Coach Shaw discusses the close calls that have marked the 2014 football season

Nov. 18, 2014, 11:27 p.m.

As Stanford head coach David Shaw gave his weekly media briefing on Tuesday, his mood seemed remarkably downtrodden.

Senior Kevin Anderson (right)
Senior linebacker Kevin Anderson (right) has had a tremendous season in his first season as a starter. Anderson is leading the team in tackles for a loss with 10.5 TFL, and tied for third in sacks with 4.5 sacks. (KEVIN HSU/The Stanford Daily)

It wasn’t really his tone of voice or his outlook for the upcoming rivalry game against Cal  the first in a number of years that could actually have postseason implications. But something about Shaw’s demeanor made him come off like someone who had just been hit with a piece of bad news that he couldn’t quite understand.

It certainly is difficult to see how things went wrong with a team that had credible national championship ambitions at the beginning of the season. Phrases like “poor execution” and a “failure to make plays” are tossed around almost every week to describe the obstacles that the team faces, but part of the problem appears to be that it just has not had many lucky breaks.

Shaw alluded to as much as he reflected on the Cardinal’s double overtime loss to Utah last weekend. Two somewhat questionable penalty calls slowed Stanford’s last drive in regulation, and while the Stanford coach certainly didn’t cast off his signature professionalism, he came about as close as he ever has to accusing the referees of making an error.

“It was just a judgment call. There was a closer referee that was looking right at the play and he didn’t throw his flag,” Shaw said of a holding penalty called on full back Lee Ward that moved the Cardinal out of field goal range. “Lee didn’t actually grab any cloth. He didn’t turn the defender, the defender turned himself. There was a discussion between officials and they maintained it was a penalty…but I still think it was just a judgment call.”

On another incident that came a few plays before Ward’s penalty, in which tailback Remound Wright was flagged for a personal foul, Shaw was arguably even more critical of the decision made by the officiating team.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a penalty get called [on plays like that],” Shaw said. “I understand it; I’m not necessarily contesting it. I was just surprised in that situation at that time with how hard both teams we’re playing…that one guy got singled out.”

Turnovers were another area in which Shaw did not feel that things were breaking in his team’s favor. The Cardinal defense has been dominant in almost every aspect of the game, but it has inexplicably failed to generate many takeaways from opposing offenses.

“Periodically the ball gets on the ground like it did on Saturday, and it bounces toward them and away from us,” Shaw surmised. “That’s the tough part…you have to believe that you’re going to get a bounce here or there.”

Shaw never runs for cover when asked if he shares in the blame for this disappointing season, while also remaining steadfast in defending his players’ talent and drive. He simply hopes that the struggles endured by the team this season will ultimately pay dividends in the remaining games and in future years.

“The hard part about gaining experience is you usually gain experience through negativity, through something bad happening to you or through you doing something wrong. We have to believe through effort and dedication that we’re going to…learn from these mistakes and [ultimately become a better team].”


Looking forward to the Big Game, the Cardinal are excited for the chance to win a trophy and achieve bowl eligibility.

“The Axe, the trophy that you get if you win the game, makes it a little more special,” said linebacker Kevin Anderson. “The season being so close also heightens the intensity.”

“In this program we pride ourselves on playing for tangible evidence, so [playing for the Axe] is something we’re excited for” agreed wide receiver Jeff Trojan.

Even Shaw lightened up briefly when discussing the history and prestige of the Big Game. He referred to the 1990 incarnation of the rivalry, when he was a redshirt freshman on Stanford’s team, as “the most exciting game I’ve ever seen or been apart of.”

Stanford will have to stop a powerful Cal offense if it wishes to bring home the Axe for the fifth consecutive season. Cal quarterback Jared Goff, currently third in the nation in total yards, represents a particularly challenging threat.

“I’ve always liked [Goff], since he was in high school,” remarked Shaw.

Fortunately, Stanford will be at nearly full strength to deal with Goff and Cal, and the team is happy to have the chance to begin wrapping up the season on a positive note. For them, it’s time to “get back that good feeling back in the locker room, holding the Axe.”

Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ 

Andrew Mather served as a sports editor and as the Chief Operating Officer of The Daily. A devout Clippers and Iowa Hawkeyes fan from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Mather grew accustomed to watching his favorite programs snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He brought this nihilistic pessimism to The Daily, where he often felt a sense of déjà vu while covering basketball, football and golf.

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