First item on Stanford’s to-do list against OSU: fast start for a change
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.
Cardinal running back Bryce Love will play his final game at Stanford Stadium against Oregon State on Saturday.