David Shaw called 2021 'an aberration,' but turning things around has to start up front
David Shaw’s pedigree would suggest Stanford should be better in 2022 than it was in 2021.
The Cardinal overachieved in 2020 and then came crashing down to reality this season. After an overtime win over Oregon on Oct. 2, Stanford limped to the finish line. Losers of their last 7, the Cardinal scored more than 14 points in a game only 1 time over that stretch.
“This past year was an aberration,” the Stanford head coach said during an appearance on the Pac-12 Network Wednesday. “It’s not who we are. We had a bad year. Sometimes we all have bad days, bad weeks, bad years. We had a bad year.”
But dating back to the start of the 2019 season, Stanford has only won 11 of its last 30 games. The 9 losses this season came by an average of 20 points a game. The 8 losses in 2019 came by an average of 16 points. This is all trending in a weird direction.
And the 2022 schedule, released Thursday, does Stanford no favors.
Stanford gets USC at home on Sept. 10; it’ll be early in the season for a Trojan team that might be finding its footing—certainly better than meeting a Lincoln Riley team late in the year—but it’ll be before students get to campus and it won’t give Stanford much time to work into shape before a big game.
After a bye week, the Cardinal go on the road for 3 of the next 4 weeks with games against Washington (Sept. 24), Oregon (Oct. 1), and Notre Dame (Oct. 15). Sandwiched in-between is a game against an Oregon State team on Oct. 8 that could prove to be quite tough.
A slow start could be costly. A rough start could be deadly.
If Stanford is to be better in 2022, it needs more consistency up front on offense.
Quarterback Tanner McKee had a decent sophomore year if you look at the counting stats: 2,327 yards, 15 touchdowns, 65.4% completion rate. His completion rate was 2nd among qualified Pac-12 passers. After just 1 appearance as a freshman, McKee took the reins.
But the advanced stuff paints a different picture. The Cardinal offense ranked 105th in success rate. It was in passing downs entirely too often, 2 percentage points above the national average, and struggled to generate big plays from the passing game. Of course, protection was a major issue; the Cardinal allowed a sack rate of 8.3% on all downs, 23rd-worst in college football, and a sack on every 10th passing down.
On the ground, they had arguably the worst rushing attack in the league. The Cardinal had the fewest attempts and the fewest yards gained, and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average to top it all off. They were poor in short-yardage situations and posted the worst stuff rate of Power 5 teams (124th nationally).
They simply couldn’t open lanes for their running backs and couldn’t consistently give whoever was playing quarterback the time necessary to push the ball downfield.
To Shaw’s credit, this recruiting class addressed the biggest need. Stanford signed 4 linemen on Wednesday, including a pair of 4-stars in 6-foot-7 Fisher Anderson and 6-foot-5 Lucas Heyer.
Stanford needs a return to identity. McKee couldn’t stay upright and backs didn’t have holes. If changing that takes the form of starting a youngster like Anderson, then Shaw needs to be prepared to do whatever it takes. Who the Cardinal have been at their best is a team that can beat you up at the point of attack.
Getting back to that will end the run of bad days and weeks and years.