Stanford’s offense got off the deck in Arizona, and if there was one unanimous sentiment between coaches and players it was the giddiness about finally being able to force teams to deal with a full dose of Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. McCaffrey dropped 169 yards rushing and another 27 receiving on the Wildcats, while Love backed him up with 78 yards on 12 carries, including a 30-yard reverse we’ll be looking at shortly.
Despite the overall success, what really tantalized the fan base was the first steady, concurrent use of the two on the same field. And while the Cardinal has really only scratched the surface of what it can inflict on opposing defenses, there were a number of auspicious signs in Tucson that this combination can live up to the massive hype.
Stanford comes out on a third down in the first quarter in the Wildcat, with McCaffrey in the shotgun and a fullback offset right. Stanford has Twins right and Love split left against a Wildcat defense that put eight men in the box. Love breaks hard in motion, and passes McCaffrey seconds after Christian receives the snap. UA was in a zone, so the defender originally assigned to Love lets him go. The play picks up the first down thanks to enough push by the O Line.
The bigger takeaway is that when they get the timing down, this is going to be a very good play for Stanford. McCaffrey needs the ball in his hands early enough to execute either a handoff or a really good fake to Love. This is the version of the Wildcat that Stanford fans can live with, as opposed to the Love-less, motionless Neutered Kitty the Cardinal has run too often this year.
Facing a 3rd and 12, Stanford comes out in a Trips Left Single Back (Love) Single Right (McCaffrey), and though this play failed, the design of it was outstanding and is something Stanford should come back to this Saturday. Stanford sends its three receivers left down the field, and drags McCaffrey underneath from right to left, but Chryst radar locks on Irwin and throws a one-hopper for an incompletion.
Because Love was in to block, the weakside linebacker had to release McCaffrey on the cross, and the strong side linebacker has been pulled deep down the field by the vertical routes on the left side of the field. McCaffrey is at full speed and if Chryst could have found him and hit him in stride, this would have been a monster gain. I can all but guarantee Stanford will come back to this play, and well it should.
Later, the Cardinal lines up with Trips Left (McCaffrey Left Slot) and Twins Right (Love Split Right). This play was blown up at the line by Arizona, but essentially the Cardinal had Love plant and turn toward the ball at the snap while McCaffrey sprints out parallel to and behind the line of scrimmage on the opposite side of the field.
I’m ok with this formation, because it really stresses a defense pre-snap to have to account for the entirety of the field with McCaffrey and Love at opposite ends. What I don’t love is not sending either down the field. That’s literally the best outcome the defense can ask for in terms of ease of defending. I’d much rather see Stanford flood one side of the field with these two.
This is where it gets really fun. Stanford comes out in a Trips right formation, but motions Reagan Williams from the right side as a receiver into an I Right formation. Love remains in the slot and McCaffrey is the tailback. Arizona’s 3-4 defense has men over each A Gap and a defensive lineman over the weakside B Gap.
All told, Arizona has eight men in the box and two deep safeties. Brandon Fanaika, who had a pretty strong game for Stanford, pulls from his left guard spot while Williams phenomenally blocks TWO players crashing in from the right side. McCaffrey follows Fanaika up the middle and scoots into the end zone essentially untouched for a 45-yard touchdown.
In fairness, we can’t really say that it was Love’s presence that cracked the code on this play. The efforts of Fanaika and Williams were fantastic, as well as the rest of the offensive line. What we can say is that Stanford had both on the field, and because this play worked so well with Love on it, Arizona was susceptible to some more creativity from Shaw-Vita-Gren.
On the very next possession, Stanford came back in the exact same formation, something it rarely does within a drive. Stanford is in the same I Right Twins Right Formation with Love once again in the slot. At the snap, both ouside linebackers concede contain and crash the edges, hoping to blow McCaffrey up at the snap. Arizona now has nine players inside the tackles as Love breaks across the backfield and gets the handoff from Chryst on the end around. Love has no problem getting the corner and bursting up the field, where both Jesse Burkett and A.T. Hall get downfield and for a convoy that gets Love 30 yards.
While it may be unfair to expect the McLovin’ Combo to put up 37.5 yards per play, this sequence as well as the prior plays shows just how difficult it can be to defend these two players. Stanford’s quarterback situation may be an untenable quagmire at this point, but Chryst won’t have to do too much if the coaches continue to expand and effectively utilize The Righteous Brothers like they did in Tucson.