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Cal Football

Stanford Preview: Despite Loss Streak, Shaw Sees Improvement

November 18, 2021

Stanford comes into Saturday’s Big Game on a five-game losing streak. Only last month, the Cardinal was riding high, having upset powerhouse Oregon and leading the Pac-12 North. But things have gotten progressively worse on the Farm since that heady time. 

The numbers tell a woeful tale. Defensively, Stanford is last in the Pac=12 in total defense (426.9 ypg) and scoring (30.3) and against the run (230.7). And offensively, the school which in recent years produced running backs such as Toby Gearhart and Christian McCaffrey, averages a piddling 94.5 yards rushing, 

Injuries have taken a toll, and no position has been hit harder than quarterback. The Cardinal has been forced to start four different ones. In last week’s loss to Oregon State, it was freshman Ari Patu, brother of Cal outside linebacker Orin Patu. And even he couldn’t finish the game.

Despite its prolonging the losing streak, Stanford head coach David Shaw feels the OSU game was a step up from the previous weeks, particularly the 52-7 loss to Utah on Nov. 5. 

“I thought we played better defense but missed too many tackles,” Shaw said. “When you miss tackles on good backs, they’re going to rack up yards on you. And that’s what happened. There weren’t big holes they were running through. We had them defensed, just couldn’t get them on the ground.”

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Tanner McKee

Shaw added that the Cardinal several times were in a position to make a sack, only to see the quarterback slip away.

Shaw found the younger Patu’s play acceptable. “I thought Ari went out there and missed some that you would expect a true freshman to miss, Shaw said. “He had a couple of drops. 

“But then he made some great throws, I think he was settling in, but then he got hurt and had to come out.”

He is out this week, so the Cardinal will go back to Tanner McKee, who started seven straight games before going down himself and missing the Utah game. 

McKee is 147-for-260 passing with five interceptions. He has thrown for 1916 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon calls McKee a “prototype pocket passer.

“He does move around. You see him escape the pocket a few times and move around. Throws the ball well from the pocket. He is a guy who is going to make us defend the field horizontally as well as vertically.”.

And he might have a stronger supporting cast. On both offense and defense Stanford is generally on the mend. 

Its top corner Kyu Blu Kelly, linebacker and second-leading tackler Ricky Miezan, and starting tight end/defensive lineman Tucker Fisk are listed as probable, while safety Jonathan McGill should also make his first appearance of the season.

Running back E.J. Smith was listed as questionable, as was the team’s leading receiver, Elijah Higgins. Shaw said that Higgins is “on the right side of questionable.”

“When we were healthy at the receiver position they were a special group,” he said. “We have been waiting for Elijah. John Humphreys came back and should be better this week. I think we’ll see a more spry John Humphreys.”

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David Shaw

And then there is Michael Wilson, who was idled by injury until the last two games.  

“Mike is a difference-maker,” Shaw said. “Mike is violent. Every route is violent, crisp, explosive. His blocks are violent. His runs after the catch are violent. In a game like this there are going to be contested catches. You are going to have to fight for the ball and there are very few guys you’d want fighting for the ball more than Mike. 

“He is one of the better short field gunners that we’ve ever had here. Whatever we need him to do, he’s going to do.”

Tight end Benjamin Yurosek is having a fine season. “He’s a very talented player,” Sirmon said. “When I was coaching in Seattle, the Yuroseks were actually next door neighbors of ours. ...They are a beautiful family, great parents and he’s a great young man and he’s turned into a heckuva football player. They feature him in the run game and the pass game. He is a tough matchup for safeties.”

Defensively the Cardinal have been giving up running yards in big chunks, Still the Bears see some talent there. 

“They’re stout,” Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “ I don’t know anything about their stats. I just watch the film. They make a lot of big plays. They are really big up front. Number 50, (Dalyn Wade-Perry), 4 (Thomas Booker), and 23 (Ryan Johnson), those guys are going to be hard for us to move. They are very well-coached.”

“Each and every week they kind of do different stuff, depending on their opponent,” quarterback Chase Garbers said. “Up front they are very experienced. I have played against those guys for four years now, and I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces up front. A couple of years ago, they had some young DBs that are now getting older. They’ve got some new linebackers that we’re not used to seeing.”

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Stanford DB Nicolas Toomer (24) defends a pass

Wilcox believes overall the Cardinal is better than your average 3-7 team. “They’ve been in some close games like we have,” he said. “And I imagine with a play here or there, a different bounce and they probably have a few more wins. They are a good football team and we know the BIg Game is always going to be a very tough game.”



  •  The Cardinal lead the series, 65-47-11. They have won 10 of the last 11 games.
  •  Branson Bragg, the Cardinal’s best and most versatile offensive lineman, was injured at OSU and is out for the remaining two games.
  •  Shaw is 9-1 in his head coaching career against Cal, while Wilcox is 1-3 against the Cardinal.
  • Stanford is the only school in the country playing 12 Power Five opponents during the regular season. The Cardinal are the first program since USC in 2011 to schedule 12 Power Five teams in the regular season. 
  • Stanford is in the midst of a final stretch where it will play four of its final five games at home. Stanford was the only Power Five program to play five games away from home in the season’s first eight weeks. 
  • Shaw’s 93 career wins is the 10th-most among coaches in Pac-12 history while his 64 Pac-12 regular-season wins is tied for sixth-most. 
  • Stanford is 3-0 this season (80-7 under Shaw) when leading at half and 0-6 (9-31 under Shaw) when trailing.
  • Stanford is one of two FBS schools to have had three Black head football coaches, joined by Colorado. Shaw (11th season) was preceded by Dennis Green (1989-91) and Tyrone Willingham (1995-01) for a combined 21 seasons in the last 34. Colorado’s three Black head coaches have combined for five seasons.
  • Stanford has started 10 different players in the secondary this year. 
  •  SS Kendall Williamson is the only defensive back to start all 10 games.  
  •  Yurosek leads Power Five tight ends with three, 90-plus-yard receiving games this season.
  • Fifth-year tight end/defensive end Tucker Fisk started both ways against Utah. The last Pac-12 player to do that was Stanford’s Owen Marecic (FB, ILB) in the 2011 Orange Bowl vs. Virginia Tech.


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