Oct 7, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Trenton Bourguet (16) is sacked by Colorado Buffaloes defensive end Arden Walker (53) in the second half at Mountain America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado seeks return to dominance, welcomes Stanford to town

Colorado has recently taken a dip after a magical 3-0 start, but the Buffaloes have a chance to rediscover their prowess when they face hapless Stanford in Pac-12 play on Friday night in Boulder, Colo.

While Colorado ended an eight-game Pac-12 losing streak with last Saturday’s 27-24 win at Arizona State, the Cardinal (1-4, 0-3 Pac-12) have dropped 17 of their past 18 conference games, including seven straight.

Stanford is coming off a bye after losing its previous four contests.

Colorado (4-2, 1-2) lost to then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 8 Southern California in back-to-back weeks before escaping with a victory against the Sun Devils thanks to Alejandro Mata’s 43-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders was highly irritated with his team’s performance.

“I’m happy about the win but I’m not happy in the fashion that we won it in,” the man known as Coach Prime said. “We’re better than that. We really are better than that, and we got to start showing that. …

“I’m sick of these consistent holes that we’re displaying and the penalties and the things that we’re doing. We’re so much better. I apologize for my anger … but I don’t accept mediocrity.”

Some good news for the Buffaloes came Monday when two-way standout Travis Hunter practiced for the first time since sustaining a lacerated liver during a victory over Colorado State on Sept. 16.

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders continues to thrive and has completed 72.7 percent of his passes this season for 2,020 yards, 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Prior to the bye, Stanford was annihilated 42-6 by then-No. 9 Oregon when the Ducks had a 506-222 advantage in total offense.

“They’re explosive obviously,” Cardinal first-year coach Troy Taylor said. “Our defense did a really good job in the first half. You put an explosive offense on the field that much, they will make plays.”

Stanford’s lone win came in its season opener against Hawaii. The Cardinal also lost to FCS foe Sacramento State — Taylor’s former program — to start a streak of three consecutive home setbacks.

While the defense is allowing 34.6 points per game, the offense is averaging just 19.2 behind inconsistent quarterback play.

Ashton Daniels is completing 60 percent of his passes for 561 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while Justin Lamson has a 49.2 percent accuracy rate while throwing for 413 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Outside linebacker David Bailey leads the defense with four sacks.

Colorado has won the past three meetings between the teams after Stanford prevailed in the previous five.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Berkeley, California, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Justin Wilcox during the third quarter against the Washington Huskies at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Pride on the line for skidding Cal, Stanford

Stanford has to make the trip across the San Francisco Bay, but the Cardinal appear to have Cal right where they want it when the rivals contest the 125th Big Game on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif.

The battle to avoid last place in the Pacific-12 Conference will pit a Stanford squad (3-7, 1-7) attempting to end a three-game losing streak and avenge last season’s 41-11 home drubbing against a Cal team (3-7, 1-6) that responded to a sixth consecutive defeat last weekend by firing offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Both head coaches made it clear this week: You can throw out the records, which include not only the one-win conference seasons this year but also the fact that the road team has won the past four Big Games.

“The Big Game. That’s the message,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of his plan to fire up a team coming off a 42-7 shellacking at Utah. “The Axe is about the seniors and the tradition of holding that thing and taking pictures with it. We’re trying to get that Axe for the seniors. That’s the focus.”

Cal made a similarly disastrous trip last week, falling 38-10 at Oregon State. Curiously, Cal coach Justin Wilcox responded by firing Musgrave, whose offense (22.5 points per game) had far outperformed the Wilcox-influenced defense (37.3) over the past four weeks.

With his own job possibly on the line, Wilcox had a “win one for the alumni” speech prepared for his players.

“We recognize the importance of the Big Game to the university and our alumni and our student body,” Wilcox said. “We need to make the most out of (the) opportunity.”

While Cal introduces transfer quarterback Jack Plummer to the rivalry, Stanford junior Tanner McKee will get his second crack at being a Big Game starter.

He watched as a freshman when Stanford bussed out of Berkeley with The Axe in its possession following a 24-23 win in 2020, then contributed two interceptions to the Cardinal’s demise in last year’s 41-11 debacle at home.

McKee and Plummer have similar stats with the season winding down. McKee has thrown for 2,363 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Plummer has logged 2,521 passing yards, 16 scores and seven picks.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA;  UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly on the sidelines during the second half against the South Alabama Jaguars at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 UCLA ready to brush off first loss, tackle Stanford

No. 12 UCLA will return home on Saturday, coming off its first loss of the season and looking to keep its Pac-12 Conference title hopes intact against a suddenly resurgent Stanford in Pasadena, Calif.

The Bruins (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) fell to Oregon at Autzen Stadium for the eighth consecutive in a 45-30 loss Saturday. That dropped them behind the Ducks in the conference title race, because the Pac-12 abandoned its prior divisional-representative model to determine conference championship game participants.

As a result, the teams with the top two overall records will advance to the Dec. 2 title game in Las Vegas. Oregon now sits alone in first with the only unblemished league mark; with a single loss, UCLA is tied with Utah, which the Bruins beat on Oct. 8, and Southern California, which the Bruins host on Nov. 19.

“The one thing I told those guys, as I walked up the tunnel at the end of the game, it’s been 357 days since we lost our last game,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said during his media availability. “Last loss we had before that was Oct. 30, 2021. I think they righted the ship and did a great job to finish out the season with three wins, then starting off this season with six wins. There was only one other team in the country, Clemson, that had more wins than us over that time.

“This is a really good football team,” he added. We didn’t play up to what we should have played on Saturday, then we’ll move on.”

While UCLA’s winning streak dating back to last season ended, Stanford (3-4, 1-4) ended two dubious streaks in its most recent outings.

The Cardinal dropped 11 straight games against FBS opponents dating back to last season before its 16-14 win at Notre Dame on Oct. 15. Ten of those losses came against Pac-12 opponents, a skid Stanford ended last week in its 15-14 win over Arizona State.

Though the Cardinal opened conference play 0-4 this season, they showed flashes of returning to the form typical of coach David Shaw’s teams from 2011 through 2018, when Stanford won at least nine games in seven of eight seasons.

Stanford committed two turnovers inside the 2-yard line in a 41-28 loss to USC in Week 2, and it gave up a befuddling touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to lose to Oregon State on Oct. 8, 28-27.

Shaw said Tuesday that Thompson-Robinson and UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet had “given us fits” in prior meetings.

“Hopefully, we play better than we did last week, and that’s the charge we’ve been on the last weeks … ready to take a significant jump and give ourselves a chance to win on the road at UCLA,” Shaw said.

Since giving up 40-plus points in each of its first three Pac-12 games, the Stanford defense has limited its three most recent opponents to 56 combined points. The passing defense has improved since allowing four first-half touchdowns from USC’s Caleb Williams in Week 2, coming into UCLA holding opponents to fewer than 60 percent completions and 214.4 total yards through the air per game.

Run defense, however, has been an issue. The Cardinal rank tied for 112th nationally at 187.6 yards allowed per game, at 5.2 per carry. Charbonnet went for 118 yards rushing in last season’s 35-24 win at Stanford, while Thompson-Robinson carried for two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Stanford, California, USA;  Stanford Cardinal running back E.J. Smith (22) runs with the football during the first quarter against the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford RB E.J. Smith, son of Emmitt, out for year

Stanford coach David Shaw announced Tuesday that running back E.J. Smith, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, is out for the year with an undisclosed injury.

Smith was injured Sept. 10 when the Cardinal lost to Southern California. He sat out the following week’s loss to Washington. Until recently, the junior was expected only to miss 1-2 weeks.

“I don’t think there’s an option for him to continue (this season),” Shaw told reporters. “He’s got to get his body taken care of. Trust me, he wishes it was not this way.

“He told me last week, ‘Coach, I can’t wait to play against Oregon. I’m going to be there for you. I need to get back in there.’ But the doctors are right and it’s wise for him — both now and for his future — to get this taken care of and come back in (2023) bigger, faster, stronger.”

Smith had gained 206 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on 30 carries over Stanford’s first two games. He also had caught eight passes for 63 yards and a score.

His father, the longtime Dallas Cowboys running back, is best known as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, having gained 18,355 yards in 15 seasons.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Stanford, California, USA;  USC Trojans wide receiver Tahj Washington (16) and running back Travis Dye (26) celebrate during the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Strong first half propels No. 10 USC to win over Stanford

Tenth-ranked Southern Cal capitalized on four turnovers and built a 27-point cushion, which was enough to endure a sluggish second half in a 41-28 win over host Stanford on Saturday.

The Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12 Conference) scored touchdowns on all five of their first-half possessions, four coming on Caleb Williams passes. Williams hooked up with Jordan Addison for two of those scores, including a 75-yarder.

Williams finished 20-of-27 passing for 341 yards in the league opener for both teams.

Addison hauled in seven receptions for 172 yards to lead USC, while Mario Williams added four catches for 74 yards and a 15-yard scoring reception. Tight end Lake McRee got the Trojans’ early scoring deluge started with a five-yard touchdown catch.

USC took advantage as three of Stanford’s first four possession ended with turnovers. Max Williams intercepted Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, Max Williams also forced an E.J. Smith fumble at the goal line, and Mekhi Blackmon picked off a pass in the end zone.

USC led 35-14 at the half.

The Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) never recovered from their three unsuccessful trips into the red zone and fell behind 41-14 late in the third quarter.

Stanford shut down the USC offense after intermission, however, allowing only two Denis Lynch field goals in the second half.

Stanford gained 441 yards of offense with an almost 50-50 split of 220 McKee passing yards and 221 rushing yards, paced by Smith’s 88. Smith rushed for a touchdown and Casey Filkins, who carried for 77 yards, added another.

McKee rushed for one touchdown and passed for another to Smith. Stanford converted 33 first downs to USC’s 24, but the Trojans outgained the Cardinal, with 505 yards.

Travis Dye rushed for 105 yards and scored a touchdown for USC. Stanford transfer Austin Jones added 38 yards on eight carries.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly leads players onto the field before the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Notre Dame cautious of upset potential vs. rival Stanford

Stanford will attempt to end its season by denying No. 6 Notre Dame an opportunity to reach the College Football Playoff when the host Cardinal bid to upset the Fighting Irish on Saturday night.

Coming off a 41-11 drubbing at home in its annual Big Game against rival California, the Cardinal (3-8) will be seeking a seventh win over a ranked Notre Dame team in the 35th edition of the rivalry.

Stanford was in a similar situation, albeit it as the 13th-ranked team in the country, when it knocked the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish out of the national championship picture with a 38-36 win on the Cardinal’s field in 2015.

Surely, a Stanford upset would be a much more surprising outcome six years later, with Notre Dame (10-1) possibly a win away from landing one of the four coveted spots in the playoff.

Notre Dame’s chances of moving up from sixth are equally dependent upon at least two teams ahead of it losing, and that’s assured before season’s end.

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan also duel on Saturday eight hours before Notre Dame-Stanford. Then, next week, No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama are set to meet in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Notre Dame game plan remains the same — win convincingly and let the chips fall where they may.

Senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy, who grew up just east of Stanford in Milpitas, Calif., is fully aware of the Cardinal’s history against Notre Dame and the significance of what a season-ending headline-grabber would mean to the Stanford program.

“I’ve got a bunch of family and friends texting me excited,” Bracy said. “You have to take each week as a new opponent and a new challenge. You know I have the utmost respect for Stanford and I’m just getting ready to play.”

Notre Dame has solidified its position in the playoff chase with six straight wins, the last three by 34-6, 28-3 and 55-0 counts.

Stanford, on the other hand, has lost six straight and been on the wrong end of similar scores in its last three outings — losing 52-7, 35-14 and 41-11.

Cardinal coach David Shaw believes Notre Dame is coming to town at just the right time for his team, which could use an injection of energy at the end of a losing season.

“Hopefully the Golden Domers bring out the best in our football team, and for the first time in over a month we see the best of Stanford football,” he noted. “Notre Dame is a rival, and we’ve fared well against them over the last decade-plus. I don’t need to have any rah-rah speeches this week.”

Stanford returned quarterback Tanner McKee from injury last week, and while his 239 yards on 26-for-44 might have looked impressive, it was outweighed by a 2-to-0 interception-to-touchdown ratio.

The Cardinal are already assured of a third consecutive season without a bowl. They had gotten invitations in each of the previous 10 years under Shaw and Jim Harbaugh, winning six of those games.

–Field Level Media

November 27, 2020; Berkeley, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal players celebrate with The Stanford Axe after the game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Big Game arrives amid bad seasons for Cal, Stanford

Quarterback Chase Garbers looks for a second career win over rival Stanford when he leads visiting California into the annual Big Game among the San Francisco Bay Area’s two Pac-12 Conference football programs on Saturday afternoon.

The schools, separated by a bridge and just 35 miles, have alternated wins and losses the last three seasons. Stanford held on for a 24-23 victory at Cal last November when the Golden Bears missed a PAT after a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining.

That game pitted Garbers against Stanford’s Davis Mills, who has since graduated to the NFL’s Houston Texans.

The Cardinal’s quarterback situation has become a mess in the 10 games since, with opening-day backup Tanner McKee having quickly seized the starting job, only to come away with an undisclosed injury to his left leg in a home loss to Washington last month.

Jack West, Ari Patu and Dylan Plautz have shared the duties in the last two contests, in which Stanford (3-7, 2-6 Pac-12) was blown out by Utah and Oregon State.

The Cardinal totaled just 94 passing yards with two interceptions in last week’s 35-14 loss at Oregon State.

The good news for Stanford, which enters the Big Game on a five-game losing streak, is that McKee appears ready to return from his two-game absence.

“Having some guys back I think will help a lot this week,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, adding cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and linebacker Ricky Miezan to the list of potential key returners headed by McKee.

“Right now it’s not about any of the previous games. It’s not about next week. It’s about rivalry week and that’s what these guys are focused on, trying to keep the Axe.”

Cal (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) has had no such problems at the quarterback position, with Garbers ranking sixth in the Pac-12 in passing yards despite having played one or two fewer games than the five guys ahead of him on the list.

Cal’s contest last week against Southern California had to be rescheduled because of COVID issues among the Golden Bears. Cal was seriously undermanned, including the absence of Garbers, when it lost 10-3 the previous week at Arizona.

Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave expects a big performance from Garbers this week despite the fact he hasn’t played since Oct. 30, when he threw for a season-best three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth in a win over Oregon State.

“I feel like we’re getting better as a coaching staff,” Musgrave said of a relationship he believes has kept his quarterback on an upward trajectory this season. “We’re game-planning better and putting him in better position — everybody, all 11 guys — to be successful.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan (10) passes the ball in overtime against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford, Oregon State aim to snap skids

Stanford and Oregon State will seek to end losing streaks when Beavers standout back B.J. Baylor gets a shot at the Cardinal’s porous run defense in a Pacific-12 Conference game Saturday in Corvallis, Ore.

Both teams appeared primed to take a shot at the Pac-12 North title after early success, with Stanford beating Southern Cal and Oregon en route to a 2-1 conference start, while Oregon State had a stunning victory over Utah to improve to 3-1.

But things have gone south in a hurry for both teams. Stanford (3-6, 2-5) has lost four in a row, including 52-7 at home against Utah last week, while Oregon State (5-4, 3-3) has dropped two straight.

Technically, the Beavers remain in the Pac-12 North race, but they need help. Wins over Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon would allow them to finish 6-3, creating the possibility they could tie Oregon atop the standings and win a head-to-head tie-breaker.

If Oregon State goes on a late run, it will do so with a new defensive coordinator. The school fired Tim Tibesar on Sunday, replacing him on an interim basis with inside linebackers coach Trent Bray, in the wake of poor defensive efforts in losses to California and Colorado, games in which the Beavers allowed a total of 76 points and 909 yards.

“I felt it was the right time to make a change in our football program,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said in an announcement made by the school on Sunday night.

Oregon State has had no such problems offensively of late, especially in the passing game, where Chance Nolan went a combined 35-of-64 for 498 yards and three touchdowns against Cal and Colorado.

The Beavers were at their best earlier when Baylor was running well. He had four straight 100-yard games during Oregon State’s 3-1 conference start, before totaling just 140 yards on 35 carries the past two weeks.

Stanford got run over by Utah’s Tavion Thomas for 177 yards and four TDs in last week’s blowout. The Cardinal gave up 441 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns against the Utes.

“Got to have a lot of discussions on how to stop the run,” Stanford coach David Shaw insisted after the loss. “We missed a ton of tackles. It’s one thing to have gaps run through. But when you miss tackles, that’s why you give up the big, big plays. Inexcusable.”

Stanford played the Utah game without quarterback Tanner McKee, who was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. He remains questionable for the Oregon State game.

The Cardinal’s Jack West, Isaiah Sanders and Ari Patu combined for just 85 passing yards on 23 attempts against Utah.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2021; Stanford, California, USA;  Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Utah defense dominates Stanford in 52-7 rout

Linebacker Devin Lloyd capped a brilliant defensive effort with an interception for a touchdown and Tavion Thomas rushed for four scores Friday night as Utah remained in the driver’s seat for a Pac-12 South title with a 52-7 shellacking of host Stanford.

Thomas finished with a career-best 177 yards on 20 carries for the Utes (6-3, 5-1 Pac-12), who now need just two wins in their final three games to earn a spot in the conference championship game.

Thomas scored on 10- and 5-yard runs in the first quarter, then added 58- and 11-yarders in the second as Utah built a 28-0 lead in the game’s first 23 1/2 minutes.

TJ Pledger sprinted 96 yards for a fifth Utah touchdown and Jadon Redding nailed a 29-yard field goal on the last play of the second quarter, sending the Utes into halftime with a 38-0 advantage.

Stanford (3-6, 2-5) played much more competitively in the second half, getting onto the scoreboard on the first drive of the third quarter with a 4-yard run by Isaiah Sanders.

Utah, which was coming off an impressive 44-24 win over UCLA, matched that point total when Lloyd jumped at the line of scrimmage, snatched a Jack West pass and fell into the end zone for a touchdown.

Earlier in the game, Lloyd made five tackles for losses.

Micah Bernard added a sixth rushing TD for the Utes from 11 yards out with 1:48 to play to complete the scoring.

The run pushed Bernard over the 100-yard mark with 110. Pledger finished with 107 on just four carries as Utah rolled up 441 rushing yards and 581 total yards.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising went 13 of 22 for 140 yards without a touchdown or interception. The Utes lost one fumble but benefitted from two Cardinal turnovers.

Stanford’s West finished 12-for-18 for 59 yards with the one interception. En route to a fourth straight defeat, the Cardinal totaled 167 yards, with E.J. Smith producing a team-high 53 on the ground on seven carries.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Cameron Rising (7) during the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Utah, Stanford head in different directions entering Friday clash

Two teams with vastly different levels of bowl games on their minds hook up Friday night when Pacific-12 Conference South-leading Utah visits the North’s last-place team, Stanford.

Utah (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) took control of its division with a 44-24 home romp over UCLA last Saturday, with Tavion Thomas’ 160 rushing yards and four touchdowns leading the way.

Coupled with an Arizona State loss to Washington State, the Utes’ win gave them a one-game lead in the South, which in essence is a two-game advantage because they also own a head-to-head win over the Sun Devils.

Taking care of business against Stanford, as well as the bottom two teams in the South — Arizona and Colorado — would assure Utah a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game regardless of how it fares against the North leader, Oregon, on Nov. 20.

Despite Stanford’s three-game losing streak, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham has warned his team: Dealing with the Cardinal (3-5, 2-4) on the road won’t be easy for a Utah team that’s failed more often than it has experienced success away from home (1-3) this season.

And the Utes will be heading west one day earlier than usual.

“We’ve got a short week combined with a road trip,” Whittingham noted. “It’s what the schedule says, so we don’t worry or complain about that. We’ve just got to manage it. We’ve got a blueprint for it.”

That blueprint was last put into place when Utah faced Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game on a Friday night in December 2019. On a similarly short rest as they’ll get this week, the Utes were blown out in that game, 37-15.

Of course, they didn’t have Cameron Rising doing anything more than holding a clipboard that season as a redshirt transfer from Texas. After a season-opening shoulder injury, he has started the last five games, leading Utah to four wins while throwing 12 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.

Rising was a freshman at Texas the last time Utah visited Stanford. That went well for the Utes in a 40-21 victory over a Cardinal team that was ranked 14th at the time.

That said, the roles were reversed one year earlier, when Stanford went to Salt Lake City and upset the 20th-ranked Utes 23-20.

The Cardinal need three wins in their last four games to be eligible for a bottom-tier bowl game. They almost had one last week when they led Washington 13-12 before surrendering a 20-yard TD pass with 21 seconds left on their way to a 20-13 loss.

“Honestly (we) played defense good the entire game,” Stanford coach David Shaw observed. “But once again it comes down to two minutes, and we couldn’t get the stop to end the game. That’s how you lose.”

–Field Level Media