Dancing with the Devils: Cardinal offense fails to keep up in Tempe

Oct. 9, 2021, 12:45 p.m.

After a stunning upset over then-No. 3 Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) last weekend, Stanford football (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) could not rekindle that magic on Friday night and fell to No. 22 Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12), 28-10.

Despite collecting 356 yards through the air, sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee did not have his best game. He threw for only a single touchdown and gave up the first three interceptions of his career.

Stanford could also not run the ball effectively when they elected to do so. Sophomore running backs Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones recorded only 32 and 13 total rushing yards, respectively, on seven carries apiece.

Missed opportunities were the story of the first half for the Cardinal. All six of their offensive possessions ended in Arizona State territory, but Stanford managed only seven points in the half.

From a made field goal getting called back because of a holding call to McKee throwing his first career interception after it tipped off the hands of a receiver, nothing went right once the Cardinal crossed midfield. 

Defensively, it was a poor start followed by a strong finish. After giving up touchdowns on each of Arizona State’s first three possessions, the Cardinal forced a fumble and a punt on the next two drives, keeping the score at 21-7 heading into the half. Stanford’s defensive improvement generally continued into the second half, but the performance could not make up for the 255 rushing yards allowed.

“Just saw great effort,” said head coach David Shaw. “We didn’t call different defenses in the second half. That second half, we gave the offense plenty of opportunities.”

Stanford got it into Sun Devils’ territory on their first drive of the second half but could not find the endzone. The Cardinal were forced to settle for a field goal. In response, Arizona State drove right back down the field, but the Cardinal were able to get a stop on fourth and one in the red zone to keep the deficit at 11 points.

Just as things appeared to be turning in Stanford’s favor, disaster struck. McKee misfired on a slant to sophomore wide receiver John Humphreys and defensive back Jack Jones picked it off. As Jones was falling towards the ground, he lateralled the ball to defensive back DeAndre Pierce, who returned it 27 yards to the endzone. That gut-punch extended the Arizona State lead to 28-10, and Stanford would turn the ball over on downs in Sun Devils’ territory on the very next drive.

The Cardinal began to implode. McKee threw his third interception of the game in the fourth quarter, and neither side was able to put points on the board after the pick-six. Stanford would leave Tempe defeated. 

Stanford’s offensive story remained the same throughout the game: wasted opportunities. The Cardinal reached Arizona State territory on ten of eleven of their drives, but walked away with a mere ten points. 

“When you have bad play calls and you lack execution, that’s what happens. We got in position multiple times, and then we stalled,” Shaw said. “Doesn’t matter if you move the ball between the twenties. If you can’t get in and score touchdowns you’re not gonna win—not in this league.”

On the bright side, tight end Benjamin Yurosek had a breakout performance, recording six catches for 118 yards. Both of those are career highs for the sophomore out of Bakersfield, Calif.

The Cardinal will look to rebound in a Pac-12 North matchup at Washington State (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. PT on ESPNU.

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

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