STANFORD — Stanford coach David Shaw gathered his players for a team meeting this week to make sure they had moved on from the loss at Utah and were focused on what’s ahead.
Shaw sure hopes the message sticks.
Stanford’s next five games are against Pac-12 opponents. The difficult stretch will either launch the defending conference champion Cardinal back to the league title game or bury them this season.
No. 9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) visits No. 13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1) on Saturday in a rematch of the Pac-12 championship game. The Cardinal play at Oregon State next week and host second-ranked Oregon on Nov. 7.
“The first word I used is perspective,” Shaw said Tuesday. “Let’s look at where we are. Let’s look at how we got here. Let’s look at where we’re going. That’s the most important thing for me. In order to really go forward, you have to look at where you are.”
At the moment, Stanford is at a turning point.
The Cardinal are third in the Pac-12 North standings behind Oregon and Oregon State but still control where they finish. In all likelihood, though, that will no longer be in the BCS championship game.
No one-loss team from the Pac-12 has ever played in the BCS championship game. And no team has won the Pac-12 with two league losses since Southern California in 2007, meaning Stanford probably has no room for error.
“It’s going to be hard. I believe our guys are up to the challenge,” Shaw said. “They know that we need a better performance every week here on out than we had last Saturday.”
Stanford had been steady at No. 5 in The Associated Press poll before losing 27-21 at Utah last weekend.
Any aura of invincibility the Cardinal carried the last calendar year is shattered. So is that 13-game winning streak and Kevin Hogan’s perfect record as the starting quarterback (he’s now 10-1).
Stanford’s once dominant defense has slipped into mediocrity in recent weeks as injuries have piled up on the defensive line. Stanford is sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, giving up 22.2 points per game.
The offense’s regression has been a more troubling trend. Hogan has been solid but not spectacular the last two weeks, finishing 15-of-27 passing for 246 yards and a touchdown against Utah. He also fumbled once.
Stanford is sixth in scoring offense (36.2 points) but 11th in total offense (404.2 yards) in the conference. And yet, Shaw noted his team still had every chance to win in Salt Lake City.
The Cardinal, who had 143 yards rushing and averaged 4.9 yards per carry against the Utes, faced third-and-2 from Utah’s 6-yard line on the final drive. Hogan tossed two incompletions to quickly end Stanford’s rally.
Shaw said he didn’t spend any time second-guessing the calls.
“Every play call that doesn’t work gets second-guessed, and I can’t worry about that,” he said. “We’ve won a lot of close games here, and we called good plays in those games. And the games that we don’t win, the play-calling gets second-guessed, and I don’t lose a bit of sleep over it because you prepare, you train your guys and you call the plays that you think are going to work.”
What the Cardinal are counting on is the ability they’ve shown under Shaw — and his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh — to respond from losses. Stanford hasn’t dropped consecutive games since October 2009, when the Cardinal lost at Oregon State and at Arizona.
Fifth-year senior center Khalil Wilkes is one of the few players still on the roster from that team. He credits the coaches for staying calm and not panicking during difficult times.
“The dynamic of this team is, ‘OK, we’re down once. Try to get back up,”’ Wilkes said.
Shaw also never discusses rankings. The only goal he said he ever talks about is winning the Pac-12 because that’s the only outcome his team can control.
“Playing the whole standings game throughout the season,” safety Jordan Richards said, “is what gets you in trouble.”
NOTES: Luke Kaumatule has moved from tight end to defensive end to provide some more depth on the banged-up line. Kaumatule, who has three catches for 16 yards, played defensive end in high school. ... DE Henry Anderson likely will be sidelined at least another three weeks recovering from a knee injury, Shaw said. That means Anderson probably won’t return until Stanford plays at USC on Nov. 16, at the earliest.