Football aims to get back on track in season opener

Sept. 1, 2022, 1:06 p.m.

When Stanford football returns to action this season, they won’t just be battling their opponents — they’ll be competing against themselves as well.

“The biggest thing about this year is we really just want to rewrite the wrongs we made last year,” said fifth year linebacker Ricky Miezan in Tuesday’s press conference.

By the time Stanford (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12) takes the field on Saturday for their season opener, more than 11 months will have passed since their last win. The Cardinal closed the 2021 season on a seven-game losing streak, weighed down by a struggling run defense, untimely injuries and everything else that could have gone wrong. While Stanford has historically thrived under head coach David Shaw, last year’s team turned in their second sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 in three years and strung together only three wins, Shaw’s lowest win total since taking over the program.

This year, the team itself doesn’t look that different — which is a good thing. The program is set to begin the year after a full strength and conditioning program, spring practice and training camp, luxuries the team wasn’t afforded last offseason with strict COVID-19 policies in the Bay Area. With minimal roster turnover, the Cardinal return nearly every key player, many of whom are expected to take big leaps. 

Namely, junior quarterback Tanner McKee will remain under center after a historic 2021 campaign. And with his first full offseason since 2017 — when he was entering his senior season of high school and prior to a two-year Latter Day Saints mission — behind him, the projected first-round pick for next year’s NFL draft will be looked upon to turn things around for this Stanford program in dire need of redirection.

“[McKee is] bigger, stronger, more in tune, I think, with the offense,” Shaw said about his quarterback. “The offense has kind of morphed towards his strengths, and is just in a better place. He is a leader, he is the leader.”

The improvements seen up and down the roster leave the coaching staff and players alike optimistic that this season will put the program back where it strives to be. Before there’s any indication of whether or not Stanford is successful in doing so, however, the team still has a full season ahead, and it starts on Saturday.

“This team has a chance to be special, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Shaw said. “We can’t start thinking about the end of the season in the beginning of the season. So for me right now, success for us is just winning the next game.”

In Week 1, the Cardinal will welcome Colgate (0-0, 0-0 Patriot League) to The Farm. The Raiders, the first FCS team Stanford has faced since 2018, enter the matchup fresh off of a 5-6 season under now-second-year head coach Stan Dakosty. Last year, Colgate was outscored, out-passed, out-rushed; but hell, they weren’t out-punted. Nonetheless, even as 41.5-point favorites, the Cardinal view this game no different than the rest.

“This is like a culture game, this is a character game,” Miezan said. “Just because they’re Colgate doesn’t mean our preparation changes. It doesn’t mean our mentality changes towards the game.”

While won’t be the most formidable opponent Stanford faces this season, they do present an interesting matchup. The Cardinal’s sore spot was their run defense last year, as they allowed a Pac-12-worst 237.6 yards per game on the ground. Fortunately for the Raiders, running the ball is their bread and butter.

Supplemented by a mix of looks, from fly sweeps to play action to quarterback movement, Colgate’s entire offense is predicated on their quarterback, Michael Brescia.

“That quarterback is a very good athlete,” Shaw said. “He’s a big kid. He does not go down easy. That’s one thing that we have to really recognize right off the bat.”

Brescia earned the Patriot League’s Rookie of the Year award last year after posting 567 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 614 yards and two touchdowns in the air. 

“Last year we kind of struggled to keep certain quarterbacks in the pocket,” Miezan said. “So it’ll be a good test to see where we’re at and what we do need to fix.”

While Stanford has its sights set on correcting their path throughout the season as a whole, it all begins on Saturday versus Colgate. 

“My mentality right now is to win the next game we play,” Shaw said. “You know, that’s all we wanna do. We’re gonna win the next game we play.”

The season opener is set to kick off at 5 p.m. at Stanford Stadium.

Zach Zafran was the Vol. 262 managing editor for the sports section. Now a senior staff writer, he has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE. You can find Zach around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at'

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