New-look Stanford ready to face Hawai’i in first game under head coach Troy Taylor

Former Cal QB and Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor will coach his first game for Stanford on Friday as the Cardinal head across the Pacific for a road game at Hawai’i

SAN FRANCISCO – A new coach, a new offensive identity, and 16 new starters, including a first-year quarterback.

After a turbulent offseason, including the breakup of the Pac-12, which has cast doubt on Stanford’s future conference affiliation, the new-look Cardinal will take the field at Hawai’i on Friday night to begin the 2023 season.

The changes began at the top. Troy Taylor, a former Cal quarterback and Sacramento State coach, will be coaching an FBS team for the first time after replacing David Shaw, who resigned after 12 seasons at Stanford.

“I’ve coached at almost every level and played at all of them, and they’re all really the same once you start,” Taylor said. “The players are a little bigger and a little faster, but you get nervous just like any other game, and once you get started, the nerves usually go away and it becomes another game.”

“Once you get into the game, I’m really focused on being a play caller, strategy, moving the ball, and making those decisions.”

Stanford, which hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2018, is hoping Taylor can lead a turnaround similar to what he did in his first season as a head coach at Sacramento State. Taylor won the Eddie Robinson Award (FCS national coach of the year) in 2019 after leading the Hornets to their first-ever FCS playoff berth in his first season as head coach.

Taylor was 30-8 in three seasons at Sacramento State before coming to Stanford, where he hopes to revitalize an offense that had stalled by the end of Shaw’s tenure.

“When you move to a new place, you always wonder what level of mental toughness they have and how important football is to them,” Taylor said. “And these guys are crazy about it. They enjoy football, they enjoy practicing, and they enjoy competing. So that’s all I know about our team. We have talent, there’s no doubt about it; we’re just young and inexperienced.”

Taylor may believe he requires every advantage he can get. Previous Stanford teams did not need to resort to deception to gain an advantage over non-Power 5 teams like Hawai’i, but Taylor refused to announce his starting quarterback prior to the game, presumably so the Rainbow Warriors wouldn’t know who to prepare for.

Transfer to Syracuse Justin Lamson has been pitted against junior Ari Patu and sophomore Ashton Daniels, who spent their Stanford careers assisting Tanner McKee before he went pro last season.

With E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins back from injury, the Cardinal may have some opportunities on the ground. Last season, Smith averaged 6.9 yards per carry and Filkins averaged 97 all-purpose yards per game before suffering season-ending injuries.

That, however, is contingent on a completely rebuilt offensive line, which started true freshman Simione Pale at right guard.

Taylor is in charge of a team that has had 17 major contributors transfer out or turn pro since last season. Other than tackles Tobin Phillips and Anthony Franklin, as well as edge David Bailey on the defensive line, the only returning starters are tight end Benjamin Yurosek, receiver John Humphreys, and center Levi Rogers, who was the right guard last season.

The new secondary will face a significant challenge against the run-and-shoot offense of Hawai’i. In last week’s 35-28 loss to Vanderbilt, Rainbow Warriors quarterback Brayden Schrager completed 27 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns (with two interceptions).

While Hawai’i got some game action last week, Stanford got some advanced scouting.

“It was fantastic that we got that Week Zero game to get a taste of their offense,” junior safety Alaka’i Gilman said.

Aside from the new personnel (Gilman and fellow junior safety Jimmy Wyrick, cornerbacks Collin Wright and Zahran Manley, and nickelback Jahran Slocum did not start any games last season), Gilman stated that the defense would play differently than previous Stanford units.

“It’s a great change for us to be able to play faster, get pressure on quarterbacks, bring anxiety to offenses, and mix up looks so that we’re not kind of sitting back in vanilla coverage,” Gilman said.

Taylor is looking forward to seeing how everything comes together after a busy offseason.

“Obviously, we have a very young and inexperienced team, but they’re extremely hungry to play,” Taylor said. “We’ll learn a lot about ourselves.” As I always tell the guys, nothing ever goes perfectly well. There will always be challenges, and how we deal with them is what I’m most interested in seeing.”

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