Cardinal fall to Bruins in home opener

Sept. 26, 2021, 12:43 a.m.

Despite it being Stanford’s first home game in front of fans since Nov. 30, 2019, the Cardinal was not able to use the crowd’s energy in their favor against UCLA’s football team.

The Stanford offense struggled mightily to open the game, with the offense failing to record a first down in their first five possessions. Despite outscoring the No. 24 Bruins (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) in the second half, the Cardinal (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12) lost 35-24.

Stanford went three-and-out on the opening drive of the game, and a long punt return set the Bruins up inside of the Cardinal 15-yard line. Soon enough, a one-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gave UCLA the early 7-0 lead. Later in the quarter, UCLA drove down the field to double their lead, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run from senior running back Zach Charbonnet.

“Offensively just a terrible start, absolutely terrible start, inexcusable,” said head coach David Shaw. “Throw it on me. It’s my fault. We did not start well. That’s my job.”

“It was just off to a slow start. Had a couple missed assignments, miscommunications,” said sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee. “Couple missed throws by me. We have to come out better, come out with a little more juice, more fired up.”

Things finally began to click on the sixth possession, as the Cardinal drove the ball into UCLA territory with the help of receptions from junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins and a screen to senior fullback Jay Symonds that went for a long gain. After a false start and a blown-up run play, a 19-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to junior wide receiver Brycen Tremayne cut the deficit in half.

The Cardinal got the ball back near the end of the half but couldn’t do anything with it, and the Bruins made them pay. Despite a key UCLA penalty giving the Bruins a first and goal from the Stanford 24, the Cardinal could not stand strong, as a two-yard touchdown run by Thompson-Robinson extended the UCLA lead to 21-7. A strong kick return gave Stanford a chance to put points on the board before the half, but a long field goal from sophomore kicker Joshua Karty hit the right upright.

Neither team scored in each of their first drives of the half — UCLA missed a field goal — but then Stanford got the explosive play they needed. On the first play of the drive, sophomore quarterback McKee connected with an open Higgins, who took it to the house for a 56-yard touchdown.

The Cardinal defense got a stop, and McKee hit yet another explosive play. On a 3rd and 12, McKee found sophomore wide receiver Bryce Farrell, who ran past his man for a 46-yard touchdown. A Karty extra point tied up the game at 21 with 13 minutes to play, sending the school-record 7,578 students in attendance into a frenzy.

The game did not stay tied for long, however, as Thompson-Robinson found junior wide receiver Kyle Phillips for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the next drive. Stanford responded with a 48-yard field goal from Karty, cutting the lead to 28-24.

UCLA would take full advantage of that defensive stop, staging a game-clinching touchdown drive of almost seven minutes, putting the Cardinal down 11 with under three minutes to go, sealing a 35-24 UCLA victory.

As Shaw emphasized, “This team is capable of much better than we showed today. That’s a good UCLA football team, but we’re also a good Stanford team.”

The Cardinal will face division foe No. 3 Oregon (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) next week on the Farm at 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC.

Jibriel Taha is a senior staff writer for the sports section. He is from Los Angeles and studies economics. Contact him at jtaha ‘at’

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