Football roundtable: Battle of winless foes

Oct. 4, 2022, 9:31 p.m.

Stanford football (1-3, 0-3 Pac-12) has now extended their FBS losing skid to ten games, which is the longest active streak in the nation. The good news for the Cardinal is that they’ve passed through the toughest part of their schedule. After facing three ranked opponents in three weeks, the Cardinal now return home to face the Oregon State Beavers (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12).

Despite being winless in the conference, Oregon State poses a real threat to Stanford. Last season, the team reached a bowl game for the first time since 2013, and they look to build upon that success this season.

The Daily’s Drew Silva, Kaushik Sampath, Zach Zafran and Pablo Noyola discuss Stanford’s bowl aspirations, recent injuries, poor rush defense and score predictions.

Stanford’s 45-27 loss to No. 12 Oregon last weekend wasn’t pretty, but it was their third straight game against a top-20 opponent. How much are you looking into the loss? And with their record now at 1-3, what does this mean for the team’s bowl aspirations?

Kaushik Sampath [KS]: It’s not just this loss, but the losses against No. 6 USC (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) and No. 21 Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) that show how far away Stanford is from the top of the Pac-12. The inability to stop the run and porous offensive line play don’t seem to have been fixed from last year’s 3-9 team. With the schedule as difficult as it is, I don’t see the Cardinal winning two more games, let alone making a bowl. 

Zach Zafran [ZZ]: It’s not just the fact that they lost that is concerning, it’s how they lost. The final scores of these games don’t reflect the one-sided affairs that are on display early on. USC led 41-14 at one point. Washington held a 30-7 lead before adding another 10 points in the fourth quarter. Oregon’s 31-3 halftime surplus explains why their second-half efforts enabled Stanford to look respectable for the remainder of the game. I think the Cardinal will have an easier time against their next few opponents, but the only times they’ve shown signs of life come when their opponents know the game is sealed. Unless they’re able to show these abilities early on in their games, the rest of the season — and their bowl aspirations — will not bode well. 

Drew Silva [DS]: As Zach mentioned, the scoreline does not accurately represent the manner in which Stanford was dominated by Oregon, despite the Ducks’ 18-point victory. The stark difference between the two teams was apparent at halftime, where the Cardinal trailed by four scores. Stanford has been outscored 83-24 in the first halves of Pac-12 contests, and if this trend of starting slow continues, I cannot see the Cardinal winning nearly enough games to qualify for a bowl. 

The defense has allowed 40+ points in their last three games. After allowing 9.5 yards per carry and 351 rushing yards to Oregon, it’s evident the team’s performance against the run game isn’t where it needs to be if they want to remain competitive. How much of an issue will this be moving forward, and what needs to happen for the issue to subdue?

Pablo Noyola [PN]: Not only is it an issue, it is the number one issue that has plagued the team going back to last year. For context, Stanford was bottom five in FBS against the run in 2021, and to make matters worse, the starting defensive linemen all moved on. We knew coming in that the front seven was weak—that’s what prompted the scheme change away from the base 3-4 in the offseason—and that’s exactly what has panned out. At this point, I don’t see a solution other than just numbers: throw as many defenders as it takes into the box to slow things down. Otherwise, Stanford is just too small to slow down the run.  

KS: I agree with Pablo. This is the team’s number one problem. Stanford doesn’t start a defensive lineman that weighs above 300 pounds, which is a problem when going against Power Five offensive lineman. The Cardinal get easily pushed around in the trenches, and there’s not an immediate solution to concoct. Long term, Stanford must up their talent level on the defensive line, or else games like Saturday will be the norm going forward.

DS: There doesn’t appear to be an immediate solution to such a prominent issue. Kaushik mentioned the sheer size difference between Stanford’s defensive linemen and opposing teams’ offensive linemen, which is certainly not something that can be addressed midseason. Because there is nothing that can be immediately done to help beef up the defensive line, I expect this issue to continue to trouble the Cardinal defense.

Last time Stanford faced Oregon State, the Cardinal were without junior quarterback Tanner McKee. In their 35-14 loss last season, the team struggled to get any offense going — an issue that has persisted as of late, evidenced by their five three-and-outs against Oregon last weekend. Injuries to the backfield and offensive line have not helped, but what will it take for the offense and its slow mesh scheme to put more points on the board?

KS: It’s certainly not easy to scheme around poor offensive line play, but the Cardinal must find a way to do it. Perhaps calling more zone running plays will make offensive line responsibilities simpler and prevent more negative yardage plays from occurring. It also allows junior running back Casey Filkins to use his vision to pick holes.

ZZ: Tanner McKee is a talent suitable for playing on Sunday. But the schemes he’s been thrown into haven’t allowed him to show that. Certainly hindered by the injury bug, the slow-mesh offense doesn’t provide Stanford with the explosiveness or versatility that they need to stay competitive, much less win. Too often the team’s drives are cut inexplicably short, and they put the defense in positions that make it impossible not to give up points. If the team wants to turn things around, they have to allow their talent to shine and make plays.

Nonetheless, the season is far from over and Stanford still has its first home game with students in attendance to look forward to. What are your score predictions?

PN: Oregon State 27, Stanford 24. I really, really want to predict a Stanford win here—I see upside in the offense and a favorable matchup against an Oregon State team lacking even average quarterback play, which should allow Stanford to sell out to stop the run. That said, the Cardinal need to show something that suggests they can turn the ship around. Until then, I’ll take Oregon State and cross my fingers I’m proven wrong. 

KS: Oregon State 28, Stanford 14. Despite their 0-2 start to the conference, Oregon State is a very solid team. They’ve played the two best teams in the Pac-12 in their first two conference games and had USC on the ropes. Their strength in running the football also plays into Stanford’s weakness, which is run defense. While the game will be close early, Oregon State’s offensive line will eventually take control in the second half and propel the Beavers to victory.

ZZ: Stanford 31, Oregon State 21. I recognize I’m often too optimistic for my own good. But this is a matchup that I think presents itself well in terms of timing and personnel. Stanford can feel its back beginning to be against the wall and the team knows how pivotal a win this weekend is — both for the season and future at large. The formula to victory is to win the turnover battle. Yes, the team has an FBS-worst -10 turnover differential, but in their first home game with students on campus, I see the Cardinal feeding off of the crowd’s energy and winning this battle against an Oregon State team that has coughed up the ball a lot in recent weeks.

DS: Stanford 31, Oregon State 30. After correctly predicting last week’s score, I am oozing with confidence and will assume I can accurately predict the future until proven otherwise. With this gift, I see the Cardinal offense being energized by a restless Stanford crowd that has long awaited the inaugural home game with students on campus. At the time of kickoff, it will have been 371 days since Stanford has recorded a win against an FBS team, so I certainly do not expect a Stanford win. However, I do not think that ending this streak against Oregon State is out of the question. I predict a high-scoring game that ends with a game-winning field goal from junior kicker Josh Karty, sending the Cardinal faithful home happy for the first time in over a year.

Kaushik Sampath is a desk editor for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who's undecided on his major. You can catch him watching and ranting about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks or hanging out with friends on campus. Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.Zach Zafran is the managing editor of the sports section. He is a sophomore from the Bay Area, who is majoring in Mathematical and Computational Science. Zach has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE, and you can find him around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.Drew Silva is a writer for the sports section. He is a junior from Pawtucket, Rhode Island studying computer science and symbolic systems. In his free time, he enjoys watching Executive Editor Tammer Bagdasarian play blackjack. You can find him watching NFL Redzone on Sundays.Pablo is a columnist for the sports section. You can also find him in the booth calling Stanford football all season long on KZSU 90.1 FM. You can contact Pablo at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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