Head coach David Shaw opened up Tuesday’s press luncheon by responding to criticism about Stanford’s play calling in last Saturday’s 20-17 loss against USC.
“We did not deviate from our game plan,” Shaw said. “We never have and we will not. Nobody complained when we threw the ball 25 times against UCLA and Washington State in victories, but I know how it is when you lose. Everything’s the head coach’s fault, and everything goes to play calling.”
Some critics blame the loss on Shaw and his red-zone play calling, especially after Stanford’s final two trips to the red zone came up empty. In the third quarter, Shaw elected to throw the ball on first down at the USC 19-yard line. A loss of four yards on the throw pushed the Card back, and after an 11-yard run by Anthony Wilkerson, Shaw again chose to throw the ball on third-and-3 instead of sticking to the run. The pass was incomplete and the subsequent field goal was blocked.
On Stanford’s next trip to the red zone, Shaw went with the Wildcat formation on first-and-goal from the 6-yard line and the play again lost 4 yards. After an incompletion, Stanford was forced to throw on third-and-goal from the 10-yard line and Hogan’s attempted slant pass to Montgomery was intercepted.
“You can say what you want, that it’s all on Coach Shaw,” Shaw said. “That’s fine… But to think that the game goes down to red-zone play calling when we’ve been close to the top of the nation for years and been very good, that we can’t throw a slant on third down so every incompletion or interception turns into ‘We should just run the ball,’ that makes no sense. I’m comfortable with what we do. We’ve got to execute better. We can’t get a field goal blocked and we can’t throw an interception in the red zone. That’s the difference in the game.”
After the game, Shaw was seen waiting outside the USC locker room and shaking hands with some of the players. Shaw clarified that he only went to the locker room in order to seek out USC head coach Ed Orgeron. Shaw was unable to find Orgeron on the field after the game as the fans rushed onto the field.
“I believe in the postgame handshake,” Shaw said. “I think it’s right, I think it’s a great thing about sports, and I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to shake his hand after the game.”
Despite having limited USC to only 20 points — including just three in the second half — Stanford’s defense still feels that it could have done better, especially on the game’s final drive; USC converted a fourth-and-2 on its final drive on its way to the game-winning 47-yard field goal by kicker Andre Heidari.
“We come out trying to play a perfect game, trying to be great every game,” said senior defensive tackle David Parry. “Against USC, every member of the defense probably has a play or two that they want back. Letting up or making a mistake that one time and having those pay so costly in the grand scheme of the game is frustrating.”
Despite the frustration and disappointment, the Card will need to quickly regroup from the loss before facing Cal this Saturday. Even though Cal limps into the matchup with just a 1-10 record on the season, the Bears seem to always give Stanford problems when the Cardinal least expects them, especially at Stanford Stadium. In 2009, Stanford lost to the Bears after big wins against Oregon and USC in consecutive weeks, and in 2011, Stanford had to eke out a three-point win after a deflating loss to Oregon the week before.
“Coming off a loss, our guys can’t wait to get back on the field,” Shaw said. “There’s going to be energy and there’s going to be fire because it is the Big Game and because there’s that Big Game atmosphere.”
Stanford and Cal will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stanford Stadium.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.