In its home opener without home fans, Stanford (0-2) could not complete the comeback and lost its sixth straight game dating to last season. Colorado (2-0) was on the verge of a blowout, but a late rally from Stanford cut the final score to 35-32.
The loss in the home opener was the first since 2007, the first year of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure, ending a 12-year streak.
Since the start of the 2010 season, Stanford is 53-13 at home. Five of those losses have come in the last seven home games.
Asked about the sentiment in his locker room, head coach David Shaw said, “They’re upset. They should be. I’m upset. And I should be.”
“We want everyone to remember this feeling,” Mills said.
Mills watched the Oregon game from his hotel room after getting pulled away from his teammates before the team meal. Until getting cleared Thursday night, he had been in isolation.
Stanford had been in contact with Santa Clara County throughout the week in regard to what it felt was a false positive test. By Thursday, Mills had a sufficient number of negative PCR tests to show the county as evidence. Mills, however, was not cleared in time for the Thursday walk-through, so Stanford had a fast one Friday morning with their starting quarterback. Friday night was Mills’ first practice all week.
In the quarterback’s words, “we felt a little out of rhythm on offense in that first half.” His coach called it “out of sync.” Either way, Stanford’s first-half offensive performance did not meet expectations.
“For obvious reasons, Davis Mills with one day of practice, [was] missing throws he can make,” Shaw said. “There’s no other way to say it. There’s nobody to be mad at.”
“The longer he played, the better rhythm he found, the better our guys played. He also had a dropped pass that should have been a touchdown. Had a couple other balls that were close. But as he got going, he got back in rhythm and was great.”
In the first half Mills completed 11-of-19 passes for 116 yards. The drop by junior wide receiver Michael Wilson at the goal line was uncharacteristic but pivotal. Instead of Stanford taking a 10-7 lead, fifth-year kicker Jet Toner was called on for his second field goal of the afternoon.
The four-point swing on that play was the difference in the game.
Toner converted on all three field goals and made his lone point after attempt following his own uncharacteristic week one 0-for-4 showing.
Mills eventually finished 31-for-56 with 327 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, his 36 rushing yards on six keepers were the most of any Cardinal. In the third quarter, he beat a Colorado defender to the edge for a rushing touchdown.
“We don’t know how the Oregon game goes if he’s able to play,” Shaw said. “We don’t know how this game goes if he’s able to practice all week. Those are things that are unknown.”
Shaw considered it “obvious” that Mills was rusty. Both he and Mills also thought Stanford’s offense took too long to get going. It took 40 minutes for Stanford to score its first touchdown and that only came after consecutive Colorado scores to open the second half, putting Stanford behind 28-9.
“They just out-executed us in the third quarter,” Shaw said.
For the game, Stanford’s defense allowed 432 total yards and Colorado had a stretch where it converted 7-of-8 third down attempts. In the third quarter, Colorado had the ball for more than nine minutes, amassed 209 yards and set up a 2-yard score to open the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 35-16.
Fifth-year strong safety Malik Antoine noted that the defense lost its eyes. The captain, whose interception was the lone turnover of the game and his first since 2018, pointed to the second and third quarters as time where the defense struggled.
“When we execute, we’re a great defense, but when one guy misses his assignment, it affects everything,” Antoine said.
Sam Noyer, the Colorado quarterback who was a safety last season, completed 15-of-24 passes for 255 yards. His two passing touchdowns came on blown plays by the Stanford defense, the first from 55 yards out as Dimitri Stanley showed off his speed and the second to Brenden Rice on a miscommunication in the Stanford secondary.
While Noyer was lethal through the air, Stanford may have been more disappointed with its inability to stop his legs. Noyer twice reached the end zone on option reads and even tried to hurdle sophomore cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly.
Stanford’s head coach had just three words when asked about the struggles to play the read option: “That’s an issue.”
Colorado’s Jarek Broussard had his second straight game surpassing the century mark with 27 carries for 121 yards.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s running backs “never got a chance to get going.”
“Coming off a really good game last week and didn’t play as well up front,” Shaw said. “Too many errors. Too many guys losing their man.”
Sophomore running back Nathaniel Peat had five carries for 21 yards and sophomore running back Austin Jones averaged a yard per carry on his nine attempts, but scored on the ground. Stanford abandoned the run game in the second half, with just six total attempts, allowing Mills to throw the ball 56 times, which ties for the eighth most in program history.
“Colorado did a good job, a lot of movement, a lot of inside pressures and they made it tough for [Jones] to get through,” Shaw said. “We believe that Austin’s got a chance to be an outstanding running back, but we’ve got to get him to the line of scrimmage. That just didn’t happen with any regularity today.”
Jones did catch seven passes out of the backfield for 48 yards to stay involved. Senior wide receiver Connor Wedington led the team with eight receptions, Wilson’s 95 yards were the most and fifth year tight end Scooter Harrington caught the only touchdown, his first since catching two his senior year of high school at Greenwich.
Stanford scored 16 straight to end the game after the ensuing two-point conversion from senior tight end Tucker Fisk as Stanford came up short, losing to Colorado by three for the second year in a row.
“Nobody’s ever going to question our fight or our toughness,” Shaw said. “We stayed in it until the end, came back and fought really hard to fight our way back in, got some great plays by our quarterback and a couple of our receivers, got some great stops on the defensive side to get the ball back.”
“It was too little too late,” Shaw added.
Impeded by the pandemic, it has now been 385 days since Stanford’s last win. The next opportunity comes in seven days when Washington State comes to town.
“We’ve got to keep that urgency that we felt in the second half and just kind of use it the rest of the year now,” Mills said.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.