quarterback’s just not getting it done.

“That’s why you feel so bad for Ryan, because he’s worked so hard. You won’t find a more improved player over the last calendar year. He’s just been outstanding. Not everything’s been perfect around him. But this is what we have to do right now.” 

Has Burns criminally underthrown most of his deep balls? Absolutely. Has he committed some costly fumbles? Yep. Has he shown a consistent failure to make accurate and timely downfield reads? Mhm.

But until the Colorado game, I didn’t feel that he’d necessarily done anything glaring to lose the job outright – and I also thought that he hadn’t gotten the full trust and command of the offense through a full game from his coaching staff from both a mental and game-flow standpoint with him being pulled every third drive. 

He finally got that chance against Colorado, with Chryst only coming in sporadically for his ill-suited QB run packages that drew the ire of the home “crowd” at Stanford Stadium. At the time, it felt like the coaches were doing that because they didn’t trust Chryst to even throw the ball – but now, looking back on that, my hunch is that they’d decided before the game to give Burns a real, fair chance at winning the job for good without any distractions stemming from Chryst entering the game or any talk of a competition with Chryst.

He failed that test.

It’s not necessarily that he did anything glaringly wrong or that he’s necessarily the cause of the offensive failures (because he wasn’t) – not to say that he was anything close to perfect, either – but he’s simply now the most visible scapegoat for the struggles of the offense as a whole. Something had to give, and it ended up being Burns’ job rather than that of, say, a coach.

Whether or not that’s completely fair is a different discussion altogether. It’s not necessarily Burns’ fault that the offensive line hasn’t been healthy since Week 1 and has been reshuffled like a deck of cards. It’s not his fault, either, that their lack of success has led to opposing safeties continuing to stuff the run game and any passes have come in clearly telegraphed situations.

But the fact of the matter is, at this point, it’s more of a discussion of noting that Burns hasn’t necessarily done anything to keep his job, either, and moving forward, if you want something to change (and we clearly do), something needs to happen. The coaches are sick of just sitting idly by while nothing changes, and even though Chryst is pretty much just a younger Burns in terms of skill set, let’s hope that even the feeling of change is enough to actually incite a change.

“We’re looking for a spark,” Bloomgren said. “We’re looking for a change. We’re looking for somebody to continue to do the things that we demand of our quarterback position.”

Let’s also note something else: From an evaluation standpoint, this move isn’t fair to Burns or Chryst – and the coaches aren’t pretending like it is, either.

It’s almost a certainty that Chryst will look better than Burns moving forward, and it’s going to make the coaches look like geniuses for doing so. Chryst won’t face an upper-tier Pac-12 defense the rest of the way, with Arizona (9th), Oregon State (8th), Oregon (12th) and Cal (11th) making up the rest of the Pac-12 slate.

Meanwhile, Burns was evaluated against USC (7th), UCLA (6th), Washington (2nd), Washington State (5th) and Colorado (1st). It’s almost a foregone conclusion that based on opponents alone, Burns should be expected to do worse – to a certain extent (football is a primarily matchups-based game, after all). 

But fair or not, something had to be done at this point, and that’s just going to be part of the Ryan Burns legacy – was he ever truly given a fair shot? We’ll never know. But as heartless as it might seem in hindsight, that’s not what’s important. Winning is.

“I can’t say what’s fair and what’s not fair for either one of them,” Shaw said. “All I can do is judge what they can do with the opportunities that they’re given. As I said earlier, I don’t hold our quarterback accountable for anything that’s not his responsibility.

“So we’ll have hopefully a lot of opportunities over the next few games to really evaluate Keller, and hopefully we’ll have positive evaluations because hopefully we move the ball and get touchdowns. It’s where we are. I think we’re too talented of an offense not to put up points.”

But we’d be remiss not to recognize what Ryan Burns did before we officially close the book on his short Stanford career.

Just as we recognize Josh Nunes for his contributions to that 2012 Rose Bowl team (I don’t care what you say, Kevin Hogan doesn’t beat Arizona that year), let’s give Burns the credit that’s due for leading this team and its patchwork offensive line to big wins over Kansas State and USC and for that game-winning drive against UCLA that will (hopefully) help preserve Stanford’s empty title of “Kings of California” that might well be the only silver lining in an otherwise dreadful season.

Let’s give him credit for coming into Stanford, learning a completely new offense and waiting patiently for three years behind one of the most successful quarterbacks in Stanford history before winning a tough quarterback competition as a clear-cut underdog to earn the right to start for the Stanford Cardinal for half of a season.

“You look at what Ryan Burns has accomplished and how much he’s improved over the last year,” Shaw said. “He’s as improved of a football player as we’ve had here in a long time from where he was a year ago. Game-winning drive at UCLA, winning a game against USC, a rare road victory at Notre Dame. He’s accomplished a lot in a little over half a season.”

But that’s in the past now. The future is in the hands of Keller Chryst – and, eventually, K.J. Costello. As for how that goes, we can only wait and see.


Alijah Holder will miss the rest of the season

It’s gotten to that point. Alijah Holder re-injured his right shoulder in his first game back after a month-long absence, and the team is officially ready to shut him down for the year, with a tentative plan to have him ready to play by spring football.

“We just can’t get it right, so we’re going to have to keep him out,” Shaw said. “He should be back in time for spring football. It’s so unfortunate, because he and Quenton Meeks were a great tandem together.”

Indeed, they were. It’s a big loss for the Cardinal, because this was really meant to be Holder’s breakout season as a No. 1 corner – and he’d been doing just that when healthy, shutting down Byron Pringle of Kansas State and JuJu Smith-Schuster of USC and playing well for a half against Colorado before being sidelined again with the nagging shoulder injury.

It’s no big surprise, really – with the season all but lost as is, it’s probably not worth it for the team to continue to jeopardize the health of one of its most promising talents. Rather than rushing him back again to see him re-injure the shoulder again, it’s certainly best just to let Frank Buncom gain more experience and have a fresh, absolutely healthy Alijah back for next season. 

In Holder’s absence, we’re going to see some combination of Alameen Murphy and Frank Buncom alongside Meeks, with Terrence Alexander likely playing more nickel if he gets on the field. If anything were to happen to any of those four, I’d expect Malik Antoine to get a look.

Alameen has actually played fairly well this season and seems to have progressed a lot since the struggles of last season. Buncom is one of Stanford’s most promising young talents and should only figure to get better with increased exposure at cornerback, though it shouldn’t be a surprise if there’s a continued growing curve.


Injury updates 


David Bright

Bright didn’t play against Colorado and was said by Shaw to be “questionable” during his lunch press conference on Tuesday. However, he practiced well on Tuesday in a limited capacity and the coaches seem confident that he’ll be ready to play by Saturday, so I’m upgrading him to “likely” for this post.

“Bright is trending upward,” Shaw said. “Limited today, but we’ll see a little bit more tomorrow. I feel pretty good about him being able to play. How much and in what position, we’ll see. But physically, he looks like he’s ready to go.”


Johnny Caspers

Caspers was in and out of the game against Colorado on Saturday and is “pretty banged up right now,” according to Shaw. He didn’t practice on Tuesday. If he can’t play, Nate Herbig would likely replace him at right guard, with Bright still on the mend. Bloomgren isn’t sure yet whether Herbig can handle all of the snaps as a starting offensive lineman… but he’s going to have to do his best if Caspers can’t play, because they’re not ready to play Nick Wilson at guard yet.

“We’ll see where he is later in the week,” Shaw said. “Whether or not that’s Nate Herbig or some other combination, we’ll have to let the week play out to a certain degree.”


Daniel Marx

I’m hearing that Marx is sidelined with a long-term knee issue and that he might have re-injured himself. Shaw says that he’s currently doing well and that he’s still a few weeks away. They haven’t discussed the possibility of a medical redshirt yet, but if he’s only able to play in one or two games after his return, it’s a near-certainty that Stanford would apply for one for him. 

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“We’re getting close to turning the corner, I believe,” Shaw said. “We backed off and just let him recover for a while. Now we’re starting back with the rehab and slightly more aggressive approach. He’s really responding. Probably still give him a couple of more weeks but it looks like he may be able to come back and finish out the season, which would be great.”

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