The Stanford Cardinal joined the ranks of favored teams falling short on Saturday and became the first top 10 team to lose to an unranked opponent against the Utah Utes. David Shaw found Salt Lake City less than hospitable as he watched his team lost control of the football game early and watched their last-minute rally fall short on a turnover on downs. While the Utes rose up and snatched victory in this game, Stanford did themselves no favor in losing their identity when things got tough in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
For years, Stanford has built their program on a stout defense that plays tough, physical football. Their defense is often a training ground for NFL playmakers with the way they play strong and fundamental football, making plays from sideline to sideline. But on Saturday, that defense looked wildy unfamiliar. They were missing tackles, got out-muscled for jump balls in the passing game and admitted being “unprepared” for the way Utah attacked the perimeter of their defense.
Then late in the game when a win was on the line, the Cardinal appeared to completely forget the offensive philosophy that had gotten them to the top of the Pac 12. With a third and two inside the Utah 10-yard line, despite Tyler Gaffney rushing for 108 yards on 16 carries already in the game averaging 6.8 yards per carry, Shaw dialed up a roll out pass play that Kevin Hogan threw out the back of the endzone. Then on fourth down, needing just two yards, Stanford went into a spread formation out of the shotgun where Hogan once again missed his receiver, ending Stanford’s chances to escape with a win.
Stanford has built their program on their defense and ability to run the ball. On Saturday, those founding principals fell by the wayside and the Cardinal paid the price for it.