They say that the way major institutions fall is from a death by 1,000 paper cuts. That's exactly what the Cardinal suffered in their Saturday morning loss to Northwestern. Stanford shot themselves in the foot time and again, and Northwestern emerged as the victor, 17-6. There were three key things I noticed that were not just concerns for the game, but will be moving forward as the season continues to unfold.
1) Poor Running Attack
Let's start with the run game. Where was it? In 27 rushing attempts, the Cardinal averaged 3.1 yards a carry. Christian McCaffrey contributed 66 of those yards, with 27 on one carry. He will have to do much more moving forward in order to help lift some of the weight off of Kevin Hogans shoulders. It was obvious Northwestern no longer feared the run after halftime, as they removed a defender from the box and payed more attention to defending the pass. If a team doesn't respect your rush, you suddenly become a very one dimensional offense, one that is easy to defend.
2) Kevin Hogan needs help
Saturday was not Kevin Hogan's best day. He completed 20 of his 35 pass attempts and threw an interception that put a bow on a miserable loss. While he certainly needs to step up going forward, I counted several dropped passes, including a wide open bomb delivered on the money to Michael Rector that would have translated to a touchdown had he hauled the ball in. Unlike the pros, Stanford can't turn to a free agent pool and sign a guy when they realize they may not have the pieces needed to be successful. This receiving corps needs to show that this game was just them knocking off the rust, and that they have more to offer than what was shown. At this point, however, it appears as though the Cardinal offense is in serious trouble.
3) Mix It Up, Coach
To be blunt, Stanford played a very predictable game on offense. When Northwestern jabbed them in the mouth, the Cardinal had nothing to answer with. They kept doing what they knew how to do; run it once or twice, then look to Hogan to convert on 3rd down. The offense and play calling looked incredibly bland. I fully expected Coach Shaw to open the playbook up more in the 2nd half, but it never happened. Is this what we can expect moving forward?
This is a game Stanford should have and needed to win. If they want to think about potentially beating USC, everyone, starting with the coaching staff, will need to look themselves in the mirror and decide what kind of season this is going to be. Luckily, they have a game against UCF to help rebuild their confidence. They need to blow them out in order to march into Southern California feeling good enough to take down the Trojans.