The Stanford Cardinal (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12) lost to the BYU Cougars (7-5) 35-26 in their final game of the season. Despite the senior day festivities, the Cardinal failed to muster enough resistance to stop BYU’s offense early in the game. This game concludes the program’s second straight 3-9 season and commences the start of a new era in Stanford football after the news of head coach David Shaw resigning.
After putting up 52 points last weekend, the Cougars offense didn’t skip a beat, utilizing the run game to score on its first possession. BYU capped off the drive with a 19-yard keeper by quarterback Jaren Hall to put their first seven points on the board.
However, Stanford responded on its first offensive possession, converting two critical third downs through the air to keep the chains moving. Fifth-year receiver Brycen Tremayne’s 26-yard catch put the Cardinal in prime scoring position in the red zone. But after an incomplete fade attempt in the back of the end zone on third down, Stanford had to settle for a field goal, putting the score at 7-3.
The Cougars’ second possession was similar to their first, as all their yards came from the ground. Running back Hinckley Ropati found the end zone on an outside zone play from 43 yards out to put BYU on top by two possessions.
After Stanford’s next possession was derailed by a holding penalty, the Cougars once again hit a big play for a touchdown. This time, the Cougars ran a reverse flea flicker, which sucked in the defense and allowed tight end Isaac Rex to streak down the sideline open. Hall hit Rex in stride, and Rex eluded a defender to walk into the end zone and extend BYU’s lead to 21-3.
The Cardinal finally exposed BYU’s porous pass defense on their next possession, as the offense marched down the field methodically to score its first touchdown. Sophomore safety-turned-running back Mitch Leigber leaped across the goal line to make it a two possession game once more. However, junior kicker Joshua Karty missed the extra point, his first miss on the year, which made it a 21-9 game.
Similar to their previous three drives, the Cougars drove down the field on their fourth drive with relative ease. However, Stanford was able to mount a goal-line stand at the one-yard line, stuffing BYU in the backfield several times. But an offsides penalty on third down gave the Cougars another chance at a touchdown. On the next play, Hall hit Rex in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
With 1:45 remaining in the half, the Cardinal were able to piece together a short drive to put themselves in field goal position. Karty nailed a 54-yard field goal to send Stanford to halftime down by two scores. The halftime deficit of 28-12 wasn’t Stanford’s largest of the season, but was nonetheless daunting considering BYU’s potent offense.
The third quarter was less eventful, as both defenses came up with stops at critical junctures in the game. Stanford was able to prevent BYU from converting a fourth-and-one from its own 22-yard line. Meanwhile for the Cougars, timely sacks and open field tackles helped them force several Stanford punts. At the end of third quarter, the score remained 28-12.
But another important development occurred during the game. BYU’s starting quarterback Jaren Hall sustained an injury early in the third quarter and did not come back in for the remainder of the game.
Nonetheless, BYU broke the second half scoreless streak, as they once again re-established the running game. Receiver Puka Nacua received the ball on a reverse from 25 yards out and tip-toed across the goal line to augment the Cougars’ lead.
On the Cardinal’s drive, big plays through the air to freshman tight end Sam Roush and Tremayne allowed the Cardinal to score in just three and a half minutes. Stanford converted the two-point conversion to cut the lead back to 15. After a quick three-and-out by BYU, the Cardinal were positioned well to make a comeback.
After finding Tremayne on a deep cross for 36 yards earlier in the drive, McKee hit the fifth-year receiver on a back-shoulder fade in the end zone to cut further into BYU’s lead. However, a botched fake PAT attempt kept the lead at 35-26, a two-possession length.
From here, the Cougars were able to run the game clock out, bruising the Cardinal with inside and outside runs, to clinch their seventh victory on the season.
After the game, head coach David Shaw announced his resignation, finishing his coaching career as the winningest coach in Stanford history.
“I just informed the team that I just coached my last game at Stanford,” Shaw said. “This is a decision that was really made this week. Two weeks ago I never would’ve thought we’d be having this conversation right now.”
After concluding three of the last four seasons with a record below .500, Stanford’s football program looks to have bottomed out since the program hit their apex in the early-mid 2010s. But coach Shaw still believes the program is in better shape than is generally perceived.
Questions about the head coaching situation and whether the university is willing to adapt to the new era of college athletics will remain abound during the offseason.
Moreover, the roster may be overhauled next season, as players begin to transfer out due to coaching changes. Many seniors and fifth-years will be departing the program and leaving starting positions in their wake. Other players like McKee and junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek are draft-eligible, and must make a decision on whether they will declare.
“The transfer portal will be very very enticing to a lot of people,” Shaw said. “We’ll have guys leave for the NFL, we’ll have guys graduate, we’ll have a couple of the older guys make other decisions. But I think the core of this football team can be very good.”
While the future is unpredictable, it’s safe to say this offseason will shape the direction of the football program more than any offseason since Jim Harbaugh was hired on The Farm in late 2006.