In the aftermath of Stanford’s 42-16 humiliation at the hands of Washington State late Saturday night, a passionate Solomon Thomas stood alone in the middle of a media scrum, still burning with the fire of an emotional postgame speech that he delivered to his teammates.
The last time Stanford football was held to fewer than 20 points in consecutive games was back during that abysmal 2014 season, when the Cardinal followed up an unceremonious 45-16 drubbing at Oregon with a 20-17 home loss to Utah.
As it turned out, that Utah game was the turning point for that 2014 squad, which turned futility around into a three-game winning streak to close the year, punctuated by a 31-10 upset of a top-10 UCLA team at the Rose Bowl.
The moment that galvanized the team at that perilous juncture and stopped the Cardinal from fracturing altogether turned out to be a fiery postgame speech by walk-on backup safety John Flacco, whose impassioned rhetoric brought the team’s focus and camaraderie back together for that stretch run.
This time around, it was Thomas that followed up a brutal home loss – this time, getting physically mauled Washington State, of all teams – with an emotional locker room speech.
“I told them that I love them, that we love each other too much to be playing like that for each other,” Thomas said.
“Our coaches coach too hard, our players play too hard, we put in way too much time to be playing the way we’re playing. We need to have way more passion. We need to have way more heart on the field. We need to execute way better. It’s about loving each other and dying for each other on the field.”
He asserted that the issues on defense have been a matter of execution – the talent is there, they’re feeling good physically. You look at the film, and that’s absolutely true – bad angles, missed tackles and other things that are completely uncharacteristic of even the worse Stanford defenses of the Harbaugh-Shaw era have plagued Stanford over the last two weeks.
“We’re a great football team, but we’re not a good enough football team to make mistakes and think that it’s going to be okay,” Thomas said. “People are going to capitalize on your mistakes. They’re going to see them and take advantage of them. They’re going to go down the field and score if we don’t fix them ourselves.”
Talent and depth were an excuse last week when Stanford got trounced by Washington in Seattle, when Stanford lost to the better team. But this week, that’s not an excuse anymore against a Washington State team that has worse skill position talent, worse line talent and worse coaching than the Cardinal.
“We’ve got to be highly critical of each other,” he said. “We’ve got to coach each other and if there’s something to fix, we’ve got to look each other in the eyes and do what we’ve got to do to fix it.”
If that’s something they’re not doing already, that points to a startling complacency for a team that really built its brand over the last half-decade always playing with a chip on its shoulder and a blue-collar attitude.
It was mentioned in the postgame presser that the sideline briefly perked up after Frank Buncom’s pick-six but really had all the energy sucked out of it after Washington State continued to drive down the field and score touchdowns – but where’s the fire? Where’s the anger? Where’s the salty, chippy attitude and the swagger that dictated that whatever this defense is doing, it’s never good enough?
Never has the defense needed that attitude more than it does now, after allowing 40 points in consecutive games for the first time since 2007.
Perhaps part of it is that, particularly on defense, there isn’t as much of a vocal and emotional leader (a la Shayne Skov and Ronnie Harris) that we’ve seen in the past that rallies the team through tough games and tough stretches like this. Perhaps it’s that Washington State really is that good.
Whatever it is, this team needs to figure it out – and fast. Because we know – and they know, and Solomon Thomas knows – that they’re better than this.
"Physically, talent-wise, we’re one of the best teams in the nation,” Thomas said to the team. “But if we go out there and execute like that, we’ll get beat like that every single week.”