Stanford (3-6, 2-5 Pac-12) dropped its fourth consecutive contest Friday night, falling to Utah (6-3, 5-1) in blowout fashion, 52-7.
It was a tumultuous affair at the quarterback position for the Cardinal. After starting quarterback sophomore Tanner McKee was ruled out before the game, head coach David Shaw elected to split snaps between graduate student Isaiah Sanders, who got his first career start, and senior Jack West. Freshman Ari Patu also got a few snaps on Stanford’s final drive of the game.
“It’s tough,” said head coach David Shaw. “Couple times we did have opportunities. We missed a couple of those. Nice job by Isaiah getting the big one to [sophomore tight end] Ben Yurosek and getting down do the red zone so we could get a score. We just didn’t give ourselves a chance either, protection-wise, to really see what the quarterbacks could do.”
The first half was nothing short of a disaster. Utah got off to a fast start, driving 65 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Stanford was stopped. Utah drove down the field with ease once again, and running back Tavion Thomas recorded his second touchdown of the game. The Utes led 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
It did not get any better for the Cardinal. The offense punted on all six of its first-half drives, unable to run the ball or pass protect. In total, Stanford had 23 yards on offense, five of which were rushing yards, and only three first downs. Utah pressured and performed impressively, with three sacks and nine tackles for loss in the first half alone.
The defensive performance in the first half was just as poor. Utah racked up 440 total yards before halftime, 337 of which were on the ground. A combination of methodical drives down the field and a 50-plus yard touchdown run put the Utes up 38-0 at the break. The only stop the Cardinal could get was a botched snap, and the Utes had more points than Stanford had total yards in the first half.
“[It] comes down to physicality,” said senior inside linebacker Ricky Miezan. “You can scheme up whatever play you want, but if you aren’t physical, that’s what happens.”
Stanford started the second half on a positive note. A nine-play, 56-yard drive, was capped by a four-yard Sanders touchdown run. The Cardinal defense then forced its first punt of the game. But a pick-six off of West by Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd put another seven points on the board for the Utes, extending the lead to 45-7.
Utah forced another turnover and tacked on another rushing touchdown — their sixth of the night. Patu was given snaps on the final drive of the game, but with poor clock management the Cardinal were not able to move very far down the field, ending the night down 52-7.
The Cardinal had trouble stopping the run against the Utes, which has been a common theme all season. Utah recorded a whopping 441 yards on the ground, more than double Stanford’s season average of 206 yards allowed — which was already the worst in the conference.
“Defensively got to have a lot discussions on how to stop the run,” Shaw said. “All year it’s been close. Today wasn’t close. As much as anything, we missed a ton of tackles, missed a lot of tackles. It’s one thing to have gaps run through, but when you miss tackles, that’s why you give up the big, big plays — inexcusable.”
The defeat puts the Cardinal on the brink of elimination from bowl contention, as they now must win their three final games to retain any bowl hopes. Next up for Stanford is a road trip to Corvallis next week to face Oregon State (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. PT, and the action will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network.