Stanford defense makes positive strides against Oregon

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By Ana Kieu

After lopsided losses at USC and UCF, the Stanford defense made positive strides in Saturday’s 21-6 setback to No. 16 Oregon.

Led by Heisman Trophy contender Justin Herbert, the Ducks (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) entered Saturday averaging 44.3 points and 505 yards on offense. The Cardinal (1-3, 0-2 Pac-12) allowed three touchdowns and 320 yards and sacked Herbert four times.

“Our focus was to execute and play fast and physical,” said fifth-year senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill, who recorded a career-high two sacks. “I think we did a decent job of that, but again, we left a lot on the table and gave them too many points.”

David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, was especially pleased with his front seven, which limited Oregon to 61 yards rushing on 30 attempts. Despite the sacks and two hurries, Herbert completed 19-of-24 passes for 259 yards and three scores.

“We’re a really talented defense … I still believe that,” Toohill said. “I missed two sacks and that can’t happen. Too many opportunities where we had third-and-long and let them get a big play. We took some steps, but we’re still not where we need to be.”

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Toohill, senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts and senior outside linebacker Jordan Fox shared team-high tackling honors with eight. Sophomore strong safety Kendall Williamson added seven. The Cardinal recorded seven tackles for loss.

Afterward, senior free safety Malik Antoine implored his teammates to raise their level.

“It’s always frustrating when you leave a little meat on the bone,” Antoine said. “I’m always confident in this team. You really have to look at yourself and this is no time to start pointing fingers. Our backs are up against the wall.”

Toohill added, “You look for the little details you are missing. Once you do that, you just focus on your next opponent. We need to build off some of the good we did. You can’t be depressed and get stuck looking in the rearview mirror. We really have to look ahead.”

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RUNNING HARD: Fifth-year senior running back Cameron Scarlett matched the career-high he set against Northwestern in the season opener by slashing for 97 yards on 19 carries.

“He probably broke between eight and 10 tackles,” Shaw said. “He showed what kind of back he can be, physical, quick, tough, did a good job in pass protection.”

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STILL SEARCHING: The offense ran nine more plays and finished with a nearly nine-minute advantage in time of possession, but could only muster two field goals by senior kicker Jet Toner.

“Sloppy play,” said Shaw of the unit’s performance, which had two big plays negated by costly penalties. “There’s so much more on this football team, and we’ve got to get it out of us.”

Senior quarterback K.J. Costello never found his rhythm and finished 16-of-30 for 120 yards and was intercepted once. He was sacked five times and hurried four but praised his offensive line.

“They did a helluva job,” Costello said.

Costello banged his throwing thumb on an Oregon helmet early in the game.

“I could grip it well enough to throw it,” said Costello. “The same thing happened last year. Everybody is banged up this time of year.”

Poor field position didn’t help. Stanford started five drives from its own 12 or worse.

“It was definitely execution,” said Scarlett. “We know we all the talent in the locker room that we need.

We know we have what it takes to right the ship and turn it around.”

In four games, the Cardinal offense has produced four touchdowns.

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FIRST CATCH: Junior tight end Tucker Fisk, known more as a blocker, made his first reception since his senior year at Davis High in Davis, Calif. As a prep, he caught 92 passes for 1,116 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“It definitely felt good to get it,” Fisk said of his eight-yard grab. “Honestly, I was almost confused when I caught it. I almost didn’t remember what to do with it.”

Fisk said Stanford’s inability to find the end zone was mostly due to self-inflicted wounds. The last time Stanford failed to score a touchdown on home turf was against Colorado during a 10-5 win in 2016.

“It was mostly us,” Fisk said. “We just need to execute better and play better as a team. It’s definitely an internal issue.”

UP NEXT: Stanford hits the road for the third time in four weeks on Saturday when it plays Oregon State (1-2, 0-0) in Corvallis at 4 p.m. The Beavers had a bye this week.

The Cardinal leads the series, 57-25-3, and has won the last nine meetings. A year ago, Stanford rolled to a 48-17 home win behind four touchdown throws from Costello to tight end Colby Parkinson.

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NOTES: Stanford has dropped three straight games for the first time in Shaw’s nine-year tenure. “I’m not going to hit the panic button,” he said. “I don’t have a panic button.” … Junior Foster Sarell returned to the starting lineup at right tackle … Junior wide receiver Osiris St. Brown received his first career start … Freshman cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly made his first college start and posted four tackles. “He played extremely well,” said Shaw. “Very competitive young man. He has a high football IQ. It was great to see him go out there and make some plays.” … Freshman Jonathan McGill earned his first start at nickel back … The Cardinal has used 12 first-time starters this season … Toner is now tied for seventh in program history with 42 field goals … Freshman Ryan Sanborn’s 57-yard punt in the third quarter was a career-long … Oregon still hasn’t allowed a first-half touchdown this season … Former Cardinal swimmer Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, served as Stanford’s honorary captain … Ex-Cardinal running back Brad Muster tooted the pregame train whistle and was recognized in the second quarter to help celebrate the 125th year of Stanford Football. The Novato, Calif. native was the 1986 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and a Consensus All-American … John Ralston, the only coach in program history to guide Stanford to back-to-back Rose Bowl wins in 1971 and 1972, was recognized. He passed away last week at age 92 … The newly inducted 2019 Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame Class was introduced on the field. The eight-member group includes the late Bill Tarr ’55, a two-way standout at running back and linebacker, who was represented by his widow, Deanna, and son, Bill Tarr Jr. … Autumn quarter classes start Monday.

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QUOTE: “Too many errors against a good football team makes it hard to win.” — David Shaw

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