Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Josh Yuen, sports editor of The Daily Californian, and Bobby Pragada, managing sports editor of The Stanford Daily. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Josh Yuen: If you could sum up Stanford’s season in a few words, what would they be and why?
Bobby Pragada: I think from a fan’s perspective, disappointing. Expectations coming into this year with K.J. Costello coming into his first full year as a starter were kind of sky-high, particularly after Bryce Love’s Heisman season last year. People thought that we had an incredible running back, a very talented quarterback, we have weapons, so what’s to stop us from making a run and possibly being in College Football Playoff contention this year?
The way the season started out seemed to back that up with our win over USC and our comeback win against Oregon. But then ever since the Notre Dame game, it’s just been a sense of disappointment. After that week, it was like, ‘Maybe Notre Dame is just a really good team,’ but then we lost to Utah, then we lost to Washington and Washington State, and ever since the Utah loss, the atmosphere around campus about the team has been disappointing. I don’t think anybody’s going to be calling for David Shaw’s job at the end of it, but really knowing what could have been this year and what ended up happening are two very different things.
JY: The storyline early was Bryce Love, but injuries have really hindered him this season. What type of performance do you expect Love to have during the last couple of weeks?
BP: I don’t even think it’s been injuries at this point. I think it’s primarily been awful offensive line play. Our line has been hit by injuries, but also just bad play from every single player, mistakes on nearly one individual on every snap has been a result of massive miscommunication both on pass and run plays. Bryce’s ankle has obviously been holding him back a bit, especially during the Washington and Washington State games, but for the majority of it, he’s been relatively healthy, at least healthier than he was at this point last year while having an incredible season.
He had an amazing performance on Saturday against Oregon State. David Shaw said after the game that this is the best that Bryce has felt in weeks, so his health for the Big Game is not the issue. The issue is really asking ourselves if our offensive line can get a push against Cal’s stout defensive front-seven, which has been utterly terrifying. So I’m worried about Love’s ability to produce on the ground this week, but I think against UCLA he’ll have a fine game. I think he’ll have a very pedestrian rest of the season — it’s not going to be like the Bryce Love we saw last year, but he’s not going to be terrible either.
JY: Last season, K.J. Costello emerged as “the guy” over Keller Chryst. Can you talk a bit about Costello’s progression as a quarterback and as a leader?
BP: Costello has been one of two bright spots this year, the other being (cornerback) Paulson Abedo. K.J. has been utterly incredible, almost to the point where people don’t even realize how good he’s been. He’s actually caused the Stanford philosophy to change entirely from a run-first ground game offensively to an aerial attack, pass-first type of game plan that Shaw has adapted. Since winning the starting job last year, he’s showed that he’s the best quarterback that this campus has seen since Andrew Luck. I’m confident in saying that. He’s progressed so much as a passer, his reads have grown consistently, his presence in the pocket and ability to step up and run and make clutch plays has been unreal. I think that if he comes back next season, which he should, he’ll be a Heisman contender, I think that he’ll be an incredible NFL prospect next year, and I think that we’ve seen some maturation in him a lot. I can’t say enough good things about him.
JY: Four different receivers have more than 400 receiving yards this season. What can you say about the performances of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Colby Parkinson and the receivers core as a whole?
BP: I think the majority of the production has been out of necessity more than anything. Stanford’s been falling behind pretty early. But the pass catchers have been incredible. The tight ends that we have right now, both Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson, are, as David Shaw would say, the No. 1 and No. 2 tight ends in the country, and I don’t know how you can disagree with him on that. They’ve been utterly incredible, and they just have size on people, whether it’s small corners or linebackers and grab the ball from right over their heads. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside posting up in the end zone, Colby Parkinson on Saturday, it’s practically unguardable. They’ve been great route runners as well with Kaden Smith in the middle, and we can’t forget about Trenton Irwin, the most precise route runner on the team. He always manages to get separation on every single route and is looking like a third-day NFL draft guy based on his performance this season. You need 5 or 6 yards? You throw it to Trent Irwin. They’ve all picked up the slack from our lackluster ground game and our defensive struggles.
JY: Stanford’s defense started off the season exceptionally well, and then competition got a little stiffer. What’s been the overarching storyline defensively? Who has stood out and who has taken a step back?
BP: The biggest story on defense is that Stanford doesn’t have talent on the defensive line. Our defensive linemen have struggled all year long to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. All of our sacks this year have come from all-out blitz situations. We’re sending corners, we’re sending multiple linemen, but that’s mostly extreme schemes. Our defensive linemen have not been performing at a level where we can get a quarterback to hurry up and throw the ball. We have a talented secondary, but you can’t cover everyone forever.
JY: Score prediction for Saturday?
BP: I think the way it’s going to look is it’s defense vs. offense. Cal’s defense is incredible, K.J., J.J. and Kaden are incredible, so it’s going to come down to if our offensive line can hold up against the defensive pressure from Cal. If we can, our pass catchers are going to get open and they’re going to catch long balls and everything that’s thrown to them, so I think we have the potential to come back from a deficit. But the way that Cal has played recently against Washington, Washington State and USC’s offenses has me a little worried about whether we can produce at all. I believe that Stanford is going to fall behind early on as we have done so many times. We may even get shut out in the first half — that’s always a possibility. But in the second half, we’re going to mount a comeback and it’s going to come down to whether or not the comeback will be effective enough. Final score will be something like 27-24, with Stanford winning. I’ll give us the benefit of the doubt.