By Daniel Wu
Stanford’s upset of No. 3 Oregon was a win for the ages, but it came at a cost. After a grueling overtime effort that left players from both sides on the turf, the Cardinal limped out of Stanford Stadium as battered as they’ve ever been this season.
Now they’ll have to do it again, just six days later, on the road against another ranked team.
On Friday, Stanford (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) travels to Tempe to play No. 22 Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12). It’s a grueling assignment on a short week for the Cardinal, who will face their fourth ranked Pac-12 opponent of the season and third ranked opponent in a row. If Stanford can overcome injuries to pull off a win over one of the most explosive offenses in the conference, the Cardinal would cement themselves as a Pac-12 title contender.
There’s no time for the team to catch their breath, and head coach David Shaw knows it.
“If you win big games, the games get bigger,” Shaw said on Tuesday. “Our conference is insane. There are no gimmes.”
Stanford is still searching for consistency after a performance against Oregon marked by highs and lows. It took the Ducks a miraculous last-minute drive to overcome the Cardinal’s offensive struggles during the second half. Shaw wants to see a complete game in Tempe.
“That’s our charge,” Shaw said. “We’ve had moments of excellence in all three phases, and moments of the opposite of excellence in all three phases.”
Stanford may not be able to survive too many lulls against Arizona State. The Sun Devils boast an explosive offense that torched UCLA last Saturday with long touchdown passes of 54 and 65 yards and a 49-yard scoring run. ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels is one of the best in the Pac-12; in his press conference, Shaw compared Daniels to UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who beat Stanford with a similar skill set of athleticism and field-stretching pass plays.
“Daniels may be the better pure passer of the two,” Shaw said. “But man, he can run as well, and he’s athletic. I think both guys are going to have a nice future in that paid league. Hopefully sooner than later.”
On the other side of the ball, Arizona State’s defense held the Bruins scoreless in the second half and are an imposing unit statistically — they rank seventh in the country in passing yardage allowed and lead the Pac-12 in sacks.
That might call for more reliance on an improved Stanford run game. But the Tunnel Workers’ Union has yet to dominate an opposing front, and the Sun Devils’ high-scoring offense may not give the Cardinal the time to grind out a win on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee has risen to every occasion asked of him and once again, Stanford’s hopes may rest on his arm.
But McKee will have to fare without his best weapon. Senior wide receiver Brycen Tremayne’s awful injury against Oregon took the air out of Stanford Stadium and put a pause on a breakout season for one of the Cardinal’s most hardworking players.
“We’re gonna miss him for sure, and our team is a lot better when he’s out there,” said sophomore wide receiver John Humphreys. “Guys are going to have to step up. We’ve got the guys to do it.”
Shaw didn’t provide a timeline for Tremayne’s recovery. But Humphreys, fellow wide receiver junior Elijah Higgins and sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek showed they can carry the Stanford passing game last week. Shaw also said that senior captain wide receiver Michael Wilson might be two or three weeks out from returning from a foot injury that has sidelined him for almost a year.
Right guard Branson Bragg will also return after missing one game, but sophomore running back EJ Smith and cornerbacks senior Ethan Bonner and junior Zahran Manley remain out. The Cardinal will also be without another key scorer on Friday: sophomore kicker Joshua Karty. Thankfully, Stanford has a surprising number of options to replace him. Junior punter Ryan Sanborn pulled double duty his freshman year going a respectable seven-for-nine after starting kicker Jet Toner went down mid-season, and freshman kicker Emmet Kenney is also waiting in the wings.
While field goals alone won’t cut it against Arizona State, a few points could be the difference in a tight contest if Stanford carries its giant-slaying momentum into Sun Devil Stadium. Healthy or not, the pieces are there for this Stanford team. They Cardinal know their potential.
“I think we’re a confident bunch,” Humphreys said. “We know how much talent we have and…we know how good we can be. So right now, it’s just about being that good all the time.”
Stanford kicks off against Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on ESPN.