For the first time in 336 days, Stanford Football (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) is back in the win column. Breaking away from last year’s all-Power 5 schedule, the Cardinal scheduled FCS-level Colgate (0-1, 0-0 Patriot League) to open up their 2022 season.
Stanford could not have gotten off to a better start, as junior running back EJ Smith scampered for an 87-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The newly-minted RB1 notched what is tied for the fifth-longest run in Stanford football history.
“You know in that play, I was just supposed to follow my pullers,” Smith said. “The linebackers ended up over-pursuing, so I took it back side, had that long run. My O-linemen blocked really well. I just executed off of those blocks.”
“I said it over the headset,” said head coach David Shaw. “That’s how you start the season.”
The momentum would not carry, however, as, after scoreless back-and-forth play, the Cardinal muffed a punt, which was recovered by the Raiders seven yards out from the red zone. But the Cardinal defense held up and caught a break — Colgate’s field goal try sailed left of the upright. After the missed field goal, the Cardinal looked to be on another promising drive. But another Cardinal miscue, this time a Smith fumble in Colgate territory, prevented the Cardinal once again from extending the lead. A shaky first quarter ended with Stanford on top 7-0.
“I’m going to be thinking about all those plays honestly,” Smith said. “Coach G teaches us every day about ball security and just being able to run the ball downfield.”
It did not get much better to start the second. Junior running back Casey Filkins muffed another punt return, which led to a scoop and score for the Raiders to tie the game up at 7-7. Recovering from the muffed punt, Stanford put together a five-play, 69-yard drive, capped by a 26-yard pass to senior wide receiver Michael Wilson.
The Cardinal offense kept rolling. The Cardinal pieced together another drive – in large part due to two great receptions by Wilson – ending in a rushing touchdown by Smith. Smith’s two-touchdown performance marks the first time a Stanford player has had two rushing scores since running back Austin Jones and quarterback Isaiah Sanders M.S. ‘22 performed this feat in the same game against UCLA in 2020.
Wilson continued to shine in the second quarter, catching a sensational touchdown pass on a fade route to give the Cardinal a 28-7 lead going into the half.
Junior quarterback Tanner McKee was nearly flawless in the first half, going 19-for-21 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. These two misses came on a dropped pass by Wilson and a deep ball intended for freshman wide receiver Mudia Reuben.
“Not that our standard is met by who we play, whether it’s Colgate or USC or whoever,” Shaw said. “I thought [McKee] played at a high level. I think that’s the anticipation for him this entire year to play at a high level and finish the season as one of the best quarterbacks in America. That’s what we believe he is. He has been playing that way all the way through training camp and played that way today.”
The second half started with blows traded by both teams. With pressure in his face, Colgate quarterback Michael Brescia made an ill-advised throw and was picked off by 5th-year safety Kendall Williamson. It was Williamson’s first career interception, but the Cardinal were unable to capitalize, as McKee was picked off on an intended pass to junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek. Colgate notched a field goal off the turnover, cutting the Stanford lead to 18.
In the last seconds of the third quarter, McKee made another fantastic throw, finding junior wide receiver John Humphries for a 53-yard completion down the sideline. That put the Cardinal inside the five and Filkins was able to punch it in for another score, the first of Filkins’ collegiate career.
On the following drive, senior edge rusher Stephen Herron recorded an emphatic sack of the opposing quarterback for a loss of ten, paving the way for another Colgate three-and-out. But the Cardinal could not capitalize, as they were not able to convert on their following two drives.
Shaw took out the starters early in the fourth quarter, and the second team put more points on the board as sophomore quarterback Ari Patu threw a touchdown to Reuben. Sophomore Emmet Kenney missed the extra point, making the final score 41-10.
“Very excited about Mudia Reuben right now,” Shaw said. “He’s had a very good training camp. A lot of things he can do for us.”
McKee finished 22-for-27 for 308 yards and two touchdowns. It was the junior’s second 300-yard passing game. Wilson was the standout on the Cardinal wide receiver corps, finishing with five receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. In his first game as Stanford’s starting running back, Smith recorded 118 yards on the ground as well as 37 yards on five receptions.
On being the starting back for Stanford: ”It’s a great opportunity to have,” Smith said. “There’s been great running backs in the past — Christian, Bryce, and so forth. Just being able to have this opportunity, it’s a blessing.”
Now the focus turns to No. 14 USC (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) next weekend. The new-look Trojans come to the Farm as the Cardinal look to establish themselves as a Pac-12 contender. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. on ABC.