STANFORD, Calif. - Before we delve into what went wrong Saturday night in fifth-ranked Stanford’s difficult 27-21 defeat at Utah, its first loss since a controversial 20-13 overtime setback at Notre Dame last October, know this: the Cardinal didn’t take the Utes lightly.
David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, knew his team would have its hands full at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where more than 45,000 screaming fans were pining for an upset. They definitely had an effect. In the second quarter, the normally composed Stanford offense committed three-consecutive penalties: two for false starts and one for a block in the back.
“We knew we were coming into a hornet’s nest,” said Shaw, who turned up the music in practice earlier in the week to help his players prepare for the crowd noise.
The Cardinal finally settled down in the second half on both sides of the ball and had a great chance to win the game in the final minute. But give Utah credit for competing for all 60 minutes, especially after two heartbreaking losses.
In the previous game, the Utes nearly knocked off UCLA, losing 34-27. Prior to that, they beat BYU 20-13, and lost a shootout to Oregon State, 51-48.
The point is, this is a good Utah team that has the talent and coaching to beat almost anybody. No, Stanford didn’t come close to playing to its full potential, but to say the Cardinal underestimated the Utes is simply wrong.
“They played UCLA to the end, Oregon State to the end,” said running back Tyler Gaffney, who surpassed 100 yards rushing (108) for the third time this season. “This was definitely not an overlooked team. They just came out and beat us.”
The Cardinal defense/special teams delivered a turnover for the 31st-straight game, the second-longest streak in the nation behind Missouri (36). It also recorded seven tackles for loss and two sacks, with defensive end Trent Murphy securing two TFL’s and a sack. However, the middle of the line proved vulnerable, partly because of an injury to nose tackle David Parry, who started but was ineffective.
That helps explain why Stanford surrendered 181 yards rushing. As it did last week against Washington, the defense had trouble getting off the field, allowing the Utes to run 73 plays to the Cardinal 56, accumulate more first downs (22-13) and a nearly six-minute time of advantage.
“It’s about how we respond from here on out,” Murphy said. “It’s a long season. There’s still a lot of games to win.”
Offensively, wide receiver Ty Montgomery was spectacular returning kickoffs and catching passes, accumulating 296 all-purpose yards. In just six games, the junior from Dallas has firmly established himself as one of the elite players in the country.
While the loss made for a long flight home, Stanford can’t dwell on it. High-flying UCLA, 5-0, comes to Stanford Stadium for homecoming on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. looking to avenge two losses to the Cardinal last season, the latter in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Bruins moved up to No. 9 in the Associated Press rankings on Sunday, while Stanford slipped to 13th.
Shaw and his staff are already giving UCLA their full attention.
“We don’t have time to wallow, because they’re going to come to Palo Alto ready to come after us,” he said.
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Upcoming opponent results: UCLA 37, Cal 10; Oregon State 52, Washington State 24; Oregon 45, Washington 24; USC 38, Arizona 31; Notre Dame – bye
For the first time this season, the Stanford offensive line was called for a holding penalty … Special teams ace Joe Hemschoot saw extensive playing time on defense and produced the unit’s lone turnover, an interception of a tipped pass by teammate Alex Carter … PK Jordan Williamson had four touchbacks and now has 20 on the season. However, he missed a 38-yard field goal attempt – his first miss inside the 50-yard-line after going 9-for-9 … For the second-straight game, no passes were caught by a tight end … Sophomore WR Kodi Whitfield made a nice catch on the final possession to move Stanford deep into Utah territory … FS Ed Reynolds and ILB A.J. Tarpley shared team tackling honors with 12 … QB Dallas Lloyd, a Utah native, ran once for 16 yards … QB Kevin Hogan is now 10-1 as a starter, with six wins coming against ranked opponents.
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