It went from worse to painful in a hurry. Missed field goals, missed opportunities and general malaise of the missing (execution) in action.
No one took Stanford's 42-16 loss to visiting Washington State worse than Cardinal football coach David Shaw, who watched a patchwork of an offense line fail to keep the Cougars off quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst and that failed to provide any running lanes for the running backs.
“There's a lot of talent on the offensive line,” Stanford guard David Bright said. “A lot of us are trying to keep things positive, even though it may not look good right now. But knowing what this team has going for it down the road , we're looking for something to build on.”
Stanford (3-2, 2-2 Pac-12) dropped consecutive games on consecutive weekends for the first time under Shaw.
“We are a work in progress,” Shaw said. “I didn't think I'd be saying it at this point, but we are. We had our third different combination on the offensive line and there was too much pressure on the quarterbacks. There were times Ryan would have liked to wait a split-second longer for a receiver to get open but he had to get rid of the ball.”
Burns, who threw for 222 yards on 19 of 25 passing, was sacked four times. He was sacked seven times in last week's loss at Washington.
The Cardinal has allowed 16 sacks through five games thus far. Stanford allowed 20 all of last season and gave up 16 through nine games.
“We'll see what we do next week,” Shaw said. “We still had too much pressure on the quarterback and not enough lanes to run in to get positive yards in our running game. Before we can get explosive plays in the running game, we've got to get positive yards in the running game. We've got to get our runners to and from the line of scrimmage.”
Stanford rushed for 61 total yards, with Christian McCaffrey gaining 35 of those and 23 on one play. The junior running back got banged up and rarely played in the second half. Shaw said there was no reason to expose McCaffrey to any more abuse.
Once again, Burns' inexperience was exposed by a more polished, more experienced quarterback in Luke Falk, who threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns.
“There were times we were rolling and then we'd make little mistakes that stopped us,” Burns said. “One, two little mistakes piled up and killed drives. We have to be more consistent. We showed we could drive down field. We couldn't finish.”
Falk showed what it means to finish, converting twice on fourth downs that led to touchdowns. The Cougars showed not a whit of concern for the Stanford defense.
“He has been highly underrated because of the great quarterback play that's been in this conference,” Shaw said of Falk. “But all the guy has done is complete a lot of passes for a lot of yards. He's that veteran quarterback that's seen every blitz, and you can't rattle him. He sees things coming, he gets rid of the ball.”
Falk did throw a pair of interceptions, one that Frank Buncom returned 26 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-10.
“That was an amazing play by Frank,” Cardinal defensive end Solomon Thomas said. “His first start and his first pick six. That should have been a momentum shift. We should have gone out and go 3-and-out. We have top man up.”
Instead, the Cougars drove 75 yards in 11 plays, taking nearly five minutes off the clock, to go right back up by 18.
“The bottom line for us right now is we can't overcome the negative plays and mistakes that we make,” Shaw said. “When our opponents make a mistake, we're not doing a good job of taking advantage of that. The pick six tonight was phenomenal by Frank Buncom. We got two interceptions and turned them into seven points, and that was it. We missed two field goals and we were inefficient running the ball, inefficient on third down, and at times decent throwing the ball, and at times inefficient throwing the ball. Inefficiency is not a sign of a good football team, and that's what we aspire to be.”
Stanford journeys to Notre Dame next week hoping to have answers.