After becoming the only Power 5 team to lose to an FCS opponent this season, Stanford looks to bounce back in its Pac-12 home opener Saturday against Arizona.
“We can’t dwell on the past,” linebacker Gaethan Bernadel said. “We have to look forward and see how we can learn from our mistakes because everyone knew on this team that we weren’t supposed to lose that game. We have to move forward and focus on the next opponent.”
Expectations aren’t high that the Cardinal will bounce back from last week’s 30-23 loss at Sacramento State, which was the program’s second-ever loss to an FCS team. Stanford (1-2) is a double-digit underdog against Arizona (2-1), one of only two unranked teams remaining on the Cardinal’s schedule.
But first-year coach Troy Taylor remained optimistic despite the loss to his former school.
“Our guys are so mentally tough and they’re so resilient,” Taylor said this week as the Cardinal prepared for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Stanford Stadium. “They’re so inspirational to me in how hard they fight. They will bounce back and they’ll be ready to roll.
“Wins can energize you and then defeats can kind of deflate you in some respects. But if you’re really mentally tough, you’ll respond and realize that it’s your character that’s going to define you, and it’s going to define our team. I know we’re a young team and inexperienced, but in terms of character and resiliency, I feel great about our team.”
Taylor said that quarterbacks Ashton Daniels and Justin Lamson will both play, just like they did last week when Daniels played the first half and Lamson played the second half against the Hornets.
In fact, Stanford doesn’t appear to be changing much despite suffering the upset loss.
“I don’t think any of us think that we’re far off,” sophomore receiver Elic Ayomanor said. “I think we just have to be more consistent. And it’s not that big of a change. I think we all know that. We just have to make those incremental improvements on our assignments and just execute the fundamentals. And that’s what’s really going to push us forward.”
Here are some more keys for Stanford to get back on the winning track:
The all-conference tight end had more carries (one) than receptions (zero) against Sacramento State and was only targeted twice. After starting the season with nine catches for 138 yards against Hawai’i, he only has four catches for 54 yards in the last two games.
“We need to get him involved and when we’re moving the ball well, he’s usually a big part of it,” Taylor said. “That’ll be a point that we emphasize this week for sure.”
Yurosek’s production is especially important because top wide receiver John Humphreys has been out with an undisclosed injury.
CONTAIN THE QB
The Cardinal has struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks. USC’s Caleb Williams was 19 of 21 passing for 281 yards and ran for a 21-yard TD, while Sacramento State’s Kaiden Bennett ran for 100 yards and broke containment to throw the winning 49-yard TD with 1:32 to play last week.
“All the key plays were undersigned quarterback scrambles and runs (last week),” Taylor said. “So something that’s challenging for sure, because you have coverage, you have run responsibilities and run fits. You’re trying to put pressure on the quarterback, you’re trying to stay with your levels in the pass rush lanes. So it’s not one of those things where you just say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to stop a quarterback scrambling.’ It’s definitely challenging on all levels, but it’s something we have to improve on.”
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After getting six sacks against Hawaii, Stanford didn’t get a single sack against USC or Sacramento State. It will need to get pressure on Arizona’s Jayden de Laura or it will get picked apart like it did the past two weeks.
Last year de Laura led the nation’s sixth-best passing attack at 318.4 yards a game. He is averaging 304 yards a game so far this season, which ranks eighth in the country.
Stanford perfectly executed an onside kick against Sacramento State to steal a possession. Its opening TD against Hawaii came on a flea-flicker.
Since it doesn’t have a talent advantage, it will need more misdirection to get an edge on its remaining opponents.