Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Maria Kholodova, deputy sports editor at The Daily Californian, and Zach Zafran, sports managing editor at The Stanford Daily, Stanford University’s independent student newspaper. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Maria Kholodova: What are your main takeaways from Stanford’s season so far?
Zach Zafran: There were certain bright sports, but it’s just another reminder of the state of the program and the direction that we’re headed. It’s tough to win when a lot of stuff doesn’t go your way. We’ve had a number of season-ending injuries for really key contributors. It’s unfortunate because when it happened last year, people pointed to the lack of offseason due to COVID-19 restrictions. But with a full offseason behind us this year, it’s just tough to find the injury bug and bite that bullet.
Particularly, it really culminated against Washington State: We lost four defensive starters to our middle linebackers on the first drive. While I wish I could point to stuff out of our control and say, “that’s why,” certainly stuff in our control is also a reason we haven’t been able to find the win column.
MK: Speaking of the program, how much do you think is riding on this game for Stanford head coach David Shaw?
ZZ: Being from the area, I’m fortunate in that I have seen Shaw’s successful teams in the past. It’s odd, he has this sense of being untouchable. I’ve never in my life, through the couple seasons, really doubted his capacity or his ability to coach, and I never thought he could be fired — until last week (against Washington State). Cal is that one game on the calendar that the team has circled. If Stanford is unable to walk away with a win, it’s time that the athletic department really start looking at what’s going on there — not only with Shaw, but even the staff around him.
MK: Tell me more about Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee and the season that he’s having.
ZZ: Prior to the season, in some mock drafts, he was projected top 10, and it’s unfortunate to see he hasn’t panned out in a way a top-10 pick would have. He has the talent, he makes these throws in tight windows and makes reads that someone who plays on Sundays could make. That being said, his biggest kryptonite is pocket awareness, something that is especially critical to have when you have an offensive line that’s been hindered by injuries.
MK: Stanford beat Notre Dame earlier this season. How much do you think that affected the team’s performance going forward?
ZZ: It’s interesting because even though we were winning — starting with Notre Dame we had those two wins and broke an over a calendar year long losing streak — I thought we had played some of our worst stretch of football over those two games. We went over 170 minutes of game time without scoring a touchdown, 11 quarters straight. Our defense just stepped up huge. But I think the biggest thing was that everyone on the field held a belief that they could actually win. For some reason, the field has been switched and it’s not only that we’re losing — we’re just not competitive.
MK: And, finally, what is your prediction?
ZZ: In recent memory, I’ve never thought that Cal could win, even last year. And then, of course, the 41-11 was not a pretty sight as a Stanford enthusiast. So, this year, I’ve definitely considered the possibility of Cal winning. But I think matchup wise, this is the most winnable game for Stanford, and because it’s a rivalry game they’re going to bring the heat. Because of our offensive struggles, I don’t see them scoring that much, so I have Stanford winning this one 20-14.