By Viraj Mehta
Theoretically, Stanford still has a chance to make a bowl game this season.
But practically, the Cardinal’s season is all but over.
Approaching the final three games of the season, Stanford (3-6, 2-5 Pac-12) has lost four games in a row after what started as a promising season with upsets over both USC (4-5, 3-4 Pac-12) and Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12).
The season reached an all-time low last week against Utah (6-3, 5-1 Pac-12). The Cardinal fell 52-7 in a game that saw the defense give up 441 rushing yards. The abysmal rush defense has been the story of the season for Stanford, which currently ranks 127th out of 130 FBS teams in that category, and it’s something the Cardinal will have to address when they take on Oregon State (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) this Saturday.
“We haven’t played our best football, by any stretch of the imagination,” head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday. “[Oregon State] has run the ball up and down on people. They’ve made big plays in the passing game on everybody. They’ve had some dominating defensive performances.”
However, Shaw remains optimistic about the Cardinal’s odds.
“We’ve made some significant adjustments — some things that we feel really great about,” he said.
Perhaps the most significant adjustment they’ve been preparing for is the potential first career start of true freshman quarterback Ari Patu. Starting quarterback sophomore Tanner McKee missed last week’s game with an unspecified injury; in that contest, sixth-year Isaiah Sanders and senior Jack West took snaps at quarterback for the majority of the game.
If McKee can’t play in Saturday’s game, Patu will get the start instead. The three-star recruit out of Folsom High School joined the Cardinal as an early-enrollee last spring in lieu of finishing his senior year.
“We always believed that Ari’s got the chance to be a pretty special football player,” Shaw said. “He’s very smart …We’re not going to put a ton of things on his plate that he’s not comfortable with.”
Though the primary focus has been who’s been under center for the Cardinal as of late, injuries have plagued Stanford all season long. Sophomore running back Casey Filkins, junior outside linebacker Stephen Herron and junior cornerback Kyu Kelly are all out, while junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins, sophomore wide receiver John Humphreys, sophomore running back EJ Smith and senior safety Kendall Williamson all remain questionable.
Despite the slew of injuries, the Cardinal still have reason to feel optimistic.
Stanford has won 11 consecutive games against the Beavers dating back to 2010, with an overall series record of 59-25-3 in their favor.
Considering recent history between the Beavers and the Cardinal, Shaw said he expects the game to come down to one score in the fourth quarter. However, Stanford desperately needs to come out on top to stanch the bleeding of the past four games. Their clashes in each of the past two years both ended with game-winning field goals by Cardinal kicker Jet Toner ’20 M.A. ’21.
“Sometimes you just gotta put your foot in the sand and try to stop the momentum from going the wrong way,” Shaw said.
To complicate matters further, Oregon State fired defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar on Nov. 7 following their loss to Colorado (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12). The move came after the Beavers’ defense gave up 37 points and 392 total yards to Colorado’s worst-ranked Pac-12 offense. The Cardinal will look to take advantage of an 86th-ranked FBS defense in the midst of a transition to interim DC Trent Bray.
“We need to run the ball with more efficiency, but at the same time, we’re going to drop back and throw the ball,” Shaw said. “We’ve got one of the best tight ends in America working on the inside.”
The Cardinal will take on Oregon State at 2:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
This article has been updated to correct a typo to “stanch,” originally written as “staunch.” The Daily regrets this error.