Stanford loses to Sacramento State: What went wrong and what it means for Taylor’s turnaround

STANFORD – There won’t be a miraculous Year 1 turnaround for Stanford under Troy Taylor.

With seven of its remaining nine games against opponents currently ranked in the Top 25, Stanford (1-2) will be hard-pressed to even reach last year’s 3-9 record.

If Taylor needed a reminder of how big a rebuilding project he had on his hands, he got it Saturday night in Stanford’s 30-23 loss to Sacramento State, an FCS program where Taylor had spent the previous four seasons.

The only other time the programs met, Stanford won 52-17 in 2010 with Andrew Luck throwing TDs to Doug Baldwin and Zach Ertz, and Richard Sherman leading the defense. This time there was no such talent discrepancy – the Cardinal was just outplayed by its lower-division foe. Stanford didn’t even reach the opponent’s 20-yard line in the final 43 minutes of its home opener and was outgained 448-378.

In Year 1 at Sacramento State, Taylor took a Hornets team that had gone winless in the Big Sky the prior year and led it to a 7-1 record in conference play.

Engineering a turnaround at Stanford was always going to be a more significant challenge, but losing to an FCS team – especially one so familiar to Taylor – shows the extent of the challenge.

If there’s any silver lining for Stanford, Taylor was responsible for Sacramento State’s turnaround. The Hornets (3-0) have now won 22 straight regular-season games.

“Coach Taylor, he’s a winner,” Cardinal senior linebacker Tristan Sinclair said. “He’s done it everywhere he’s been. He did it at a high school. He was at Utah (as offensive coordinator) and then Sac State, turned that program around. We believe in him, unwavering belief in him. Winning college football games is really hard. I think it takes time. I believe in him fully.”

Stanford’s only previous loss to an FCS team came in 2005, when UC Davis spoiled coach Walt Harris’s home debut. Harris actually finished 5-6 that year, but was fired after going 1-11 the following year.

Stanford Cardinal head coach Troy Taylor talks to his team during the second quarter against his old team, the Sacramento State Hornets, at the NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Stanford University. (Xavier Mascareñas/The Sacramento Bee) 

No answer at QB

Saturday proved the adage that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.

Taylor went with Ashton Daniels in the first half and Justin Lamson in the second half, but both threw costly interceptions. Daniels had a pick in the end zone when Stanford had momentum – up 14-3 and having just recovered an onside kick — and Lamson threw a pass into traffic at his own 21.

Neither QB could find Stanford’s only preseason all-conference player on offense, tight end Benjamin Yurosek, who was held without a catch on two targets.

Daniels had played the entire opener, while Lamson played the final three quarters last week against USC.

“I felt comfortable with both of them coming out of camp playing,” Taylor said. “They can definitely play better. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting them, for sure. The second half, the pressure really started to affect us in some crucial moments. It’s not all the quarterback, for sure. It’s everything, including us putting them in position to be successful. So I’ve got confidence in both those guys.”

Daniels completed 4 of 7 passes for 69 yards and Lamson completed 7 of 17 passes for 138 yards. Lamson was sacked five times in the second half.

Lack of pressure

Stanford recorded six sacks in its season-opening win at Hawaii behind a defensive line that was the most experienced unit on the team. But the Cardinal couldn’t get to Sacramento State quarterback Kaiden Bennett, producing just one QB hurry and no sacks.

“Something that we’ve been saying is ‘No BCD,’ which is no blame, complain or defend,” Sinclair said. “I can truly say that the guys that are in the locker room believe that and that’s the way we’re rolling. We’re just on to the next one.”

Star outside linebacker David Bailey had three sacks against the Rainbow Warriors and just two tackles against the Hornets.

Understandably, Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams went through the Stanford defense with impunity the previous week. But seeing Bennett run for 100 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 279 yards – including the winning 49-yard score with 1:32 remaining – is more discouraging for a defense that will face a strong group of Pac-12 quarterbacks this season.

Up next

Stanford hosts Arizona on Saturday (4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) before it takes on six straight ranked opponents.

“Obviously we’ve got a ton of improvements to make, and we have a long year to do it,” Taylor said. “So it’s just back to work and just continue to chip away and continue to build. Obviously disappointing when you lose any game, but we’ve got another one next week that we will respond back and be ready to play.”

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