Last week, the Cardinal lost by the largest margin in program history (44 points) since Nov. 2003, when Stanford fell to Notre Dame 57-7. That’s pre-David Shaw era. That’s when most Stanford starters were babies.
Can the Cardinal (3-6, 2-5 Pac-12) finally end their losing skid this week versus Oregon State (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12), or is the program’s decline just beginning?
History, however, is in Stanford’s favor — the Cardinal have won the last 11 in their series with the Beavers. But the last two games between the schools have come down to field goals, with the Cardinal winning by just three in both. Due to scheduling changes during COVID-19 this will be the third consecutive game in the Stanford-Oregon State series played in Oregon, and the Beavers have been quite literally unstoppable this season at home, going 4-0 at Reser Stadium thus far. To make matters worse for the Cardinal, rain is forecasted all weekend in Corvallis, and Stanford is yet to play in inclement weather this year.
Noah Maltzman, Drew Silva, Sally Egan and Ells Boone discuss the new quarterback, injuries on defense and what’s (or who’s) to blame for the lackluster few weeks.
Cybele Zhang [CZ]: True freshman Ari Patu is poised to make his first start this weekend. What can Stanford fans expect from him? How would you evaluate the few snaps he got at the end of the Utah game — the first appearance of his young career?
Noah Maltzman [NM]: Ari Patu is the future of this program, but I am hesitant about him starting as a freshman. Last game against Utah was his first time playing in a college game, and thrusting him into an away game is even more daunting. With that being said, it is good to get him minutes and experience because in the long run, playing through adversity will help Patu mature more quickly and more efficiently. Patu’s development is of the utmost importance, and hopefully this start will give him a good true start for his collegiate athletic career.
Drew Silva [DS]: Despite Ari Patu’s talent, Cardinal fans should not expect anything spectacular from him this weekend. In a season where the offensive line has not played up to Stanford’s historical standards and the offensive skill players have been riddled with injuries, Patu does not have the ideal personnel around him. When you take into account the forecast of inclement weather, it does not appear that Patu’s first start will be smooth sailing. Patu only threw two passes in his debut against Utah, completing one of them; his incompletion on a deep shot to Bryce Farrell might have been more impressive than his completion for negative three yards. Patu definitely flashed some potential in a very limited number of snaps last week, and his development over the next couple of years could dictate the direction of the program. However, head coach David Shaw has never started a true freshman quarterback, and Patu, with a limited playbook, might not be completely ready for a full game under center.
Sally Egan [SE]: We saw a glimpse of Ari Patu’s arm last week in an incomplete pass that still fired the crowd up more than the majority of the quarterback play up until then. With any young quarterback, there are bound to be bumps, especially with his first start coming in a stadium where the home team has been relatively dominant. If this was an Oregon State team of the past, I would say Patu would have a good chance to leave fans with a strong first impression, but I’d guess this weekend will leave Cardinal fans thinking he’s got a bit of time before he can be a true QB1. If Stanford’s offense is going to keep them in this game, unlike last weekend, veteran playmakers will have to step it up knowing that Patu doesn’t have the experience of Tanner McKee.
Ells Boone [EB]: Even though Stanford has been struggling over the past few weeks, Ari Patu is stepping into a good situation expectations-wise. Fans already know that Tanner McKee is the answer at the quarterback position for at least the next year, and fans also know that they have grown tired of seeing senior quarterback Jack West under center. Anything positive Patu does will be greatly celebrated, while every mistake should be cast off knowing that he is just a freshman and far from a finished product. Another factor in Patu’s favor: he’s more mobile than both McKee and West. Patu showed some promise in the spring game and in his limited snaps against Utah, but I still do not really know what to expect when he takes his first snap in Corvallis. Whatever happens, he will only get better during his time at Stanford and will, in the long run, have time to perfect his craft behind McKee.
CZ: Both junior corner Kyu Blu Kelly and junior outside linebacker Stephen Herron are out this weekend. What does their loss mean for the Cardinal, and who else can the defense look to as playmakers? How do you stop a team that has a kicker with 60-yard range, Everett Hayes, from putting points on the board each drive?
NM: The Stanford defense without Kelly and Herron is by no means out of luck. While yes, both are leaders of the team, the Cardinal still have players like junior inside linebacker Levani Damuni, who leads the team in tackles, and fifth-year outside linebacker Gabe Reid. As Shaw said in the post-game press conference last week, Stanford needs to tackle better — so no matter what, that is what the Cardinal need to focus on against Oregon State. The main way to stop the Beavers from accumulating points is to improve from the mistakes made last week and make sure to tackle. Stanford gave up 441 rushing yards in the first half last week, that is the most rushing yards let up in a game since 2010, and this was only the half. In order to stop an efficient scoring offense, the Cardinal need to make sure to tackle, plain and simple.
DS: The play of the defensive line will be key to stopping the Oregon State offense. It is no secret that Stanford has struggled defending the run, and big games from defensive linemen such as senior captain and defensive end Thomas Booker will be crucial to limiting the Beavers. The absence of Kelly, who is responsible for nearly half of the turnovers forced by the Cardinal defense, will certainly be felt. However, the pass defense should be able to hold their own against quarterback Chance Nolan and the Oregon State receivers.
EB: The loss of Kelly and Herron is huge for the Cardinal. Kelly is the best defensive back Stanford has, and Herron has been one of the team’s best pass rushers this season. Luckily for the Cardinal, junior cornerback Salim Turner-Muhammad and senior cornerback Ethan Bonner were able to return from injury last week, so the defensive back numbers have been reinforced somewhat. Still, Kelly has been far and away the best cornerback Stanford has. As for the outside linebackers, Gabe Reid and sixth year Jordan Fox will be relied upon more. Finally, when dealing with a kicker like Oregon State’s who has crazy range, you have to be very vigilant as a defense to make sure you are not allowing chunk plays that allow the opposing team into field goal territory.
CZ: David Shaw has repeatedly voiced that he is not in favor of dismissing coaches mid-season, instead taking the blame for Stanford’s poor record onto himself. “When you’re in a tough spot, to me, you pull everyone closer,” Shaw said. Aside from injuries, can fans blame the head coach, assistants, personnel, poor recruiting or a mixture of these factors and others for the Cardinal’s disappointing season?
NM: Fans can definitely blame poor personnel and play calling for the season so far – especially on defense. Utah stopped our offense and torched our defense the entire game, and offensive coordinator Tavita Pritchard and defensive coordinator Lance Anderson did not change schemes to better play against Utah. Of course, it is not exclusively their fault, and fans cannot blame everything on coordinators and play calling. But for most of the complaints fans have this season, much of the blame falls on the coaching personnel.
DS: Following the biggest loss of his Stanford coaching career, it can be easy to criticize David Shaw and his playcalling. Shaw knows that the fans expect more than a 2-5 record in conference play from the third highest paid coach in college football. However, Shaw is not the only one deserving of blame. The defensive coordinator of a team that allows a Pac-12 worst 232 rushing yards per game certainly deserves some blame. Stanford’s disappointing season cannot be attributed to a single person; rather, the combination of poor coaching and an abundance of injuries are to blame.
EB: I also am not a fan of firing coaches midseason, so I guess Coach Shaw and I agree there. As for what has gone wrong for Stanford this season, it really is a mixture of poor play calling, all around coaching and poor recruiting leading to personnel issues. Once the season ends, I think Shaw needs to shake up his staff a bit. The ideas seem to have gone stale, and there is no one on staff to really challenge him. Some of the greatest coaches in college football like Alabama’s Nick Saban bring in former head coaches all of the time as coordinators, assistants or analysts, and they challenge the status quo within the program, bringing in new concepts for the betterment of the team. Something has to be changed if the Cardinal want to get back to their 2010s peak. As for recruiting, Stanford is bringing in an excellent 2022 class next fall, and the Cardinal have the chance of bringing in an equally promising class the following year. This will remedy the misses from the 2021 class and many of the personnel issues on the current roster.
SE: I’m a David Shaw fan and despite some of the results this season, believe he’s a good coach at the end of the day. That being said, the drop off between Tanner McKee and every other quarterback has been the difference this season. McKee wasn’t the starter for the first game. He was hurt for the last game. And in every other loss this season with him in as starter, besides the ASU game, Stanford’s been in the game — within one score of tying or winning.
CZ: Saturday’s game is a must-win for the Cardinal, or they will lose bowl eligibility. In order to reach post-season play, Stanford will need to win every remaining game (Oregon State, Cal and Notre Dame). Predictions for this weekend?
NM: Oregon State 38, Stanford 20 — While Stanford is fighting for their bowl-eligibility, it is hard to deny the fact that they do not compare to Oregon State. After the upset over Oregon, Stanford has lost four straight games, and I see this trend continuing. Stanford also opens at -12 in the spread, and the Beavers have a good shot of covering it, considering OSU averages a Pac-12 high 229.9 rushing yards per game behind B.J Baylor’s league-leading 970 rushing yards. Stanford’s rushing defensive woes were on full display last week, and OSU may exploit them to beat the Cardinal. In addition, the Stanford offense is up against the Pac-12 leader in tackles, linebacker Avery Roberts, giving the Cardinal a challenge on offense. Fans can hope for bowl-eligibility, but this may not be the year.
DS: Oregon State 31, Stanford 21 — In a game that could favor the run due to rain, I think it will be difficult for the Cardinal to stop the Pac-12 leading Beaver rushing attack. Although Oregon State has lost three of their last four, their one win in that stretch came over Utah — the same team that defeated the Cardinal by 45 last week. The Cardinal have certainly faced tougher opponents this season than the Beavers, but the combination of bad weather and a plethora of injuries puts Stanford’s 11-game winning-streak versus Oregon State at risk. However, if Ari Patu is able to hand Oregon State their first home loss of the season, a bowl game will not be completely out of the question for the Cardinal.
EB: Oregon State 35, Stanford 17 — With no Tanner McKee (most likely), we could be in for another frustrating Cardinal performance. The defense is missing some key guys, and the unit has already not been playing well this season. Things could get ugly in Corvallis. I am interested to see how well Patu does, and Stanford’s hopes may very well rest on the freshman’s shoulders in this one.