First item on Stan­ford’s to-do list against OSU: fast start for a change

San Francisco Chronicle - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Tom FitzGer­ald Tom FitzGer­ald is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: tfitzger­ald@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @tomg­fitzger­ald

In most of its games, Stan­ford has started more slowly than a Rus­sian novel.

Against Utah and Wash­ing­ton, the Car­di­nal were down 21-0 in the sec­ond quar­ter. Against Ore­gon, the deficit was 14-0, then 24-7 in the sec­ond quar­ter. It was 14-7 to Notre Dame in the sec­ond quar­ter. Af­ter scor­ing on their open­ing drive against Wash­ing­ton State, the Car­di­nal quickly trailed 14-7.

Stan­ford lost four of the six games in which it trailed early and as a re­sult, en­ters Sat­ur­day night’s home fi­nale against Ore­gon State with a 5-4 record (3-3 in the Pac-12).

It’s Se­nior Night, so maybe the emo­tions will pay off for the Car­di­nal. As many as 26 play­ers, in­clud­ing some with an­other year of el­i­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing, will be hon­ored be­fore the game. Bryce Love, last year’s Heis­man Tro­phy run­ner-up, will be among those play­ing their fi­nal game at Stan­ford Sta­dium.

Head coach David Shaw and his staff have opened up the of­fense the past two weeks in an ef­fort to ig­nite some early ral­lies and make up for the sea­son’s as­ton­ish­ingly slug­gish ground game.

“Don’t think for one sec­ond that the coaches are just sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat, let­ting the car drive it­self,” Shaw said. “We have got to get our play­ers to play their best foot­ball when the ball is kicked off. Out­side of two games this year, we have not. I thought we did well ini­tially against USC. I thought we came out well against Wash­ing­ton State.”

As wide re­ceiver Trent Ir­win sees it, the Car­di­nal have trou­ble reach­ing their full in­ten­sity un­til they’re be­hind.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween great teams and good teams, in my opin­ion , is be­ing able to fight when you’re com­fort­able,” he said. “We haven’t been able to do that. In the be­gin­ning of the game, it’s com­fort­able. Then we get pushed in a cor­ner, and we have the fight, we have the dogs. We need to able to do that when we’re com­fort­able.”

In the Wash­ing­ton game, Stan­ford outscored the Huskies 23-6 in the sec­ond half, but it wasn’t enough be­cause of the 21-0 half­time deficit.

“Clearly we saw in the sec­ond

half we were play­ing well,” linebacker Sean Bar­ton said. “It’s tough to look back and feel the re­gret and dis­ap­point­ment of not be­ing able to put that to­gether for the full game.”

Of course, there’s a lot more to Stan­ford’s strug­gles than poor starts. Be­sides the ane­mic rush­ing at­tack, it is near the bot­tom of the FBS rank­ing in pass de­fense; it gives up an aver­age of 266.3 yards per game. The Car­di­nal’s slowly de­vel­op­ing de­fen­sive line rarely has won the line of scrim­mage.

“We’re not dom­i­nat­ing sit­u­a­tions that win you foot­ball games week in and week out: spe­cial teams, third-down con­ver­sions, turnover mar­gin, con­ver­sion rate in the red zone,” quar­ter­back K.J. Costello said. “It’s very hard to beat a team when you don’t beat them in those areas.”

The Ore­gon State game might be an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove in some of those areas. The Beavers, un­der first-year head coach Jonathan Smith, have the worst rush­ing de­fense in the Pac-12 (274.6 yards per game), are last in sacks (nine) and have al­lowed 42, the most in the na­tion. Their only con­fer­ence win was a 41-34 over­time up­set at Colorado on Oct. 27.

On the other hand, the Beavers’ of­fense has got­ten dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter since 6-foot-7 se­nior quar­ter­back Jake Lu­ton re­turned from a high an­kle sprain and a con­cus­sion. Fresh­man tail­back Jer­mar Jef­fer­son is fourth in the con­fer­ence in rush­ing with 121.3 yards a game and his 12 rush­ing touch­downs lead the Pac-12.

Briefly: Stan­ford’s JJ Arcega Whiteside, sec­ond in the coun­try with 11 touch­down catches, won’t play be­cause of last Sat­ur­day’s an­kle in­jury. … Red­shirt sopho­more Dy­lan Pow­ell might man the right-guard spot be­cause Nate Her­big is out and both Dev­ery Hamil­ton and Drew Dal­man are listed as ques­tion­able with undis­closed in­juries . ... Jet Toner is also out, so Collin Ric­citelli again will kick in his place . ... The first 10,000 fans will re­ceive Chris­tian Mc­Caf­frey bob­ble­heads — avail­able at tun­nels C and D and at Gates 9 and 12.

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Car­di­nal run­ning back Bryce Love will play his fi­nal game at Stan­ford Sta­dium against Ore­gon State on Sat­ur­day.

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