Stanford fans cope with a third consecutive loss, as the Cardinal (1-3, 0-2 Pac-12) dropped their conference home opener against the Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) 21-20. It is an encouraging sign that the Cardinal put up a fight against a solid Power Five opponent. Mental errors, however, cost Stanford an opportunity to pull off an upset and turn the season around.
While the Cardinal have played four games this season, many questions remain, especially on the offensive side. Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. The Cardinal need a star receiver
For the third straight week, Stanford has had a different player lead the team in receiving yardage. This week, it was freshman receiver Tiger Bachmeier, who tallied four receptions for 93 yards. While the freshman’s emergence is certainly a promising sign for the future of the receiving core, it also raises questions about who will be the Cardinal’s most reliable target going forward.
Opponents are focused on taking away senior star tight end Benjamin Yurosek, who had a quiet day for the third week in a row. This puts the responsibility on sophomore Mudia Reuben, sophomore Elic Ayomanor and senior Bryce Farrell to step up their games. While Ayomanor and Reuben had good games last week against Sacramento State, they need to add more production as Stanford’s schedule gets tougher. Ayomanor had four receptions for 41 yards against the Wildcats, while Reuben had just one reception for 16 yards.
Having a receiver that can consistently win one-on-one matchups would put less pressure on the offensive line to have perfect protection, as sophomore quarterbacks Ashton Daniels and Justin Lamson can key in on alert routes pre-snap.
2. Offensive line continues to struggle
The offensive line’s struggles have been a major theme throughout Stanford’s disappointing start. In the Cardinal’s upset loss to Sacramento State, the Hornets were able to sack the quarterback six times. Unfortunately, the offensive line’s questionable play continued into the Arizona game, as the Wildcats took down Stanford’s quarterbacks five times in Saturday’s game. The tackle position was particularly poor in yesterday’s game, with both left and right tackles allowing penetration in pass protection in the B and C gaps. Stanford head coach Troy Taylor put 225-pound sophomore running back Ryan Butler in the game at numerous points. While Butler’s protection helped the offensive line, it also prevented Taylor from utilizing the running back in the passing game to a full extent.
While on the surface it seems the Cardinal had a solid showing in run blocking, with freshman running back Sedrick Irvin averaging 6.6 yards a carry, the statistics give a skewed picture of the game. Taking away Irvin’s 45-yard run early in the first quarter, the freshman back had just 21 yards on nine carries, averaging a meager 2.3 yards a carry. Despite sophomore quarterback Justin Lamson having a solid showing on the ground, it’s concerning that the team has to generate rushing yards by putting their quarterbacks in danger.
While it’s unreasonable to expect the offensive line to do a 180-degree turn and become a strength of this team, Taylor will need to put the most emphasis on developing and recruiting offensive line talent if his offense is to work in the future.
3. Too many mistakes
Stanford had plenty of chances to seal this game. While asking the team to play beyond its talent level is unrealistic, the mental errors are what drive fans the craziest. Whether it was senior kicker Joshua Karty’s uncharacteristic misses or senior safety Alaka’i Gilman’s dropped interception, it seemed like the Cardinal shot themselves in the foot with every opportunity that presented itself. Moreover, a key offensive pass interference in the red zone on Stanford’s first drive and a touchdown drop from Bachmeier also prevented Stanford from extending its lead, giving Arizona the chance to comeback.
With an offense that already lacks dynamic playmakers or a solid situation at the quarterback position, penalties that shift the offense back 5 or 10 yards become absolute drive-killers.
Moreover, five of Stanford’s remaining opponents are currently ranked in the top 25, so the Cardinal will need to play near spotless football if they want to pick up a couple victories in conference play.
Up next, the Cardinal will play host to the No. 9 Oregon Ducks (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Ducks had an impressive performance this past weekend, dominating the Colorado Buffaloes (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) by a score of 42-6. Fifth-year quarterback Bo Nix has been playing lights-out football, and he will be eager to add more ammunition to his Heisman campaign. The last time Oregon traveled to Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal pulled off an impressive 31-24 upset that saw students rush the field. Let’s see if Stanford has any more magic in them during this fight against the Ducks. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. PT.