Arizona State trounced Stanford 26-10 only a season after the Cardinal beat the Sun Devils twice by a combined margin of 38 points. With Stanford having three losses already on the year, we asked football writers Joseph Beyda, George Chen and Michael Peterson: Can the Cardinal salvage the season or is it time to call this season a rebuilding year? Or even worse, is this the end of the great run that we’ve seen over the past five years?
Michael: Yes, Stanford has overcome early-season struggles in the past, pushing past two losses in the first six games of the 2012 season to win the Rose Bowl and a loss to Utah early on in 2013 to reach the Rose Bowl. It is certainly not unthinkable that the Card could rebound to win the rest of their conference games and make the Pac-12 Championship.
However, what alarms me is that when Stanford has lost in the past, it has generally been to teams that play a similar physical style and that have the talent on both sides of the line to match Stanford in the trenches (like Michigan State, Notre Dame and USC). Losing to Arizona State is a completely different story.
Just a week ago, we were discussing whether Stanford was built to beat Arizona State and the rest of the Pac-12’s fast-paced offenses after two seasons of domination against Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington. Now, the same fast-paced offense that Stanford slowed to a crawl last year had its way at the line of scrimmage against Stanford. A defense that is not even considered one of the best in the Pac-12 and lost nine starters from last season (a defense that surrendered 80 points over two games to Stanford in 2013 at that) completely shut down the Cardinal on offense. This loss represented a stark change from the Stanford losses of old and even the Stanford losses to USC and Notre Dame this season.
Though mathematically anything is possible in the Pac-12, the Stanford we have seen this season is a major downgrade compared to the teams that went to four straight BCS bowls and I do not think this team has what it takes to salvage the season, especially with Oregon looming in two weeks, and underappreciated Oregon State and Utah still set to come to Stanford Stadium. Whether or not this is merely a rebuilding year or a sign of things to come may not be known until next season.
Joseph: Michael is right: The Cardinal’s questions on offense have only gotten more pressing as the season’s gone on, and I doubt they will find the answers in time to sweep their last five conference games. I do not just mean Oregon; how is this Stanford team going to even outscore Cal if it plays the way it did in Tempe?
However, there is something that Stanford still can — and must — salvage this season: its attitude. People have been wondering for a year or two whether the Cardinal would become complacent, given that their touted incoming recruits were inheriting a perennial winner. This year, there have been signs that entitlement may be beginning to creep in.
Two years ago, when Stanford suffered a gut-wrenching loss at Notre Dame, multiple players said the defeat was still gnawing at them the following Monday. That team shocked the college football world by finishing its season with eight straight wins. This year, when Stanford suffered a gut-wrenching loss at Notre Dame, multiple players said that the Cardinal had moved on by the time they landed back home. That team lost another game two weeks later.
None of us are in that locker room. We do not know whether the personalities are different than in the past. But the fact of the matter is that after each of Stanford’s first two losses, the team did not do what it had to in order to right the ship. If it is because of a lack of caring, the Cardinal’s leaders better fix their team’s attitude sooner rather than later, because otherwise, the problem will only get worse.
George: Stanford’s run as one of the elite teams in college football is not over, but this season is most certainly a rebuilding year. Joey disagrees with me, but I just do not think Stanford is equipped with the weapons needed to be a legitimate Pac-12 title contender — much less a College Football Playoff candidate — this season. Early in the 2012 season, the Cardinal struggled offensively, but all the pieces were in place: a reliable target who could always get open in Zach Ertz, a workhorse running back in Stepfan Taylor and one of the best offensive lines in the country. The only change that Stanford needed was to switch out Josh Nunes for Kevin Hogan.
Right now, none of the pieces are there on offense. Ty Montgomery has not been able to touch the ball on offense, Devon Cajuste is coming off an injury, the running backs never play long enough in a game to find a rhythm and the offensive line has not made visible improvements since the season opener. Maybe David Shaw was right in blaming himself today for his team’s woes on offense, but I’m not sure better play-calling would have made much of a difference against Arizona State.
Stanford needs to fix its problems quickly. It is not inconceivable that the Cardinal fail to make a bowl game this year, so if you are a Cardinal fan, I would worry about a 6-6 record first before mentioning Stanford and “Pac-12 title” in the same sentence.
Michael Peterson, Joey Beyda and George Chen spent all day Sunday crying and eating ice cream after this weekend’s tough loss. To inquire whether they have moved on after Saturday’s contest, or whether the defeat is still gnawing at them, contact them at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu, jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu and gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.