Stanford has fallen out of favor during their midseason stretch.
After climbing to seventh in the AP poll, the Cardinal dropped two straight games versus Notre Dame and Utah, and if not for a miraculous comeback in Eugene, David Shaw’s team would be 4-3; instead, they are 5-2. Following consecutive losses, early hopes of making the playoff were dismissed quickly, and Bryce Love’s Heisman hype is a distant memory.
But still, after all that, the Cardinal control their own destiny, and I believe the Rose Bowl is still a realistic hope for this season. I’m willing to bet as Stanford’s two most important games of the year arrive David Shaw will make adjustments.
Last year, the team started off 1-2. We wrote off the Cardinal early before Shaw’s team got hot and finished the year 9-3. In the process, Shaw benched his starting quarterback in favor of K.J. Costello, changed the defensive scheme, and spiced up the offense. This year, I believe he’ll do the same (but this time, no QB benching will be necessary).
I believe that Shaw has some sort of trick up his sleeve. I don’t know what, but history says that’s what Stanford will do.
The offense has not come close to reaching preseason expectations. The Bryce Love we saw last year is nowhere to be seen while the present-day Bryce Love is constantly being snagged by his ankle injury. Don’t blame Love for struggling though. Blame the offensive line.
Prior to the ASU game, Stanford ranked 127th in rushing offense. Clearly, running the ball up the middle is not working. Although crippled with injuries, the offensive line continues to be pushed around, and Stanford is not winning the battle of the trenches. Shaw is not going to continue to jam it up the middle. When he had Christian McCaffrey, Shaw had a wide variety of complex plays that kept the defense guessing. Fans saw screens, play action passes, and passes up the middle. I think this part of the playbook still exists, and Shaw is choosing to utilize it in a bigger game to catch his opponent off guard.
Against Arizona State, we saw Cameron Scarlett collect a screen pass and break away to the end zone before the play was called back. Maybe Shaw is hesitant to call similar plays because he’s waiting for a certain player to return. Perhaps that person is Connor Wedington, who hasn’t suited up since week one. Stanford does not disclose injuries, but Shaw has not ruled Wedington out for the year.
Wedington was a four star recruit who played as a true freshman, playing running back and slot receiver in his first season. In the spring game, Wedington finished with five receptions and 61 yards as well as a touchdown. Wedington might just be the next Christian McCaffrey, and maybe it’s no coincidence that he wears the same number as the Stanford great.
Stanford traditionally finishes their season strong. Mainly because to start the year, David Shaw does not reveal a large part of the playbook. It’s why the team took down Washington and Notre Dame last season. It’s why they won the North.
Stanford plays Washington State next. Maybe this will be the game Wedington returns, giving Stanford the extra edge on offense to keep the defense guessing. Let’s not give up yet Stanford fans, and remember the Cardinal still control their own destiny.