Last year, Stanford needed then-junior tight end Colby Parkinson to throw a touchdown and then-senior kicker Jet Toner to kick a field goal as time expired to get a win in Corvallis. Stanford head coach David Shaw ’95 expects this year to be just as close.
In 2020, Parkinson is playing football professionally in Seattle, from where Stanford just took a five hour chartered bus ride before arriving in Corvallis. Toner, after a rough first game, is looking like the kicker who has made 111 consecutive PATs. Senior quarterback Davis Mills, who was on the receiving end of the Stanford Special, is finding his groove.
Just don’t expect his coach to say so.
Stanford (2-2, 2-2 Pac-12) was supposed to play Oregon State (2-3, 2-3 Pac-12) in Stanford Stadium, but Mills and the Cardinal will be the away team in Reser Stadium on Saturday.
Last time out, Stanford upset then-No. 22 Washington. Mills threw for 252 yards and completed 20-of-30 passes. In the postgame press conference, Shaw rated the performance “good.” On Tuesday, after reviewing the tape, Shaw declined to raise his assessment.
Shaw is drawing on wisdom he picked up from Jon Gruden while coaching on his staff with the Raiders. “You have to push your great players to be even better,” Gruden would say.
“I hope you appreciate the fact that I’m going to have really ridiculously high standards for you,” Shaw told his senior quarterback.
While the running game is loudly announcing its return to adequacy, and occasionally, dominance, Mills and the passing game are the team’s ceiling. With the injuries in the wide receiver room, Mills’ job has only become tougher, yet Shaw will continue to push his quarterback to be better. Even when acknowledging that the game was statistically impressive, Shaw is hard on his quarterback. And Mills wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s one of the reasons I committed to come to Stanford,” Mills said. “I wanted a coach who was going to push me and help me get to my full potential.”
“He wants to be great,” Shaw said. “I think there’s another level for him. If he didn’t have it in him, I wouldn’t say it, whether to him or publicly.”
Shaw will, however, point out when Mills succeeds. His lone passing touchdown received the treatment, with Shaw explaining that with multiple pass rushers in his face, Mills was able to get his feet around and still flick the ball with the arc to go up and down over the outstretched arms of the defender and into the hands of fifth year tight end Scooter Harrington.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can make that throw,” Shaw said.
And on national television, in the conference’s most watched game of last weekend, Stanford impressed. So has Oregon State.
“They are scrappy, they play hard, they play physical,” Shaw said of the Beavers. “They’ve got some guys you have to account for.”
Topping that list is running back Jermar Jefferson, whose 168.8 rushing yards per game is second in the conference and seven rushing touchdowns is tied for first with Stanford sophomore Austin Jones. Jefferson, along with four other Oregon State players, was placed in COVID-19 protocol last Tuesday and missed the team’s loss to Utah. On Wednesday, he returned to practice and is cleared to play in Saturday’s game.
Only two teams in the conference have a rushing defense worse than Stanford’s 223 yards per game allowed: Arizona and Oregon State. With precipitation likely, there will be yards to be found on the ground for both teams.
Kickoff is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PT.
After a physical game against Washington, Stanford will miss a few starters this week.
On defense, sophomore cornerback Salim Turner-Muhammad and fifth year outside linebacker Jordan Fox will be out. Sophomore cornerback Zahran Manley and sophomore outside linebacker Stephen Herron will start in their place. Stanford will also get sophomore inside linebacker Aeneas DiCosmo back from injury.
On offense, junior wide receiver Michael Wilson and senior wide receiver Connor Wedington will miss the rest of the season and will be out of the starting lineup. Senior wideout Osiris St. Brown will be out as well. Taking their places will be junior Brycen Tremayne and sophomore Elijah Higgins.
“Our depth this year is completely different than last year,” Shaw said. “Last year when we got a couple of guys down we were really struggling. This year, we’re putting guys in, and we’re good to go.”