After two disappointing showings against UCLA and Washington State, the Stanford football team (3-7, 1-7 Pac-12) was looking to pull off a major upset in Salt Lake City this weekend. Previously, the Cardinal had pulled out all the stops to defeat Notre Dame, who is now ranked No. 20 in the nation, on the road. But the disappointments wouldn’t let up this week, as the Cardinal lost 42-7 to No. 13 Utah (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) on Saturday. With its seventh loss on the season, Stanford is no longer bowl-eligible for the third time in four years.
Unlike in their previous two games, the Cardinal got off to a quick start in this game. The defense forced two punts from the Utes’ offense, and a 51-yard play from junior quarterback Tanner McKee to senior receiver Elijah Higgins led to a touchdown. Unfortunately, this would be the only score for Stanford during the game, as the offense began to stagnate, with the defense following along.
After punting on their first two possessions, the Utes scored a touchdown on six of their next seven offensive possessions. A balanced attack led by quarterback Cam Rising and running back Tavion Thomas allowed the Utes to march down the field at will.
On its first touchdown drive, the Utes’ offense converted two fourth downs through the air to keep the drive alive. Wide receiver Devaughn Vele capped the drive off with a nine-yard touchdown pass to knot the game at seven all.
“We got them to fourth down multiple times, they called some great plays,” said Head Coach David Shaw after the game. “It’s a big change in the game when you can keep the ball for as long as they did in particular.”
The next drive featured more Vele, as he tacked on 15 and 28-yard catches to put the Utes in the red zone. Thomas punched it in from four yards out to give Utah their first lead of the game.
Toward the end of the half, Utah was driving once again, but senior safety Jonathan McGill picked the ball off in the end zone to stunt the drive. At the half, the Utes led by 14-7, with Stanford in striking distance of taking the lead.
While the game was much closer than previous Stanford games by halftime, the wheels began to fall off in the second half as Utah imposed their will on the game. On Utah’s first possession of the second half, Utes tight end Thomas Yassmin caught a 14-yard touchdown to make it a 21-7 game.
“Even at 14-7 in the middle of that third quarter, we had multiple opportunities,” Shaw said. “We didn’t make those plays. If we don’t make those plays against this team, we don’t have a chance.”
After a Cardinal three-and-out, Utah scored another touchdown, capped by Micah Bernard’s 19-yard touchdown catch. This effectively put the game out of hand, as the Cardinal had no response on offense nor the wherewithal on defense to stop the Utes.
Utah would go on to score two more touchdowns, including a 36-yard run from Thomas, to clinch a 42-7 style victory. Cam Thomas had 219 yards and three passing touchdowns, while Thomas ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, McKee passed for just 155 yards and completed just 11 of 23 passes. Sophomore safety-turned-running back Mitch Leigber ran for just 40 yards on 12 carries.
While the Cardinal are now officially out of bowl-contention, a rivalry matchup next weekend could keep their spirits high. Stanford will take a short road-trip to Berkeley, Calif. to take on the Cal Golden Bears for a chance to reclaim the Axe. Last season, Cal defeated Stanford 41-11 to win its second Big Game in three years. Can the Cardinal muster enough pride to come out on top?
Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, Nov. 19.