By David Cohn
After losing 17-14 to Notre Dame last weekend, Stanford football nears the second half of its schedule with already two losses. With this in mind, The Stanford Daily asked football writers David Cohn, Joseph Beyda and Ashley Westhem, what are your realistic expectations for this team in terms of its performance in the second half of the season, its chances to win the Pac-12 and what adjustments David Shaw needs to make?
David Cohn: Let me first say that I know that this must be an immensely difficult time for the entire team right now, especially for the offense. As such, in order to boost morale, I think Shaw has to re-install some confidence in his offense, particularly in his young but talented offensive line.
However, at the same time, I still think the Cardinal would benefit from giving experienced players, like fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeff Trojan, senior receiver Jordan Pratt, senior center Kevin Reihner, more plays on offense; while all three players may not be as talented as the starters listed at their positions, I think the offense would benefit from having more senior leadership on the field, particularly when the Card are on the road in hostile road environments. Sometimes, having a calming voice in the huddle during high pressure moments is the only spark that a team needs.
Finally, I think Shaw has to emphasize that, although a 3-2 start is certainly not where the program hoped to be at the start of the season, the Card can still right the ship and compete for a third consecutive Pac-12 championship. In short, every team in the conference (including Stanford) is vulnerable to losing on any given Saturday to any Pac-12 opponent. While this position may be unfamiliar for the Cardinal, Shaw can empower the offense by rightfully stating that the Card’s hopes in conference play will rest on the offense’s performance.
Although the defense may be playing at a much higher level right now, the offense can still take the mantle and help return the Card to the top of the Pac-12.
Joseph Beyda: Unlike George Chen, who wrote earlier this week that the Cardinal were never talented enough to reach the playoff, I think that all the pieces are there for Stanford’s offense to shine: three big-time mismatches at receiver, a third-year starting quarterback, steady tight ends and an offensive line that, while green, has all the physical talents it needs. And yet the offense’s miscues have been so consistent that I’m not going to waste any words listing them out for a fifth time. Around the office this week, different Daily staffers have given different reasons for the downturn. Does Stanford’s offense lack winners? Leaders? Players to take ownership of the group’s success or take matters into their own hands?
I’m not sure which label is best, but at the end of the day, the Cardinal’s core offensive players just haven’t gotten it done. That is why David Shaw should mix things up in a big way against Washington State.
Use Christian McCaffrey, who has executed almost seamlessly on special teams and on his limited offensive snaps, as the team’s starting running back on Saturday. Throw in Reihner or senior Brendon Austin, who have been waiting in the wings forever, on the offensive line. Even consider giving Evan Crower or Ryan Burns a series at quarterback.
None of those players is in an ideal position to take over those roles; that is why they were not starting at the beginning of the season. However, every offensive player sitting on the Cardinal’s bench should be given the opportunity to be a winner. Shaw indicated in Tuesday’s press conference that the offense would be simplified, though no major mix-ups were in the works. But Stanford’s starters have had five chances to make things happen, and so far, they have not lived up to their potential. Can the Cardinal afford to give them a sixth?
Ashley Westhem: To answer Joey’s question, I don’t think that the Cardinal offense can afford to blow a sixth chance to prove themselves. By all means give them a chance at Stanford Stadium to redeem themselves — maybe the home turf will remind them what Stanford football is — but if they don’t perform, it’s going to be hard for Shaw to justify not putting in those bench players that Joey mentioned previously.
Luckily, the Pac-12 is a mess. If the Pac-12 championship game were played today, it would be Cal and Arizona going to head to head. For those of you unaware, Cal only won one game last season and the Wildcats had a losing record in Pac-12 play. So the Pac-12 is wide open and Stanford can easily win the Pac-12 North since Oregon lost last week to Arizona. The Big Game might actually end up being a big game for the Card after all. The team’s fate in regards to the college football playoffs though is entirely out of their hands at this point and up to the rest of the college football world to decide what bowl they end up in.
All hope is not lost though because the Card have been in this position before. Two years ago, after early season losses to Notre Dame and Washington, the Card rallied and won eight straight, took the Pac-12 crown and earned themselves a berth into the Rose Bowl. So what does Stanford have to do to experience this same kind of turn around? The offensive line needs to coalesce, the running game has got to be better executed and the tight ends better utilized; Ty Montgomery has got to produce some impressive stats and Hogan needs to (I feel like a broken record here) have a shred of confidence in himself.
Stanford football may be suffering this season, but at least the Cardinal are still doing better than the sum of David’s Pittsburgh Steelers, Ashley’s Los Angeles Lakers and, of course, Joey’s ever-so-clutch San Jose Sharks. Remind them that Stanford is still their best favorite team at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu, awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.